At PRG XL Video, we’re well seasoned at supplying lighting, video and rigging services to festivals. We’ve worked on outdoor cultural gatherings of all sizes and styles for years— yet few as boutique and enchanting as Henley Festival; a five-day cultural experience celebrating the best of international and UK music, art, comedy and food in a quintessentially British location.
Production Manager John Harris described the unique cultural environment of Henley Festival: “To say that it’s one of a kind sounds like a bit of a cliché; but I really can’t think of another festival comparable to Henley. Holding a summer festival in such a beautiful environment and to attract artists of the highest calibre is nothing short of a privilege. Although the black tie dress code and chic venues create an aura of sophistication; we keep the ticket prices down to ensure Henley Festival is accessible to all.” Having previously worked as lighting crew on the festival back in the nineties, John returned to Henley in his current role in 2011, when he took over from the highly regarded Bob Caple, who production managed the festival since its inception in 1983.
This year’s event took place over five days and featured esteemed acts such as: Elton John, Bryn Terfel, Will Young, Shirley Bassey, The Welsh National Orchestra and Elvis Costello; as well as an impressive roster of cabaret and comedy acts, featuring the likes of: The Ronnie Scott’s All Stars Jazz Band, Reginald D Hunter, Al Murray and The Boy with Tape on His Face.
PRG XL Video Account Director Peter Marshall works closely with John on a number of projects and was excited to be a part of the Henley Festival 2016: “It was really nice to be back after a ten-year absence, prior to which we worked very closely with lighting designers Michael Odam and Theo Cox to develop the Henley Festival to the size and stature it is today.”
John explained his vision: “From the outset we had a very definite idea of what we wanted to achieve with the festival lighting. Gerry Mott took on the role of Lighting Designer for the main stage, whilst I created very basic looks for all the other performance spaces: the comedy stage, The Top/Pizza Express Live and Ronnie Scott’s Jazz Tent. Mark Steeds performed the role of Crew Chief and coordinated the team of technicians who installed and operated the lighting across the venues. In order to keep the focus on entertainment rather than the technology, I used a simple look with an emphasis on not over-complicating the set-up for all venues except the main stage. The comedy stage was lit with just six Fresnel lights which were either on or off; there was a similarly simple lighting rig in the Ronnie Scott’s tent, which had either house light or show light states.”
The main stage floats on the water just off the bank of the Thames and is visible from the seated area directly in front of the stage and the grandstand restaurant. John detailed how he and Gerry designed the space: “When it came to deciding which kit we used, we took a slightly unorthodox yet very sensible approach of sitting down with Pete—explaining what we wanted to achieve with the budget available and heeding his suggestions. Pete came up trumps and we had a very glamorous looking main stage which featured 26 Mac Viper AIR FXs, 12 Clay Paky Alpha Beam 700s, 35 GLP Volkslicht, 10 Vari*lite VL1000 T/S and 10 SGM P5 LED wash lights.” In addition to the comprehensive lighting package supplied by PRG XL Video, we also provided a small camera system and several screens around the festival site, relaying live footage from the main stage. “This year was the first time we’d used any video technology at Henley, and it proved to be a very positive experience The area around the floating stage has a capacity of 4400, so to be able to show the main act to all 7200 nightly ticket holders was wonderful.” John explained.
There are many factors which make Henley such an individual festival, John discussed some of the challenges faced by the team: “We only have three days to transform the site to the layout and specification of Henley Festival. We gain access to the site at around eight-thirty on Sunday evening as the previous event loads out. They complete handover at midnight on Monday night and we open to the public at six o’clock on Wednesday. I can’t overstate how much work has to be done and how hard everybody works. The Floating Stage and The Top are built from scratch, for which we bring in several trucks and cranes, we rearrange all the venues, bring in generators and reconfigure all the mains distribution.”
John Continued: “The land on which the festival takes place is very precious ground—before we do anything onsite I take a detailed tour around the grounds and inspect every element, noting down any damage; we do another check after the festival and any damage is charged to us. We employ a team of professional grounds men who take care of the grass for the duration of the festival, they are used to working on golf courses and cricket grounds and constantly rolling, trimming and aerating the turf. This year we had exceptional weather for the whole week, but if that hadn’t been the case, our grounds men would work overtime to ensure the site stays functional and the turf remains in an acceptable condition; returning the site looking like a freshly ploughed field is not an option. The last really wet year we had was in 2012, it was quite entertaining to see so many people navigating the site in ball gowns and tuxedoes but wearing wellies, there were plenty of Hunter boots on show!”
Peter Marshall concluded: “Around eighty percent of the work is done by John Harris and his team before arriving on site; there is an awful lot of planning and pre-production preparation that happens in advance, which enables John, Gerry, Mark, and their lighting crew to do work within the limited timescale of having just three days to transform the site and only one day to install the kit on the floating stage once it’s built. We’re delighted to be supporting John and his technical team at Henley and look forward to a continued involvement in the years to come as the festival grows in size and technical complexity.”
Pictures by Satureyes Photography