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St. Louis Pageant’s Annual Christmas Concert, Covid-Style

Kevin M. Mitchell • April 2021Wide Focus • April 1, 2021

Pink Floyd Tribute Band Puts on Additional Shows with Additional Protocols

For two decades, St. Louis-based Pink Floyd tribute band El Monstero would put on a couple of Christmas shows selling out the 2,000-seat Pageant Theater. For the last seven years, Logic Systems has supplied the lighting, special effects, video and supplementing the house audio system. Then came this year. But the venue, production company and band were not going to let a little thing like a worldwide pandemic stop them. The shows went on — and to say there were a few adjustments would be understatement.

Not to the show itself — it was a full production, with all the trimmings. (More on that later.) And before we get through the door, let’s see what the Pageant Theater’s team did to the place first. The owners had an HVAC company modify the air handlers to maximize air movement, and now it’s cycling in outside fresh air five and six times an hour. Then, on Oct. 17, the theater was the location of a test concert put on by Klance Unlimited and Vero Shield, a new offshoot of Dodd Technologies.

In addition to the Pageant Theater’s owners, 150 event professionals from the area attended the event, including some Live Nation people. Klance Unlimited, the St. Louis-based staging and rigging company, are now also in the Covid-19-prevention biz, having partnered with Vero Shield. “Since the shutdown, Klance Unlimited has been forced to pivot and find other methods to keep the doors open,” says Kyle Vogt of Klance. “We have done a great deal of research to help get our industry back in the fast track of having live events again.”

UV roadcase can sterilize gear in an enclosed manner

At the demonstration, some of their products and services were adopted by the theater, including System3 120-day disinfectant, UV Light disinfection units and UVC Air Purifiers. The Vero Shield High Output Unit was used on stage. The UVC Air, made for close quarters, was used backstage, in the greenrooms, around catering, and front of house. Vogt, who gave a tour of the precautions before the El Monstero show, demoed the Vero Shield UVC Locker 2448, which was a road case fitted with 180 watts of UV lights. Gear like microphones, guitars, radios, etc., get zapped/sterilized. “It can disinfect almost anything in a one minute,” Vogt says.

The Pageant’s owners went for some, but not all, of what was demonstrated. “At our level, we don’t have the money [for all of it], and you reach a point where you start to question what is effective,” co-owner Pat Hagin says.

The Pageant next sat down with the city of St. Louis to see what they could do. “The city has been proactive and involved in this process,” Hagin says. The 336-seat show was basically 15 percent capacity, with the city approving the floor plan.

Chip Self and Kyle Vogt stay safe at FOH

Right This Way

“The budgets are stripped way down, with budgets at about 25 percent of what they would normally be,” says Logic Systems’ Chip Self. But while it might have made financial sense to cut back from a full production, Logic did not skimp on a single fixture or video panel. “It’s important to the band and myself to keep the production value to the same high standards that the audience expects,” Self says. “We all agreed we needed to uphold the brand.”

When it came to the number of crew members, however, the headcount had to be scaled back, not just to reflect the smaller budget, but also to meet Covid testing and social distancing objectives. Instead of a 50-person crew loading in in two days, a five-person crew took five days to put everything in place. The band and crew were in a bubble for a week, and then on Dec. 17, the 12 shows began on a rotation of three shows on, one night off. “We kept the circle tight,” Self says.

The logistics of selling tickets and seating the distanced audience members also required careful planning. To see the show, fans purchased the ticketless tickets online in groups of four (and a few twos). They then stood outside with their group six feet apart from the other groups. They went through a borrowed metal detector (thus eliminating the staff’s need to wave the wand over attendees). Inside, they answered the questions we’re now all so used to answering and got their temperatures taken.

Once checked in, masked attendees were given a map of the theater with their seats marked. They went directly to those seats and sat — do not pass “go,” do not collect $200. Once seated, if they wanted a drink, they could go to one of the six service stations (“We’re not calling them bars” says Hagin). There, the floor is marked, and attendees would stand six feet apart. When they were second in line, show-goers would use pencil and paper to write their order down. When they got to the bartender, they would pass the paper to them under the Plexiglas. They could then take up to four drinks and go back to their seats. Bathroom? Two at a time. And also, any time you’re not sitting and drinking, you must keep your mask on.

“This is an experiment to see if the protocols and systems we put in place work,” Self says. While noting that it’s “hard to prove a negative” in terms of what is effective and working, and acknowledging that all the products and services currently coming out on the market seem “expensive,” Self adds that “if it can get you six months’ worth of business you wouldn’t otherwise get, it’s a bargain.” He adds that the Pageant has done a good job, and so far, “hats off to the fans — they are adhering to the rules. It’s gone really well.”

The content was played back using a Resolume media sever

The Production

As Self explains, “the show is different every year, but the best description is that it’s Pink Floyd crossed with a monster truck rally. Everything is bigger, bolder, more bombastic.” With the music of Pink Floyd, it’s all about the visual. “About 200 Absen A7 panels were brought in to create the giant upstage wall,” he says, “supplemented and a sizable rigging and lighting rig.” Two panels are missing where Self, who designed the looks and ran the lights, put two X-Laser Mercury 5-watt lasers. “I’m new to lasers, so I’m just really starting to figure out what I can do with them. I already know how to get a ton more functionality out of them than when I started. It’s been a fun learning process.” He adds that the missing panels are “an interesting bit. Your mind will connect those dots pretty easily. Used well, it can be a powerful tool.”

