20 January 2015
Updated 13 October 2105
The Circle Stage first ran as a performance space using Zenergy Facilitation processes at Prana Festival in Opoutere, Coromandel Peninsula over the 4 day New Years Celebration Dec 30 2014 – Jan 2 2015.
This blog is here to document The Circle project and hopefully to inspire a conversation about the use of facilitation tools within a transformational festival environment.
My area of expertise is in musical performance and I am a Zenergy Global trained facilitator http://www.zenergyglobal.com . I am a regular attendee at transformational festivals in New Zealand and when I was asked to take on running one of the day stages at Prana it was logical for me to combine my interest in facilitation with musical performance. The group I worked with was known as the Prana Artist Collective. Through my work with this group I was able to introduce some of the basic facilitation processes to the Prana administration team. Once the festival was running my work was contained within the Artist Collective. I used a facilitation model for a job usually referred to as : stage managing, chief, crew boss or even the loaded “Head of Department” or open mic MC.
One of my motivations for writing this blog is to share the learnings with the rest of the Prana crew, another is to share with the Zenergy team and other interested parties. I also offer this blog to artists wanting to perform at Prana festival in the coming years to describe the kind of quantum shift in focus and energy that is available.
I saw that facilitation tools would aid the evolution of this transformational festival on an administrative level making it easier and less work to run. Festivals in general can be run in a more grounded and holistic fashion than is presently taking place in many of them by harnessing the collective intelligence of the groups involved . I believe this will result in less burnout, more fun and connection and therefore contribute to the functional development of the communities around these important events.
The performance space which was developed for Prana 2014/15 was called The Circle : A place to breathe music.
I’m going to start here with the fundamental aspects of the role of a facilitator. This work offerings potential solutions to some common shortcomings within musical performance environments and open mic style events. The Circle Stage was created specifically for Prana Festival with involvement of the Prana administration team and the Artist Collective that formed to populate it. I have included information about the logistics of the zone: our physical environment, circular stage, ambient lighting & sound design.
I would like to acknowledge the Artist Collective itself and how the Zenergy Global Facilitationtools impacted on our group including : pre-festival networking, welcoming and closing ceremonies, inter-artistic relationships, day to day running of the performance space, music and dance performances, interaction with the wider festival, and creation of the FINALE performance.
Zenergy Global Facilitation 101
Zenergy Global identifies is purpose as: Whole people cooperating in a sustainable world. Facilitation as a role can be summarised as : assisting the group to achieve it’s purpose by introducing a structure of simple, transparent communication processes along with a deep understanding and attention to universal human emotional, intellectual and kinesthetic needs.
The purpose of the Circle Stage was “a place to breathe music’ and participants were selected from the artist application list against this purpose – how would each group member support a energetic dialogue with the audience to enable the breathing of music?
Our group ‘culture’ or ‘ way of working’ : Avante-Garde, Loungey, Spunky, Weird, Truthful, From the Heart, Cosmic, Soulful and Human. It was quite beautiful to see these attributes manifesting in the art produced on our stage.
Avoiding common problems in ‘open mic’ events.
Usually the facilitators role is clearer if they are purely a process guide and not involved in the actual content of the groups purpose. Therefore I did not perform personally. We wanted to create a ‘charged’ listening environment capable of healing the audience and performers alike. We were keen to avoid typical open-mic issues like : clashes of artist egos, energy wasted by prioritising ones own performance over that of other participants, artists talking through the performances of others. The emphasis was on sensitively to the integrity of The Circle’s purpose and the audiences experience.
A good facilitator can access help from the group itself using processes and tools including :
- responding great suggestions as they emerged
- harnessing the energy of the group
- working with the mood and feel in the space
- adjusting energy levels to suit
The Artist Collective and with their enthusiasm and reception of the idea worked to achieve this clear purpose.
Instrumental in maintaining the positive energy in the zone was the concept ‘BEING WITH’ – being with self, with each person in the group and with the group as a whole.
We all held the role of reinforcing the purpose and culture of the space itself and to graciously accept the energetic offerings of the people present.
INCEPTION / CREATION PHASE
Having played Prana at approximately 5 NYE festivals and suggested to the admin team that the effects of unstable weather patterns during the Coromandel over New Year could be partially solved by creating a large covered stage which would keep the audience out of the sun/ dry. A circlar central ‘stage in the round’ would allow everyone to see the stage, and for the stage to remain dry if the rains came.
