Production Live!: ‘Beyond Concerts’ Panel Explores Post-COVID Production

– Beyond Concerts
Jake Berry, Stephen Shaw, Chris Weathers, Jeremy Shand, Bob O’Brien and Rutger Jensen discuss “The New Production Paradigm at the ProductionLive! Segment of the PollstarLive! conference.
With the easing of the pandemic ‘s economic disruption, will those involved in live event production return to pre-COVID business as usual, or will some of aspects of the last year’s operations, like streaming, become permanent parts of the business?
Jake Berry, CEO of Jake Berry Productions put the question to a panel of experts in the field during a Production Live! Panel entitled, “Beyond Concerts: The New Production Paradigm.”
Jeremy Shand, director of TV Production Management and Event Technical Operations with WWE, said when the pandemic struck, production shifted to Orlando, where matches were staged for television in a training facility.
“Our designer took 23 trucks of gear, shut down and put a set into a 120 by 80 (foot) warehouse and we spent about five months doing Smackdown in a warehouse,” he said.
The operation was pared down and medical staff who usually train athletes were repurposed as COVID compliance officers.
But the audience, and its reactions and interactions with performers, is a crucial aspect of WWE’s appeal and substituting virtual fans for real ones, however well it worked on television in the pandemic’s early days, is not a major part of WWE’s long-term plan, Shand said.
“Our talent … loses that interaction, of someone looking at them and booing or cheering or whatever they do, really it’s hard for them,” he said. “So, for us, the streaming element will be there for a certain amount of shows, but the live audience interaction is key.”
In the meantime, WWE has concentrated on safer operations as it continues to navigate things like concessions, distancing, grouping vaccinated and non-vaccinated fans, keeping its own employee and building staff safe, he said.
Rutger Jansen, senior vice president of production operations with EDM event producer Insomniac Events, said livestreaming was something the company wanted to get into anyway and he expects it will remain in a post-pandemic world.
“It’s a good opportunity for fans at home to enjoy our festivals as well,” he said, pointing out that Insomniac now produces 40 hours of streaming programming each week. 
The company has also had success with drive-in and sold-out drive-through events, Jensen said.
The drive-through events will continue post pandemic, he said.
Bob O’Brien, head of touring and entertainment at SOS Global Event Logistics, said his company’s bold move into the Middle East market during the pandemic will put the firm in good position in 2022, when he expects live to return at “breakneck speed.”
“We’re there, we’re ready, we’re set up for it,” he said. “If we had left it, if we didn’t make the brave decision to do it now, next year is going to be so busy we wouldn’t have had the time.”
On the subject of drive-ins, Chris Weathers, Live Nation Entertainment‘s director of production, said he sees the concert industry goliath continuing with some form of those type of events.
“They certainly won’t replace an arena, amphitheater or a stadium, but there’s a place for it and I think there’s a model set up for it to be done safely, efficiently and profitably if you do your due diligence,” he said. 
The drive-ins also gave Live Nation a chance to test out new health and safety protocols and things like concessions operations, Weathers said.
Jensen agreed, saying guests liked having their own space, chairs, coolers, even small pools.
“They build their own party,” he said.
Stephen Shaw, founder and co-president of Round Room Live, which produces family shows like Baby Shark Live and Peppa Pig Live, said his company canceled 480 performances and three exhibitions, but demand for shows remains strong as kids are able to remain connected through television programming and merchandise, for instance.
“We found a way to keep our brands top of mind,” he said. “There’s a true excitement in the market and we’re doing 1,500- to 2000-seat theaters at 80-90% every night.”