Self says that part of the reason he does the show is the freedom the band gives him to create. “I like to use it as R&D — I can try things and take bigger risks.” An example on the lighting side is how he used Philips Showline SL Bar 640 and 620 strip lights in four 28-foot lines running upstage and downstage. “I’m using them as wash fixtures, and other than some fixtures at FOH and on the deck, they are the sole source of wide wash in the rig. They are so large and so powerful, I can really get some unique looks.” He also has a bitmap layer for them and can run them as low-res video. “There are a few instances where I’m using them to expand the visual from the video wall into the ceiling.” In addition to integrating two visual elements, “it makes your perception of the screen size and shape completely change. It’s a trick I wasn’t sure was going to work.”

LJ Edward at his video station

Self’s work with the band has been “an evolution. The first time it was very collaborative, but over the years, they have started to just let me do my thing, just ask what I’m doing.” Self designs the entire production, working with video director Jon “LJ” Edward. “L.J. is a fanatic in terms of coming up with his own content. He’s super creative and comes up with all sorts of nutty stuff.”

This is certainly true — the video-dominated show was as imaginative as it was bombastic, with Edward concocting a hybrid of content for his ninth year with the band. “This year we shot video of aerialists and played them on the songs ‘Breathe,’ ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ and ‘Any Color You Like,’” he says. “We also shot videos of our cops and headmaster and played them back on ‘Another Brick in the Wall, Part 2.’” Normally, these scenes would be performed live by actors on stage, but they were prerecorded because of Covid. That specific filming was about 15 percent of the video content, and another 60 percent was original content he created using After Effects and Premier Pro. The rest was stock motion graphics and loops he got through the VJ community. “A decent amount of that was edited live, with effects through the Resolume VJ Software. Any of the audio reaction effects were through FFGL source files within that software.” He built the video console he runs it all through.

So there was full production, a great sounding band, and an enthusiastic audience, and yet…it still all happened to a house that was 85 percent empty. Self notes that in addition to the smaller crowd, the energy is way different with everyone restricted to sitting in their chairs. “It’s like doing finish work with a jackhammer.”

These shows are part of a bigger “Glimmer of Normalcy” series, and while the El Monstero shows are certainly the biggest in many ways, after a little break in January and February, Hagin says they are hoping to resume these, gradually increasing the number of people who can attend if Covid cases go down, vaccinations go up, and “and the pandemic begins to fade.”

As far as the Pageant’s motivation to try anything, Hagin says, “You can’t say it’s financial. I have not looked at the numbers too hard, and in a way, I don’t want to! My goal is to not lose any more money than we are already losing, but there are other concerns.” He mentions the local artists who are missing a lot of work. “We want to do something for them, obviously. Next, we also wanted to give our staff an opportunity to work.” (Those who are working these events were doing so voluntarily.) And finally, keeping the Pageant’s name in front of the public was important. “I think considering those three goals, it’s mission accomplished.”

An Absen A7 video wall was supplied by Logic

El Monstero at the Pageant Theater

Dec. 2020 Residency

 

Crew

Lighting Designer: Chip Self/Logic Systems

Video Director: Jon “LJ” Edward

Lighting Crew Chief: Ryan Lilly/Logic Systems

Lighting Tech: Colin Self/Logic Systems

Lighting Tech: Jason Grossman/Pageant staff

Video Wall Tech: Alex Schnurr/Logic Systems

Pyro: Kevin Paglusch/Gateway Pyrotechnics

 

Gear

Lighting:

1       grandMA3 full size console (primary)

1       grandMA3 Light console (backup)

40     Vari-Lite VLZ Spots

12     Chauvet Maverick MK1 Spots

20     Chauvet Rogue R2 Washes

24     Philips Showline SL Bar 640’s

4       Philips Showline SL Bar 620’s

9       Philips Showline SL Nitro 510’s

9       Thomas 4-lites

7       Ayrton VersaPix-RS fixtures

2       Reel EFX DF-50 Hazers

2       HES FQ-100 foggers

2       X-Laser 5-watt lasers w/Mercury control

1       Motorized 36” mirror ball

 

Video:

202  Absen A7 video panels

2       NovaStar NovaPro HD processors

1       For-A HVS-110 switcher

1       Resolume media server system

 

Rigging/Effects:

28     10’ black truss sections (12”x12”)

28     Stagemaker 1-ton hoists

1       CM ¼-ton Prostar hoist

4       Motion Labs 8-way hoist controllers

2       Double-barrel confetti cannons

2       Custom “stage monitor” flame cannons

 

Sanitizing Equipment:

1       Vero Shield UVC High Output air scrubber

3       Luxibel Air small air scrubbers

1       Vero Shield UVC Locker 2448 equipment sanitizer

 

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