At Prana there are always many festival participants who are musicians, and who would be happy to receive tickets, petrol vouchers, food allowances or guest tickets for loved ones. Artist remuneration was a combination of these items.
Artist Applications included an explanatory brief for the zone which explained the purpose: ‘a place to breathe music’ – We were interested in multi instrumentalists, solo artists and support musicians so we recreated the application form around this new concept. The fees and terms of the energy exchange were made explicit, all applicants were asked to apply under these terms
The applications came in fast and by the cut of date on September 30th we had about 60 musicians from which to select a collective of 20 to populate the schedule.
The musicians would be engaged in the following subgroups.
- Grounding – house band/ supporting musicians
- Shining – significant songwriters or musicians with a specific style that required a focused set to explore their artistic point of view.
- Soloists – who could jump up with anyone at any time and embellish.
- Dancers – who were to take the aural spectrum into a visual form.
- Surprises – there were some groups on the team that I had no idea what to do with, but trusted that it would be obvious when we all got there.
We prioritised acts who would attend the full 4/5 days of the festival – not what we call ‘fly by nighters’, but rather artists who would be happy to attend the performances even if not playing. We were aware that by providing an aesthetically beautiful space, food and great company this requirement would flow easily. However to get it right I did meet with most applicants using video skype calls and took plenty of time to explain and integrate the concept. The energy exchange similar to a ‘festival volunteer’ arrangement and we asked for 8 hours of attendance in performance space, primarily listening and giving attention, but ready to play if required.
We called it a ‘listening’ space and looked for artists who were ‘good listeners, who had nothing to prove, who had no problem with sitting in silence and were able to recognise when there was enough sound on the stage and they were not needed. This was articulated in every discussion with prospective applicants.
The project to started with introductions on an email thread to help establish the group as a union of diverse artists. The majority of the group responded.
TENT, STAGE and SOUND DESIGN
Parameters included :
- no drum kit
- acoustic instruments,
- a mix of planned and spontaneous performances,
We needed an engineer with experience in working ‘open mics – i.e no time for sound checks, lots of mics onstage on previously unseen instruments, a mixture of professional and amateur players….. someone comfortable to basically fly blind with a smile!!!
In retrospect I can see that we fulfilled the culture objective of ‘safety, and nurturing the audience’ with what we manifested.
TENT & STAGE
We used a ‘stretch’ tent hired and erected from a local company – this gave us a 20×15 metre cover with elegant lines and angles. It was an unusual shape which complemented the idea. During tent construction it was important for me to be present, patiently guarding the integrity of the idea and while watching the erection I could get a better idea of what was possible. Basically the role of facilitator holding the space started long before the festival.
It’s worth noting here that If I hadn’t been present from the first moment the idea started to manifest physically the plan could have been altered by negligence. This has been an important learning for me which is modeled within the Zenergy Facilitation course leaders work: someone needs to take responsibility for the physical space at every step and ‘hold’ the creation of this fundamental aspect. At Prana I inhabited the zone from the moment the truck appeared on site, mainly sitting still, watching, being available and ready to intervene where nessecary. I needed to be resolute in the intended design or it could have been altered at every single step, from pole position, stage shape, light rigging etc. There were many ‘suggestions’.
The original ‘vision’ included a circular stage area and this idea had to be ‘shepherded’ carefully as it was outside anyone’s recent experience. There were quite a few naysayers and people who didn’t ‘get it’, as well as plenty of suggestions of other shapes that could have worked better.
The stretch tent has a soft roof, and the tips of the poles disappeared inside the canopy. There was a fairly dramatic loss of light typical of a shady tree or cool cave on a hot day. The tent was sourced by Vasku and the guys were great to work with, they put it up effortlessly and responded to my request to swap the usual central pole to a tri – pole design. I did have to do some fast talking at one point offering to take an alternative central pole and erect it ourselves in the advent of a downpour, but in the end they agreed it wasn’t nessecary.
Our circular stage was 40cm high and 3.6metres diameter. It was not a huge space: the intention was to work with groups of 3-5 seated in a circle. The visual was spectacular, there was no single ‘hot spot’ on the stage, the whole thing was charged by the attention of the musicians and the audience combined.
In the initial design the feminine womb shape of the circle was enclosed by a triangle of poles of masculine energy. The three paths that led in to each of the three posts symbolised the fallopean tubes and birth canal.
In this arrangement all of the speakers and the lights were able to be concentrated in three places. We had 2 or 3 amps on stage at any one time and the larger bass amp leaning back from the floor.
