The Dalai Lama
July 2012 Issue 155
The 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, spent ten days in Britain last month as part of a tireless mission to share his beliefs of non-violence, dialogue and compassion with audiences all over the world. Adrian Pennington went to Manchester Arena to witness this idea-challenging, historical event.
The Buddhist religious leader has been to Britain several times before, as recently as May to receive the Templeton Prize, and originally planned to revisit in 2014-15 as part of a schedule of appearances booked many years in advance.
However, the urban riots last summer prompted His Holiness to re-time the trip specifically to address this country’s youth on the subject of political change by peaceful means, just as global attention turns toward the UK and the London Olympics. The visit saw the 1989 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate meet political, business and religious representatives in Westminster and Edinburgh but the focus was on addressing younger audiences notably at the Manchester Arena in a three day event, the first of which was hosted by Russell Brand.
Stand Up and Be The Change, presented to 8,000 people on June 16, was the largest event ever staged for the Dalai Lama in the UK, surpassing the 6,000 who listened to his teachings at Nottingham Arena in 2008, and 2004’s visit to Glasgow’s SECC. Both those events were produced by QED Productions, whose Director Steve Heliczer has developed a strong and trusted relationship with Tibetan organising bodies.
“We have been involved with events for His Holiness The Dalai Lama for over 20 years,” explains Heliczer. “This has included visits all over the world, including Australia and mainland Europe. We have a particular understanding of these events meaning that we work extremely closely and well with the large organising committees. These are considered very special events which attract considerable press and political interest.”
The Manchester event, which QED also produced, was organised by the London based Tibet House Trust, and included sessions on Sunday and Monday devoted to public talks and Buddhist teachings.
“There are many complex issues which can arise on a job of this scale, so I took an early decision to employ the services of Pod Bluman [of event production specialists Bluman Associates] to shoulder some of the production management pressures,” explained Heliczer. “This allowed me more time to liaise effectively with the client.”
He added: “We’ve worked with Pod for years and he has enormous experience in staging large events.” Indeed Bluman sourced the transport, sound, lighting, rigging and local crew. “He’s extremely knowledgeable, patient and an excellent communicator which is particularly important with this event.”
Unlike many arena shows this was completely non-profit with all tickets free to under 25s for the Saturday youth activity, and sold at a minimal price on Sunday and Monday.
Familiarity with the nature of the exiled Tibetan leader’s public speaking requirements meant that Heliczer was handed full responsibility for the design of the event.
The backdrop was hung with saffron drapes either side of a gold drape, and the stage populated with silver birch saplings. Bouquets of gold and saffron roses and bourgainvillea flanked a trio of chairs including an upholstered ‘throne’, centre stage.
Bluman describes the idea as one of simplicity. “It’s not about the show it’s about the man,” he said. “We’ve only three trucks of kit. We are treating it as a rock ‘n’ roll production but the focus for the AV has to be on ensuring that people can see and hear him speak.”
A simple enough task one would think, but tricky given the idiosyncratic nature of the subject. His Holiness’ accent is high in frequency but low in volume so ensuring that everyone on stage and in the stalls at Europe’s largest indoor arena can hear his words of wisdom proved a real challenge.
“Sound amplification is absolutely critical,” asserts Heliczer. “His Holiness has a strong accent, and can speak very quietly. It is extremely difficult to provide clear and intelligible sound. This is a major aspect of the brief and of choosing the right sound company.”
Bluman appointed Capital Sound to the task, working with a QED specified Yamaha M7CL FOH console and Yamaha LS9 16 channel monitor. The FOH Engineer was Nick Foots. Lighting was also critical as the Dalai Lama is very sensitive to light, and wore a cap during a 45 minute Q&A session which inevitably threw some shadows onto his face. He also insisted on being able to see the audience so the house lights were up, making the stage even brighter.
“We are always compromising for enough light for our cameras with too much light for His Holiness’ comfort,” says Heliczer. “We try to get the lighting as low as possible and turn up the gain on the cameras.”
Bluman briefed Neg Earth to rig lighting fixtures including an Avolites 48 way, Philips Vari-Lite 3500 spots and washes, 2K Fresnels and Source 4’s. “We’re lighting him clearly and flatly from a lot of key light on the front truss,” said LD Chris Lambourne. “The most important thing is that he is seen in the big arena. In effect this is an extended piece to camera.”
With the doors opening on the Saturday at midday for a 13.30 start, there was a rush to rig the event in time given that pop punks Blink 182 had only vacated their tenancy at 4am the same morning.
The AV kit was deliberately kept at a minimum, with just enough flexibility to cater for on-the-fly changes based on two Thomas Supertruss (52cm and 30.5cm) that could be installed quickly.
“When we first planned it we didn’t know exactly how the event would take shape - whether there would be musical acts for example,” revealed Bluman. While Russell Brand’s performance may have proved unpredictable, in the event he was as acute and deferential as one might expect. Indeed there seemed a genuine rapport between him and the Dalai Lama whose infectious laugh and genial demeanour led to some memorable moments of repartee.
QED supplied much of the 50-strong technical personnel including camera crew, vision mixing, graphics, recording, projection technicians and sales staff. Bluman selected Fly by Night for transport.
QED was also responsible for the video production, opting for four Sony HXC 100 cameras, two of which were framed on the Dalai Lama from the pit, mixed with two cameras with X86 lenses at FOH.
The live mix via Christie Spyder X20 was projected using Christie HD 20k J Series projectors doubled up for extra brightness and backup onto two 24ft imag screens hung to stage left and right. Recording was supplemented by AJA Ki Pro hard disks. QED’s Adam Bending designed the video system and was the Video HoD. VT inserts and images were sourced from Tibet House Trust.
“It’s very important there are no cameras on the stage itself, or in line of sight, so we shot with long lenses,” said Heliczer. “The key is that we mix everything on the Spyder X20 which allows us to put in as many input sources as we like and feed out as many different formats as we need [HD Tx out, SD for DVD or HD for monitors in the concourse area].
QED also produced packs of DVDs and MP3 audio recordings as well as the artwork, the design of adverts for leaflets and the full colour printed brochure.
“We try to get the DVDs out very shortly after the event so post-production is kept to a minimum,” he said. QED also managed and designed the event website as well as live streaming and continual updates on YouTube, Vimeo, Twitter and Facebook channels.
Photos: Adrian Pennington
and Stephen Heliczer
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