Setting the stage

Nicola Macdonald talks to four staging companies about working with clients and unusual builds.

Building stages can be stressful and time- consuming, but it can also be a hugely exciting and creative challenge for staging companies. Access meets with Grace Coops, project manger at Trinity Set & Stage; Graham Baker, director of Alistage; Barry Lawford, regional manager of Actavo and Roger Barrett, special projects director of Star Events, to get the low down on building events from the ground up.

Tell us about your company…

Grace Coops: Trinity is a set and stage company that designs, builds and installs sets and stages. We do everything from conferences and exhibitions to brand experientials, pop-up shops and bespoke bars.

Roger Barrett: Star Events supplies stages, bespoke temporary structures and high-level rigging services in the UK and we’re celebrating our 40th year in business. We supply mobile stages, which fold out from the side of a vehicle, Orbit, the classic ‘dome’ stage and VerTech stages for larger events.

Graham Baker: We purchased the stock and intellectual rights from Aliscaff Ltd in July 2013 and formed Alistage Ltd. I think it’s taken on a new lease of life in terms of new people having new ideas. If you’re new you can come into any company and say “I know you’ve done it this way for the past 10 years, but do you really have to do it this way?”

Barry Lawford: Actavo is an events solutions company. We do staging, fencing, barriers, bespoke structures, camera platforms; basically anything structural that our clients need.

How has the industry changed for you over the years?

BL: The industry is bigger, it’s grown hugely both in Ireland and in the UK. It’s more professional, it’s more regimented and it’s safer than it used to be.

GC: I’ve been with Trinity for two and a half years and I’ve seen it evolve into something amazing. It’s our fifth anniversary this year and people are now coming up to us and saying, “We’ve heard of you guys”.

GB: We’re changing the software system at the moment, and when this was first brought up people said, “How can you possibly do that?” It’s really moving the company forward. It’s only been two and a half years, and that’s not a long time to change a company of this size.

RB: Since Star Events started in 1976, the events industry has changed out of sight. The recession led to a lot more brand activation work, more people looking for the unusual, creating talking points and social media frenzies. Health and safety is another area that has become increasingly more scrutinised over the last few decades.

How involved are clients in the builds?

BL: Depends on the client. Sometimes they come to us with a creative idea or an artist’s impression. Either that or they give us a really loose brief and we get to come back to them with options. Other clients have done all the work and they tell us exactly what they want and its up to us to deliver.

GC: We work extremely closely with the clients; we like to design it with them. We want to include them as much and possible and say, “If you’ve got ideas bring them to us and we’ll work together to create and design it”. We have our own workshop on-site so we don’t outsource anything. Everything we build is built on-site

RB: It varies depending on the type of project; whether it’s a festival or a brand activation, the history and origins of the event and how long we have been involved. Typically, a client will come to Star Events with a vision. They all want to make a particular mark and as one of few structure suppliers with a full-time engineering and design office, Star is able to develop solutions in-house.

GB: It really depends on the client. Some know what they had last time and they know what they want now, so they only need to know that we’ll turn up on time and how much will it be. Other people want to brand the stage so they’ll be asking for drawings and technical information.

What’s an unusual or challenging build you’ve been involved with?

RB: In the last couple of years, Star Events has supplied structures for a wave of waterborne showcases, including the Floating House on the River Thames for Airbnb. With no available barge capable of providing the required ‘foundations’ for a two-bedroom house, we built a bespoke floating structure, licenced by the Port of London Authority. For the launch of Cortana, Microsoft’s personal assistant, Star provided a platform off Westminster Pier for street trial cyclist Danny MacAskill to perform a water-borne loop-the-loop.

GC: We did a lot for the Rugby World Cup, which was quite a challenge for such a small company. It was a lot of hours, a lot of preparation. It was quite a challenge logistically to get everything in on time and ready. We spent a lot of time getting into Twickenham and fitting out all of the VIP bars with what each client wanted.

GB: We get asked to do some very strange things. We were asked to build a catwalk in a room that had pillars so we had to build it around them. The original owner had a policy that if anyone wanted something and they didn’t have it then they’d make it, so we now have an inventory of more than 70 different shapes of deck. We could probably write your name in decking.

BL: We built structures in tiny venues at the Fringe in Edinburgh, where the access is appalling. Everything had to be loaded though fire doors and along cobbled streets up or near the castle when the Tattoo is on. You’ve got a lot of kit that needs to go into a really tight space and you’re working in a listed building, so you can’t damage or touch it in any way. We do some pretty awkward and interesting builds in some pretty awkward and interesting places.