Production: ASLC 2010

Every year a high school in Alberta hosts the Alberta Student Leadership Conference (ASLC) that brings together students in leadership from across the province together to network and learn. I’ve been hearing about it for the past year before I even graduated, but this month the whole thing came together in what ended up being a technical bonanza.
There were three major events that required servicing: the Opening Ceremonies, the Dance later the same day, and the Closing Ceremonies. The first two were serviced by Stardust Events along with volunteers from the Harry Ainlay Tech Team, and of course me, jole.ca Technical Services. The Closing Ceremonies were held at the Myer Horowitz theatre, and was run mostly by the tech team and I, with some help from the house tech there. In all it was a pretty fun time with lots of new experiences with new people, albeit somewhat tiring and certainly stressful.
Opening

It’s the GrandMA! Bill from Stardust cues up lighting during rehearsal for the opening ceremonies. They had about four lighting stands along with a large lighting bar lighting the show, entirely composed of intelligent fixtures, both LED and traditional. Controlling the whole rig was the GrandMA Lite.

By the I arrived and finished setting up, my job was mostly done. I created the slide content, which included some quirky Dr. Seuss themed introductory slides, sponsor logos, and the video content to introduce the co-chairs/MCs and O Canada. I had Mitch (shown here) running sound out of QLab on my laptop, and got Misha to use his MacBook Pro to serve up the video for best video performance. Overall the show went off without too many issues. There was a glass breaking incidence mid-show which was recovered from well, but technically there were no major issues.

Dance

After the opening ceremonies wrapped up around 5pm, we needed to get Stardust’s equipment over to the Dinwoodie Lounge in the U of A Student’s Union building in time for the Dance that was to start at 8:45pm. We had a crew helping them get setup before 5pm, and we shifted the remaining resources over after opening finished up. Unfortunately the Dinwoodie lounge is located on the second floor, and everything being brought up had to go through a clunky freight elevator at the back of the room. It was a slow process, but we got everything up there.
The Hazer, loaded up at the Dance.

There were two sets of these, which you can imagine was incredibly fun to bring up and down the elevator.

One of Stardust’s Amp racks, apparently build in the 1980s!

Kevin claimed the fans sounded just like his server room. Figures.

A few of the 30ish LED lights that were used during the dance.
Bert, the sound guy, setting up his sound rack.
The GrandMA made it safely to the Dinwoodie, the left screen was apparently always like that.
Right before we began, there was a sudden need for Security personnel in order to obey all the University policies. I was security for a bit while some more teachers arrived.

DJ Kid Slim partied hard with about 700 ASLC kids. Most of it was run through his MacBook Pro and then out to Stardust’s sound system.

You can’t tell, but it was like 35ºC with 100% humidity in there. Some old-school lasers were setup, and started to really shine once the haze set in.

Gill & Misha take over the GrandMA for a bit and improvise with the lights.

Stardust had a media server for running projected visuals. It was Windows XP along with some proprietary software running out of a pair of NVIDIA cards. It was an interesting little setup, and one of their guys had it running pretty well, using both pre-built visuals and imported text to create the backgrounds on the fly.
After the dance wrapped up, it was a big job to get all the equipment back down and into the truck, but it was a great experience to work with a touring show company.
Closing
We had a day of rest while ASLC went on, and then there was closing ceremonies at the Myer Horowitz in SUB. Our load in was early in the morning, but when we got there we discovered that the house tech was told it would be a fairly minor event with a bit of speaking and a PowerPoint. Lights up, lights down. It was a little frustrating for all parties who needed to get setup and going before 10:45 when 700 students would come flowing through the doors.
The main components to this show was the music for dance groups, a video from the ASLC 2011 school, and a slideshow of photos from the conference. Despite being a pretty simple setup, we ended up with some major issues with audio playback.
I was setup backstage where the video hookup was, along with an audio connection. Our stage manager/director Mrs. Tran was with me, but the rest of the crew and equipment was upstairs in the booth. We rehearsed about three times with no glitches, but once we hit the first dance group at show time, we started to hit some snags.
Audio was dropping out between stage and booth, for reasons that still aren’t very clear. Although I was importing about 600 photos that were thrown at me at the last minute, jMacBook was still perfectly responsive and QLab’s playback bars were chugging along, but no audio was coming through. I unplugged and replugged the mini jack connector to make sure nothing was going on there, and even tried it with my iPod with no luck. Something was going wrong along the way.
Kevin reported later that he could hear very very faint sound coming from my source, as if “balance audio was going through an unbalanced connection” which is to say, the signal was cancelling itself leaving just a residual signal. This makes the most sense to me, because the DI box I was connected to was sitting on one of the base speakers behind the wall, and was probably getting bounced around and breaking the connection.
The house technician, in the booth, was convinced it was my laptop that was frozen, or the headphone jack that was broken, so I was left to my own devices as the rest of the show went on. A guest speaker gave us a 45 minute chance to catch up and calm down a bit, at which point we tested the signal to the mixer and it appeared fine. As a backup measure, we shuttled some of the music that was to come upstairs so that it could be played back there.
The ASLC 2011 team was next, which worked beautifully for the duration of their video portion, but at the very end when the volume jumped up and their dance group came on stage, the music quit. Again, I suspect the bass was shaking a loose connection with a bad cable or DI that broke it. As we tried to solve the situations, the dancers graciously counted down and began their dance. Many apologies to them!
For the finale, we had a slideshow which I assembled in basically 0 time with iPhoto. By this point, we were getting no sound, but since we had shuttled the music upstairs, we were able to synchronously play back the iPhoto show which was set to “fit to music duration” and the music upstairs at the same time. It worked out pretty well, all thanks to iPhoto which can create a beautiful slideshow with literally the click of a button, complete with Ken Burns and transitions.

The wall I sat against for most of the show.
In the end the CT dancers got the chance to dance after we got their music upstairs.
Summary
In all it was a pretty great experience. Non-theatre productions are always more exciting although much more stressful. When the sound was breaking up and there was very little I could do, it was a pretty powerless and draining feeling, but once the show is over you recover. In the future, I will probably insist on setting up video in the booth, or at the very least have a backup technician on-stage to help me out when it is that complex.
A great conference everyone, good work!
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