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It occurred to me the other day that I have been doing live production for almost 35 years. I started as a freshman in high school, doing lighting and special effects for musicals. In that time frame, I?ve done more live events than I can count (it?s easily into the thousands?). Someone raised the question recently, ?What stops the show?? Answering that question proved more difficult than expected; I recall a single show that went so badly it had to be stopped.

Bumps in the Road

We?ve all had little things go wrong during our services. Everyone who has mixed for any amount of time has had a microphone feed back. Each one of us has had a mic battery die (and if you haven?t, you will). I?ve had system processors completely fail, color scrollers start scrolling on their own, projectors stop working, and computers flatline right before service starts. I?ve missed cues, as have others on my team. One guy so completely bungled the VTR playback during a corporate event, I had to fire him on the spot. But the show went on.

These hiccups, large and small, are not usually enough to stop the event. Sometimes, they are invisible to the audience. Other times they are not. Small mistakes can be overlooked, the larger ones need a debrief. But for the most part, these are minor issues. I think the reason I?ve not had to shut down more than one show is because we always planned for contingencies.[quote]Small mistakes can be overlooked, the larger ones need a debrief.[/quote]

Hope for the Best, Plan for the Worst

I always had a backup mic on stage in case the pastor?s went out. And we used it?once. When I was doing corporate shows, we ran completely redundant speaker support graphics computers into an A/B switch in case one crapped out (and they did fairly often back then). It?s impractical to have complete backups of every system component for most churches, but we can prepare for the things that are most likely to fail. I always ran a software remote computer on my audio console just on the off-chance the surface crashed. I used that backup once, and the congregation was none the wiser.

Having a backup plan in place, and making sure everyone knows how to implement it, will keep small problems from becoming big ones that stop the service. But once in a while something goes so wrong, in such a spectacular manner that it?s hard to sweep it under the rug.[quote]Having a backup plan in place will keep small problems from becoming big ones that stop the service.[/quote]

The Set Caught Fire?

You?ve probably seen the video on YouTube of the Easter production when Jesus steps out of the tomb. A flash pot was supposed to lend a brilliant dramatic effect. Except it was placed a little too close to the highly combustible set pieces. The flash pot went off and promptly ignited the set. Remarkably, the soloist and band kept right on going. The actor playing Jesus walked right out on stage like nothing happened, while the stage crew furiously extinguished the flames. And the audience cheered.

Then there was the church that brought in live animals for one pageant. The crowd loved it until an elephant sat down on someone. And I?m pretty sure there was a church that tried to fly an angel over the audience Cirque du Soleil-style. Spellbinding; until the angel crashed right into the crowd.

In those extreme cases, prompt action needs to be taken. At that point, the safety of the audience and performers has to come first. Sometimes, the show can go on. Other times it has to stop. Most of the time, there?s nothing we?re doing on a weekly basis in our churches that has that level of danger in it. But if you find yourselves doing something extreme, make sure you have a plan in case something goes horribly wrong. At the very least, someone needs to be designated ?the man? who will make the call on how to proceed. In that moment, everyone defers to that person.

The One Time

I mentioned one time when the show had to be stopped. I was the stage camera operator for an outdoor music festival in the Midwest years ago. During the headline act of the night, the wind started picking up. Suddenly, we found ourselves directly under a powerful storm. Lightning flashed, winds blew, and the rain pounded. The band was playing on a portable stage with 40? of truss overhead. Being the highest thing in the field, it became a giant lighting rod. The wind was blowing hard enough that we all started getting a little nervous. For the safety of the band, crew, and audience, we halted the show and evacuated the area around the stage.

Thankfully, no one was hurt, and we only suffered minor gear fatalities. The storm passed and the show went back on. It was a crazy experience, but completely out of our control. We made the right calls, and while the audience got soaked, no one was hurt. In light of the rash of rigging failures that seem to plague the summer festival season each year, I?d say we came out okay. But as the saying goes, safety is no accident.

Now is the Time

The best time to prepare for things to go wrong is before they go wrong. Look over your systems and consider what is most likely to fail and cause problems. Figure out how you?ll handle it now, in the calm of the week. If it?s never occurred to you what you?ll do if the pastor?s mic dies during his sermon, your recovery will be much less graceful than if you have a plan. You may not be able to afford backup wireless mic?s, but you can figure out how to reallocate one if a critical one fails.[quote]The best time to prepare for things to go wrong is?before?they go wrong.[/quote]

Planning is the key to keeping small?or even large?problems from becoming showstoppers. That and not using live animals and fire on your stage.

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