The Cradle of Life

The World Summit on Sustainable Development (WSSD), held in South Africa in August, was, arguably, one of the most serious world events in 2002. However, that doesn’t mean that it couldn’t be festive and inspiring as well. For example, the opening ceremony designed to welcome delegates was a spectacular theatrical presentation, seen on August 25 at the Wanderers Stadium in Illovo, Ubuntu Village. Gearhouse South Africa provided lighting, sound, audiovisual, and rigging equipment for the production, which echoed the words of South Africa’s president Thabo Mbeki, in welcoming attendees back to "the cradle of mankind" for the event.

The company also designed the stage set. Conceived to recall the geological formations and cultural heritage sites of South Africa, Tim Dunn, co-director for Gearhouse, created an 18m-high cave; the space was also 30m wide and nearly that amount deep. Built over a three-week period offsite by the firm Art of Light, the stage had to be entirely dismantled before arriving at Ubuntu Village, where it was reconstructed and given its final paint finishes. Because the event was broadcast nationally and internationally, Dunn added an effect that could only be seen from the overhead cameras: The stage followed the contours of the African continent, divided into six regions that reflected the different heights at which the supporting scaffolding was elevated.

Together with a Gantry crane system that controlled a 700kg PVC globe that was flown over the stage, the rigging included 12 two-ton motors, 40 one-ton units, and 11 half-ton motors, from Columbus McKinnon. Over 900 PAR-64 units were used to light the set, together with an array of High End Systems moving lights, including 40 Studio Color wash units, 36 Studio Spots, 18 x.Spots, and 48 Cyberlights. Other pieces of gear included 40 Chroma-Q scrollers and six Strong Gladiator 3kW xenon followspots. Control was provided by two Flying Pig Systems Wholehog II consoles, mastered by a Jands Echelon 1000 desk, with two 72-channel dimmer racks from Avolites. For close-up views of the event, two 6m screens were erected on either side of the stage, using double stacks of Barco ELM R12s for projection.

A giant cloud painted over the Pacific Ocean of the suspended onstage globe acted as a central projection surface on which footage of environmental destruction from around the world was screened, courtesy of the World Wildlife Fund. As the audiovisual presentation ended and the globe returned to the view of the African continent, the words of Mbeki resonated: "Only once we have returned to the origin of humanity can we move forward in healing."

Dunne and Bill Lawford were project managers. Other personnel included Revil Baselge, monitor engineer; Johann Greisel, FOH engineer; Dylan Taljaardt, lighting technician; Adrian Skinner, lighting operator; Pieter Joubert, Attie Van Staden, rigger; Otto Wynberg, stage builder; and Ian Wellan, electrician.