Saturday, June 29, 2013

What if failure happens?

The house lights faded, the audience sat in darkness anticipating the start of the show. On the downbeat the lights came up with brilliant colors on a beautiful set filled with well rehearsed performers in elegant costumes. For a glorious three measures everything was perfect. Then it happened. The room returned to black, the music quickly faded, replaced by the murmurs of the audience. The volunteer lighting technician was feverishly trying to find the right fader, a maintenance man was heading for the electrical panel to check breakers, and a frightened 5-year-old ran up the side aisle to his parents. WAIT!...What does a frightened five-year-old have to do with the lights? The director ran to the general area where said youngster had just departed to find two electrical cords removed from the outlets and lying on the floor. House lights came up for a quick fix and a short apology for the technical difficulties, the house lights again came down, and the show proceeded with no further incident.

 If this scenario played out in your facility, what would the management response be? would the parents of the 5-year-old be brought up on charges? Would the technical or creative staff be chastised or dismissed? Would the director ultimately be held responsible? Would it be taken in stride and remedies be put in place for the next show?

Technical difficulties happen when humans and electronics get together and the responses fall all along the continuum depending on the personalities of those in charge and the consequences of failures for a particular event.

How do you prepare for possible technical failures? This may require a brief trip into pessimism for some of us! Here is a partial list:
1. Determine the cost of failure in terms of finance, image, credibility, waste, etc.
2. If failure comes at a high cost, determine what steps you will take to create redundant systems or staffing
3. Eliminate single points of dependence wherever possible.
4. Calculate the electrical needs. Don't put too much equipment on one circuit.
5. Have a "runner" available to help manage a crisis should it arise
6. Talk about and rehearse technical staff responses to equipment failure before the event.
7. Make visual inspections of all systems before the event.
8. Never assume a piece of equipment will work as it should because it is new or "it worked last time."
9. Tape all cables and provide ample strain relief
10. Control access to equipment between rehearsals and performances.
11. Keep your eye on any stray 5-year-olds.

As earlier stated this is a partial list. We would love to hear your additions or anecdotes.

We would love to help you with your next event. contact us at 888-667-7474 or through our website at

Michael Norris