When COVID-19 shut down performance venues across the country, Grand Rapids Symphony needed to find a way to stay connected to their sponsors and patrons. They pulled in longtime collaborators and production company Captus Creative to design and produce a virtual performance series with the Van Andel Arena’s 200' hockey floor as their stage. The symphony premiered the first livestream in its concert series, Pathwaves 2020, with a performance of Romeo + Juliet accompanied by the Grand Rapids Ballet, on September 25.
“How do you keep musicians a minimum of six feet, and in some cases, like for the brass sections, 10 or 12 feet apart?” wondered Captus Creative production manager, Marshall Yoder, when planning began in June.
To keep everyone distanced, Captus Creative established two 80'x40' performance spaces, each with their own lighting rigs and broadcast audio and video systems. The team set up a broadcast audio room in one of the dressing rooms to ensure all of the audio and video ran smoothly through one stream on the symphony’s Vimeo OTT platform.
On a tight budget in an industry crawling through COVID-19, Captus Creative needed to be resourceful. Martin Mac Quantum profiles and washes were extricated from the DeVos Performance Hall where the symphony usually played and added to the arena’s improvised performance spaces. Yoder accented those with Martin Mac Aura fixtures.
“Knowing that the cameras would come in from potentially 360 degrees, we needed to have the space lit well from all sides,” says Yoder. Two camera operators and a jib operator, equipped with Panasonic PTZ cameras, were positioned a good distance from the front of the stages and collected dynamic shots of the performance. Additional PTZ and Mini POV HD cameras were located in the orchestra setup for specific static shots.
Swaths of scrim—previously used as curtains to separate ballrooms—elegantly utilized the empty air above the performers and provided a backdrop for dramatic lighting. “We realized early on that we couldn't hide the arena, and also that there was no practical reason to try to hide the arena,” says Yoder. “It was a simple, but elegant way to handle the scenic treatment without getting into the expensive LED walls or any major set pieces that would have to be constructed.” Color Kinetics ColorBlaze 72 fixtures—also repurposed from the DeVos—illuminated the curtains from the bottom.
Small JBL speakers flown from the trusses filled a 60' area on each stage to give the performers the feeling of playing in a shell or theatre. Six monitor mixes on each stage provide local monitoring on the ground. SLS Production Services, Inc provided a Yamaha CL5 digital mixing console for broadcast and a Yamaha RIVAGE PM7 digital mixing system for front-of-house and monitoring. Dante and digital interface allowed for ease of patching and changeovers between pieces.
“We had a pretty elaborate digital interconnectivity system around the venue. We could get out to front of house and handle monitoring for both stages and the musicians as well as get back to the dressing rooms, and then get that feed to the video department so we could broadcast. We're particularly proud of how that all came together in the end because it was the daunting task at the beginning,” beams Yoder.
The COVID-19 safety procedures were another complicated and necessary system. The venue had a single checkpoint security entrance with two stations for temperature checks. Health & safety surveys were required every 24 hours. Each artist had their own table and holding area. Plexiglass separated the horns and brass sections, and only one vocalist performed at a time. If more than one vocalist was needed, then their pieces were recorded in rehearsal and then inserted into the live stream. Vendors drove flat-pack semis so that one stagehand could easily unload the truck. “We spaced load-in over two and a half days so we could maintain safety and not work extra-long hours,” adds Yoder.
“Although SLS Production Services, Inc has been very aggressive in discounting sound and lighting systems in exchange for a long-term project this year, we are paying full day rates for all staff they provide,” concludes Yoder. “We have extended that to all sound, lighting, video, and stage management staff that we have employed for this series. It is important to us that we pay professionals for their time, and that hopefully, this will help many of them stay engaged in the entertainment business through the time of COVID-19.
“Our local production community, the venue, and the symphony all came together and really took that phrase ‘we're all in this together’ very seriously,” concludes Yoder, “and that is something to be proud of.”
The Grand Rapids Symphony will return to the Van Andel Arena November 13 and 14, with more dates booked for December. With no hockey scheduled for the rest of 2020, the performance spaces will remain with the opportunity for future virtual events.
- Production + Tech Director: Marshall Yoder
- Show Director: Dyan Yoder
- Lighting Designers: Tom Lohman, Matt Taylor
- Stage Manager: April Shirey
- Audio / Lighting Vendor: SLS Production Services, Inc. Todd Hartman
- Audio Design / Lead: Stephanie Van Ravensway
- Audio Broadcast: Al McAvoy
- Audio Consultant: Christian Amonson
- Video Director: Eric Nacke
- Video Tech / Jib Camera: Josh Knight
- Camera Operators: Chris Bartelbaugh, Simeon Foster
- Production Assist / Utility: Jesse Phipps
IATSE 26 House Crew
- House Carpenter: Arnie Bruinsma
- House Audio: Drew Nikodem
- House Lighting: Carlos Aguilar
- Business Agent / House Projection: Josh Roskamp
Van Andel Arena / ASM Global Staff
- Regional General Manager: Rich MacKeigan
- Assistant General Manager: Chris Machuta
- Event Coordinator: Lauren Callahan
- Director of Operations: Todd Johnson
- Director of Facilities: Kevin Abbott
- Marcelo Lehninger, Music Director, Grand Rapids Symphony
- Mary Tuuk, CEO and President, Grand Rapids Symphony
- Aaron Doty, Vice President and General Manager, Grand Rapids Symphony
- Julie Nystedt, Assistant Vice President of Artistic Operations, Grand Rapids Symphony
- John Varineau, Associate Conductor, Grand Rapids Symphony
- Marshall Yoder
- Dyan Yoder