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production design for Made in America Festival 2019 Arik McArthur, Getty Images
Travis Scott performs on Rocky stage at Made in America Festival 2019

The Activity Returns To Made In America Festival

From August 31 to September 1, Made In America Festival 2019 took over Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Philadelphia, PA, with 60 performances across four stages.

The Activity once again was involved in the overall production design of the Rocky, Liberty, and Freedom stages. “Our duties primarily include the design of lighting, video, scenic, and staging as well as the scheduling management of guest artist technical teams’ programming times between onsite previsualization time and time on the actual rigs,” explains Patrick Dierson, president of The Activity. Prior to arrival onsite, The Activity assisted guest artists and individual stage managers in coordinating the supplemental floor packages and any other miscellaneous performance equipment that requires technical integration into the individual stage designs as well as any stage production elements that have impacts on the overall site coordination. 

“Each year we have two major things that we set forth to attempt,” says Dierson. “Firstly, you always want to outdo yourself artistically, so each new design is both visually interesting as well providing a sense of brand identity for the festival. Secondly, but equally as important, the designs must be utilitarian enough to accommodate myriad guest artists; some of whom will be augmenting the design with scenic elements, lighting and video floor packages, etc.”

One of the largest accommodations that go into all of The Activity’s designs is for that of general stage management. “We are constantly monitoring how much of the design impacts things like backstage storage space, rigging’s ability to fly things in and out, strike storage of existing floor lighting to make room for supplemental floor packages, native egress around video walls and floor mounted equipment so that rolling decks clear easily,” he adds. “This is a diligently attended to battle that is constant in the weeks leading up to the festival as we continue to manage this for three stages whose lineups can be in constant flux up until very close to the event.”

Arik McArthur, Getty Imagesproduction design for Made in America Festival 2019

Cardi B performs on Rocky stage at Made in America Festival 2019

The Activity worked closely with headlining artist Cardi B and her team, including lighting designer Bryan Barancik, who desired specific side lighting equipment and an upstage, tiered floor package. “We wanted to think ahead of what the reality of dealing with these rather bulky, pre-rigged items would be onsite during their changeover given that there would also be a significant amount of custom risers and set pieces which would need attending,” says Dierson. “Even though most of these elements were ground supported, we were able to rig and fly them in an unused upstage fly space so that they were cabled, wrung out, and ready to go for the headline performance. Come show time, the changeover was made considerably easier by simply flying these elements down to the deck after all other elements were pushed into their downstage show positions. “

For all three of the main stages at Made In America, the video elements drive the overall production design. ROE Carbon CB-5 video tiles were utilized on all three stages. For the I-Mag and delay screens on Rocky and Liberty stages, The Activity removed the backings from ROE CB-8 video tiles to help facilitate wind blow-through. 4Wall Entertainment supplied video, lighting, rigging, and custom fabrication.

The Activity nicknamed the main element on the Rocky stage, “The Oculus.” A collection of three circular trusses faced front and back with video and lighting instruments, The Oculus was complemented with a large, upstage LED wall that spanned across the majority of the stage. “We took the opportunity to design the end sections of that wall with overhanging tiles that would allow us to extend the video pixel space as far as possible on stage whilst still allowing enough egress immediately stage left and right of the screen for rolling risers,” says Dierson. “This immediately helped to facilitate changeovers between artists.” Large portrait screens on either side of the stage provided I-Mag.

Arik McArthur, Getty Imagesproduction design for Made in America Festival 2019

Juice Wrld performs on Rocky stage at Made in America Festival 2019

“The design for the Liberty stage seemed to have been born and bred from watching too many episodes of Stranger Things earlier this year,” quips Dierson. “It went through several iterations early in the design phase but all of them kept being reminiscent of Donkey Kong. We had these flat banners of video strips laid out but we wanted to keep things somewhat asymmetrical as we’ve done plenty of this same style of look in the past. This led us to placing the video strips where we thought would layout best and then ‘framing’ them with lighting elements that somewhat zig-zagged like the beams and ladders in the 80s Donkey Kong video game.”

