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Social Sanctuary

Michael S. Eddy • Event ProductionJuly 2020 • July 9, 2020

Social Sanctuary photo by Anaconda Street Productions, courtesy Gallagher Staging

Gallagher Staging Offers a Safe Path Back to Live Entertainment

Joey Gallagher, CEO of Gallagher Staging, was not idle during the Covid-19 pandemic shutdown. He and his team collaborated with Surface Productions, Redhouse Productions, Anaconda Street Productions and West Coast Show Support to create a new studio space called Social Sanctuary, where they’ve been experimenting and proving different methods of safely producing live performances. Much of what they have learned through this process has also been shared with the Event Safety Alliance (ESA) and Entertainment Industry Response (EIR), the latter of which Gallagher helped found in response to challenges created by the coronavirus crisis. The best practices developed at Social Sanctuary are being used to create safe reopening guidelines for the live event industry at large. Gallagher took some time out of his busy schedule to speak with PLSN about Social Sanctuary and what he sees for the future of live events.

A DJ set headlines a Saturday performance

How did you and your team come up with the idea for Social Sanctuary?

To understand the story, we’d have to go back to early March, when we were very busy and ramping up for our biggest quarter yet. We had so many jobs in the pipeline that I saw a need for expansion, so I leased a 42,000-square-foot building for a new scenic fabrication shop. Then Covid hit, and everything we were working on suddenly stopped, and all future jobs were postponed or cancelled. It was a really bleak time, and the collective spirit among our team was low, especially since we were hearing from a lot of people in the industry that it could be up to a year before large-scale events return. As the leader of Gallagher Staging, I felt a responsibility to find some path forward. I needed to bring hope to my team. So, I thought, “I have staging equipment and gear; I have amazing local vendors and partnerships; we could turn this new warehouse space into a live streaming performance venue.” But I didn’t want to just launch another place to perform; I wanted to create a safe haven where artists, crews and guests were protected and Covid-19 risks mitigated. After I committed to making Social Sanctuary a reality, everything I did and continue to do — from the minute I wake up in the morning to when I go to sleep at night — is focused on creating new solutions or products to re-open the live event industry in a post-coronavirus world.

In conjunction with the launch of Social Sanctuary, I also co-founded Entertainment Industry Response (EIR) and have been working closely with Jim Digby and the ESA. We communicate regularly about protocols to safely reopen. I’ve also expanded my company to include a disinfectant service — Ready for Doors — that utilizes a proprietary disinfectant process. Our Ready for Doors crew disinfects all areas of Social Sanctuary in strict adherence with the guidelines put in place by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Adding a top-quality disinfectant service to our compendium of Gallagher Staging resources just makes sense in this new era focused on health and wellness.

Preparing for a DJ set

Now that Social Sanctuary is up and running, what kind of work are you doing there?

At Social Sanctuary, we’ve been able to produce professional-quality shows led by a team of experts who provide high-level audio, lighting, videography, backline and FX. We’ve also been lucky to develop additional partnerships with Pyrotecnico FX, Sew What, BCT Entertainment, Road Radios and Matrix Visual. That’s the creative side of it — and it’s really incredible to experience live at the venue and just as amazing for the viewers watching our livestreams. On the safety side, we disinfect the venue before people arrive. During the show, artist green rooms, restrooms and all high-frequency touchpoints are continuously disinfected. At check-in, all guests undergo a medical screening, and the screening procedures are constantly changing as we learn the most impactful and safest protocols to keep our crew, artists and guests safe. Inside the space, we have a front-of-house platform set up with everyone separated by Plexiglas dividers. We have a VIP viewing platform divided by Plexiglas screens, so if the artist brings guests, they have a comfortable place to watch the performance.

Social Sanctuary proves that the show really can go on. Live entertainment and production can absolutely come back; we just have to do everything in a safe manner. Another byproduct of Social Sanctuary is that we’re strengthening people’s emotional well-being. We’re giving them faith that the jobs they love and the skills they’ve honed over years of hard work will still be applicable for the future of live entertainment. Now I do see a light at the end of the tunnel, and the same goes for our crew and the artists who perform at Social Sanctuary. We’re giving them a refuge where creativity can be set free.

Comedy finds a home at Social Sanctuary

Talk about how you are using your space as a training facility for crews.

Because Social Sanctuary is as much an experiment as it is a viable venue, we’ve also created an educational platform where new crew members can train and sharpen their craft. It’s an incredible opportunity for someone just starting out in production because they can work with high-level production equipment and experienced production professionals. These technicians-in-training may be new to the industry, but they will have a leg up on everybody else because they’re actually working in a Covid-19 safe space.