The stage was built over 2 fairly relaxed days. We used palettes as the primary structure and a straightforward grid type cross beam supports with the edges reinforced with offcuts.
Once the skirt panels went on it was ‘solid as’.
Circle stage SOUND DESIGN
created by Moby and Laurence Diack
The speakers were set in 3 stereo pairs, one of which faced Laurence the engineer (the baddest ears in the house ).
Here is the spec for the PA :
3 pairs of JBL SRX712M speakers placed at 120 degree intervals around the periphery of the stage on tripod stands to give even coverage of the 3 sectors of audience. These were driven from the L and R outputs of the mixer via a QSC PLX3402 amplifier.
A JBL PRX618 powered sub at the edge of the stage operated in “aux fed sub” mode from the mixer so it would only be used on channels that actually had program material which needed low end reinforcement.
4 JBL “Control 25″ small speakers at 90 degree intervals around the outer periphery of the tent. These were powered by one channel of a QSC PLX3402 amp in mono driven from an aux channel on the mixer. The other channel of that amp drove an additional pair of JBL SRX712M speakers used as foldback wedges on stage.
Mixer was an Allen & Heath Mixwizard 16:3 which has onboard effects. There was also a front of house FX rack (shared with mainstage) containing graphic equalisers etc. On stage was an assortment of mics (mainly Shure SM57s & 58s) and DI boxes.
Moby made several metres of cable housing through which we could lay our cables safety in any direction – these were made from ply, in 1m x 30cm lengths, and thick plastic half pipe. The half pipe was hinged to the ply in two places. We used these for the snake of cables running from the sound desk to the stage itself.
While in use the stage was surrounded by instruments in cases, this area was kept clear overnight to avoid it becoming a mess, uncollected instruments were put into the dressing room. ( This aspect of cleaning things up could have been delegated to the artists themselves, by the last day I had intervened but it took us a while to ‘get it’.)
The feel of the space fulfilled the purpose and culture in every way from my point of view. The audience feedback was overwhelmingly positive.
Creating paths between the mats directed the audience throughout the space leaving the ones sitting, lying, meditating, eating and listening were undisturbed. Interestingly the last day, the one I dubbed ; ‘day of anarchy’ was the Jan 2nd gig and the mats had all been moved and messed up by workshops and general mayhem so the paths disappeared – this did have an effect on the space, and I observed the need for chaos, with an edge of desperation seeping in to the space as the need of people who wanted to play became urgent.
Coincidences and Gems.
ARTIST COLLECTIVE – the journey
After the initial period of introductions that had taken place on line and the whakawhanaunga ritual held on the first night, the artist collective was very cohesive and mutually supportive. They all understood that if they wanted to play they just needed to be sitting there giving their attention to the stage and eventually they would be playing on it.
I was careful to put the most experienced Grounding musicians on the first day – so the rest of the collective could see the vision appear clearly. Rob, Dave and Christine did a great job on days 1 and 3 as did Adventures with Rhubarb who were all under 20 and classically trained multi instrumentalists on days 2 and 4.
Matching up Shining artists with the appropriate Grounding band was a consideration and for this I took into account the stated wishes, comments and enthusiasms of the artists themselves.
At the last minute I dropped the listing for the final act of the tent and keep the whole afternoon free, this was a well foresighted decision.
What occurred spontaneously on the Day of Anarchy ( Jan 2nd) is that the Sambatron group needed another slot to play so I put them on last at 3:45 and they played the show out and drew people out into the field to dance – it was a lovely energetic closing of the first part of the project and they ended up able to play for about 30mins. Win / Win.
I had asked for and been granted a 90 min closing spot on the Main Stage at the end of the last night. I was unprepared for the level of apprehension I would feel as the date got closer and the reality of transposing our small stage gifts to the audio, lighting and physical dimensions of the Main Stage.
I disclosed my concerns to the Main Stage stage manager and artistic director and discussed the possibility of repositioning this event to the Circle itself after the Main Stage wrapped up. After a Zenergy supervision conversation I handed all planning of the FINALE over to the Circle Artist Collective to create and execute by facilitating a meeting with them where they created the programme themselves and Laurence our engineer created a technical run sheet he could work from. It was nerve-racking to hand it over but this is one of the skills of facilitation and it definately made the FINALE much more powerful, the artists were on fire and the audience was ecstatic!
thanks for reading!
I have created a public facebook foto album for this project here https://www.facebook.com/hunterdeluz/media_set?set=a.10153068572981062.547396061&type=3