With the foreknowledge that that two headliners would likely request video facades for their DJ booths, The Activity designed an upstage video wall system that could easily transform into the DJ booth façade as well as pre-built and stored the DJ booth until needed. “We accomplished this through the use of some basic rolling risers strapped together in various fashion,” explains Dierson. “In the end, the changeover was made all that much easier by simply allowing for the booth and it’s video façade elements to be pushed straight into its downstage playing position and then restored at the end of the performance to be ready for the next day. This also allowed us to offer use of the same video elements to all performing artists. This is traditionally frowned upon in many circumstances but, as designed, it allowed the elements to be utilized in completely different ways, thus maintaining a unique look to be reserved for the headline talent.”

The content was a mix of both live and animated visuals that changed depending on the artist performing. Some artists’ teams brought their own VJs and utilized various Notch effects to alter the live I-Mag feeds to the stage. “In one instance, LD Christopher Bushell chose to simply go with a very stark black and white I-Mag image for his artist James Blake,” adds Dierson. “The monotone I-Mag combined with his striking single-color lighting looks made for a beautifully refreshing visual statement for the performance.”

Arik McArthur, Getty Imagesproduction design for Made in America Festival 2019

Travis Scott performs on Rocky stage at Made in America Festival 2019

Screens producer and media manager Andy Babin managed and operated media servers on the Rocky stage while Joe Beahm and Chris Griffin handled the Liberty and Freedom stages, respectively. “Disguise was chosen for playback on three stages specifically for its flexibility and ease of pass-through for guest artists that would be utilizing their own playback devices such as Resolume,” states Dierson.

The physical location and the stages themselves all combined to provide some unique challenges. “On the Rocky stage, this year we had some concerns about weight load distribution across the roof given the magnitude of The Oculus,” he explains. “We ended up utilizing the supplemental trusses for Cardi B that were rigged and ‘stored’ upstage as actual counterweight for the downstage weight loads. This allowed us to forego all of the extra steel build that would have otherwise been required to facilitate the design.”

The Liberty stage poses a unique challenge given the rather extreme grade on which the stage structure is constructed. As a result, the performance deck height sits at 5 feet on stage right but sits at approximately 8 feet on stage left. “The reality of this just means that the audience perspective needs to be taken into consideration with a bit more care than usual because we want everyone to have a great experience and not miss any of the design elements,” says Dierson. “For The Activity team, this becomes second nature but that’s not necessarily the case for the guest artist technical teams, and thus, we do our best to help coach them in their design decisions during the advance process.”

Vendors

The Activity

  • Production Designer: Patrick Dierson
  • Project Manager: David Hunkins
  • Onsite Gaffer: John Ellar
  • LD Rocky Stage: Justin Cheatham
  • LD Liberty Stage: David "Fuji" Convertino
  • LD Freedom Stage: Alex "Topo" Parayuelos
  • Overnight Programming Supervisor: John Duncan/Pinpoint Lighting

Rocky Stage

  • Production Manager: Chuck Beckler
  • Stage Manager: Scotty Chase
  • Lighting Director/Programmer: Justin Cheatham
  • FOH Technician: Mark Foffano
  • Media Server Programmer: Andy Babin
  • Head Electrician: Dan McDonough   

Liberty Stage    

  • Production Manager: Laura Paganucci
  • Lighting Director/Programmer: David "Fuji" Convertino
  • Media Server Programmer: Joe Beahm
  • Head Electrician: Josh Henderson

Freedom Stage

  • Production Manage: Joe Ewing
  • Lighting Director/Programmer: Alex Parayuelos
  • Media Server Programmer: Chris Griffin
  • Head Electrician: Benoit St-Aubin
  • Audio Lead: Dave Harris/Riverfront AV
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