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The wow factor

Let’s say it. Festival organisers want to produce an event for revellers to never forget. But how to achieve that? Jamie Sanders, director at Pyrite Creative, believes the use of immersive experience is a tool that can deliver a ‘wow factor’.

Pyrite Creative, the artistic creation company specialising in large-cale sculpture, bespoke props and installation art, provided once again a design for the Secret Garden Party (SGP). Sanders tells Access what it takes to produce such a project.

Every year the design of the dance floor for SGP remains a closely-guarded secret and it’s tied to the event’s theme. Previous concepts have included a toy boat, the Emerald City of Oz and a sunken pirate ship. This year’s theme was the death of celebrity in the age of excess and overexposure.

Pyrite took up on the challenge to meet the festival’s aesthetic and at the same time create a floating stage that will burn as part of a firework finale. This year’s design delivered a spectacle featuring a clear heart burning in the centre.

The mansion house built for the festival aimed to epitomise luxury and excess. The structure had a dance floor and space enough for 20,000 revellers.

Preliminary work

Sanders says that preliminary works for a project such as the SGP starts around six months prior the event. Its team liaises with the event’s production to discuss the chosen theme for the festival or any idea that they might like to explore.

“Sometimes we respond to a very specific brief from the client, other times we respond to a theme or concept with a range of ideas before the final design is chosen,” he explains.

When the sculpture is to sit at the heart of a larger show, such as the case at Secret Garden Party, collaboration with lighting designers, pyro-technicians and performers also starts early “so that we all understand the wider picture and can share ideas between the departments”, Sanders explains.

Construction begins at Pyrite’s workshop in Gloucestershire where the company pre-fabricates as many elements as they can before pack up the whole workshop and move it to site to continue working.

“Physically and mentally what it takes is often dictated by the weather!” Sanders comments. “It can be very challenging on a wet year when paint doesn’t dry and mud gets everywhere!”

Building the lake stage is extremely difficult because the water limits the plant machinery. “The team, the design and crew have to be creative in how some elements can be built,” Sanders points out, adding that “there is constant problem solving to do throughout!”

Toy Boat

Toy Boat by Pyrite Creative for Secret Garden Party 2015

The Pyrite boss says the company has seen increasing requests to incorporate technology into the sculptures they build. “We do this through integrated lighting effects that really bring the pieces to life.”

Collaboration with professional lighting designers have proved to be helpful in turning ideas into reality.

“In the past we have had moving parts powered by water pumps, propellers and electric motors. One of our current sculptures, the Bestival Lovebot, has a built in LED message screen and other effects to interact directly with the audience,” Sanders says.

For large installations in public places Pyrite passes its designs on to a structural engineer, who will specify any changes to ensure they are safe. Sanders explains that weather is a key factor here as well.

“Sculptures must withstand all that is thrown at them, and audience interaction too,” he says. “Ten years of experience building large-scale sculptures has taught us a huge amount about durability and choice of materials appropriate for a specific job.”

Budget and return

Sanders tells Access that the costs of all the projects in its portfolio have been in the £5k to £75k range. “It completely depends on the size of the event, complexity of the design and in particular the longevity,” he explains, adding that some installations are temporary and only required to last a few days, while others are expected to last five or six years.

“The festivals that are the most popular at the moment are those that offer an immersive experience, by providing a unique environment for their audience to explore,” Sanders says.

Lovebot

Lovebot by Pyrite Creative for Camp-Bestival 2017

The Pyrite boss believes that by allowing public access within its sculptures they bridge the gap between fine art and theatre.

“Our sculptures are one-off pieces, built for a specific audience at a specific time and place, and will not be experienced anywhere else, and this is something really special; people really appreciate and many remember beyond the bands they have seen. The Lake Stage sculptures at Secret Garden became defining objects of the years!” he concludes.