What are some ways in which you are keeping production safe?

For us, safety goes way beyond hand sanitizer, which is important, but not sufficient to creating a truly safe venue. We’re at the forefront of live entertainment disinfecting with the work we do through Ready for Doors, which provides professional-grade disinfection. We’re using specific processes that disinfect large areas, high-frequency touchpoints, equipment and more. We’re critically analyzing questions like, “How do you handle change over?” We’re experts at implementing OSHA-safe load-ins, but we’ve never been in a situation with a highly contagious virus that requires extreme measures of safety.

To solve this problem, we’re currently using a cold fog system with a disinfecting product called Vital Oxide. It’s been approved by the EPA for use against SARS-CoV-2. By using Vital Oxide, within 20 minutes you could re-enter the space and go about your work safely. I’ve discovered after exhaustive research that Vital Oxide is best suited for our industry because it’s the least toxic material on the market and it’s really effective. We have to get into the venue quickly. Time is not on our side, so we can’t have a product where you’re unable to reenter for half a day or even a full day or more.

There are some tricky areas of coronavirus safety protocol, things that we’re used to doing without even thinking about it. We have to create new muscle memory. For hand sanitation, we have hand sanitizer stations everywhere. We also have touchless wash stations outside before you enter the space and throughout the whole venue. We even have our staff members wearing PixMob bracelets that turn red if you haven’t washed your hands within 45 minutes. Once the bracelet is red, staff must go immediately to the wash station, which has a transponder that tracks if they’ve washed their hands for the proper amount of time. When they have, the bracelet goes back to green.

View from the lighting console. Photo credit: Anaconda Street Productions

And are you sharing results you’re finding back to ESA, so they can add them to the reopening guide and expand that knowledge base for the industry?

Yes, ESA and EIR are both working on reopening guidelines and we’re actively sharing each best practice we discover. The case study of Social Sanctuary provides our entire industry with a source for generating best practices, because you can’t have a best practice until you’ve actually practiced it. That doesn’t mean it’s not going to change. We might be doing a different process in a month based on where the Covid-19 crisis is at that time. We’re going to adhere to the absolute highest level of safety possible to prevent the spread of Covid-19 and then, when it’s been deemed safe to do so by authorities, we’ll reduce the guidelines as needed.

Social Sanctuary Check In. Photo credit – Anaconda Street Productions

How many events or productions have you produced at Social Sanctuary so far? What kind of shows are you supporting?

We typically have three shows a weekend, sometimes four. At this point, we’ve done more than 30 shows. We’ve learned a lot from each one of them. A few weeks ago, we had our first live audience — 24 people, which, while not a lot, provided a good test for safe ways to bring audiences back to venues. We wanted to see what it was like for check-in procedures and screening. We figured out how to safely transition audience members into a building. We also spaced them out for socially distanced viewing and handled beverage service with our strict safety guidelines in place. These same protocols apply to the crews. We’re learning how to feed the crew. You just can’t have the standard craft services anymore; it’s too dangerous. You can’t have a refrigerator with beverages for people to grab. You have to have an attendant who is running the craft services operation safely — with proper PPE. You also have to make sure everything’s disinfected so when you give someone their beverage, you’re not contaminating them. We’re learning as we go, and I’m really confident that we’ll be back in action in no time.

What kind of production gear are you using at Social Sanctuary?

Well, there is a full staging package. We have a front of house area, a VIP viewing platform, etc. Because it’s in a building next door to our staging and fabrication facility, we can roll in anything we need. If a performance requires any type of staging, truss, or automation, it’s already in house, ready to go; so that’s making it easy. Then we’ve got full lighting and audio packages, as well as full video production and editing services. If we need something more specific, then we just add more gear. We have an L-Acoustics rig and an Absen A3 Pro LED wall, along with various lighting and effects products, including a full laser package. We have an A and a B-stage, which helps with changeovers between artists.

What should potential clients know about Social Sanctuary?

Social Sanctuary is a place where artists can feel supremely safe and comfortable. If you do book our venue, you’ll be part of the historic, game-changing process that’s restoring the live entertainment industry.

We need Social Sanctuary, so we can return to work sooner than later. And, as I said, a big aspect of this is about mental health. I want everybody to know that live entertainment will be back because people are working really hard right now to safely and succinctly restore this industry. But it’s a process. There can’t be any question marks when health is at risk. We need to become professionals at this and there’s only one way to figure out how to navigate every challenge it presents, and that’s by taking action and doing it! By virtue of the fact that Social Sanctuary is successful — with artists performing safely, crews working safely and an audience safely in the space — we’re proving we can do it and we can do it now.

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