Another Day at the Office…

The Grand Atrium, The Ballroom at the Carlos Center
The Grand Atrium | Image © The Ballroom at the Carlos Center
I recently had another event/giglife adventure.
I was booked to emcee a charity gala, with a bit of strolling magic plus some magical material during the main show which was to be both in-person and streamed on YouTube and Facebook. Attendees would enjoy a buffet dinner and drinks, bid on silent auction items, then enjoy the main show. The underlying theme and primary activity of the evening was a vocal talent contest, with singers from around the country and internationally having submitted videos that were to be played live and voted on, as well as commented on live by two celebrity judges (one of whom was a Grammy-winning producer). This would be followed by a short live auction, some awards, then a live band and dancing.
I arrived to a beautifully decorated venue, with a sunlit atrium with a grand piano and a young man playing some excellent background piano music. The banquet hall was all set with plates and centerpieces and electronic candles to enhance the ambiance of the room’s lighting. The stage was set for the band, judges, and livestreams. The staff had set up cameras and laptops and amps and mixers and lights and projectors and so on. Sound and video checks were underway. Contestant videos and ancillary videos of interviews and organizational promo were loaded into Dropbox and being set up for the streaming.
A few minutes before people started arriving, the lights suddenly went out. Most of us immediately thought a breaker had been tripped by the amount of equipment.
A breaker had not been tripped.
A few blocks away, a car or cars had hit an electric pole and knocked out power for the entire area. There was no electricity, the WiFi was out, the cellular service was iffy, dinner was almost ready but not quite, and a degree of disappointment was quickly setting in.
I approached the organizer and offered to help in whatever ways I could. (People were arriving by this time.)
  • I had a full show in my car (from my show earlier this week in Chattanooga), and while the hall and stage were too dark for a show, the atrium was well lit and had good acoustics. Plus, a piano was available as noted before.
  • We could move some chairs, set up a stage/performance area at the end of the atrium, and I could do a program (of any needed duration up to 45 minutes) there. This would ensure that even if the band was unable to perform, there would be some kind of focused entertainment event. This could be a “backup plan” if we got no power, or a “let’s buy some time” piece of the puzzle.
  • Several of us realized the buffet could be set up outside, and there was enough light from the candles so that people could eat at the tables in the banquet hall, or in the sunlit atrium or courtyard.
  • If we could not find a way to play the submitted videos, we had a piano on site and I could sight-read charts on my phone for people to sing whatever they wanted, so we could still do a “karaoke” sort of activity and stay on the theme: “So You Think You Can Sing.”
  • The bar was fine — no electricity needed — so I suggested we let people get drinks, I’d do strolling magic, and we’d see if the power came back or if we could get an estimate on repair time from the power company.
She agreed, so I tapped on a wine glass and announced the situation and that we’d be relying on everyone’s patience and flexibility, but that this was still going to be a successful night to remember. I began strolling magic while staff started setting up chairs for the atrium show. The kitchen started figuring out how they could move the buffet outside. We were advised that it would be at least 90 minutes before any power could be restored. (That was wishful thinking.)
As I watched the sun move and the light in the atrium change, I advised that if I were going to do a show there, we needed to go ahead and start it within the next 30 minutes. So we announced it and about 10 minutes later I was doing a stand-up show with a little customized scripting to emphasize the fundraising need and the mission of the organization. As I performed I got word that dinner was actually ready, so I closed with a finale trick and people went to eat. At the very least, there had now been a show and a dinner.
Most people got plates and went inside to eat at the candlelit tables. I got a quick nibble and checked on the status of things. I was told that in the time we had bought with the stand-up show, someone had rented a small generator from Home Depot and there would be enough power to run the mics, laptops, and projector. A garage floor worklight on a table became the stage light. We were “go” to do our program, albeit in dark and challenging conditions.
I then went into onstage host mode, welcoming everyone and introducing the judges and other people. While there was no livestream, the in-person program went reasonably well in the dimly flickering banquet hall. People laughed and cried at all the appropriate moments. Some videos could not be shown, but all the contestant videos had been downloaded and were all shown and adjudicated. Donations were made, auctions were held, awards were given, and the band had enough power to play afterward.
So the client and her team used part of my backup plan, and we all managed to cobble together the other pieces well enough to proceed with a “crisis-management” version of the original program.
When I left the lights still hadn’t come back on. As I drove away I passed the emergency crew working down the street still surrounded by flashing blue police lights for safety in the dark.
Just another day at the office.

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One Response

  1. That is fantastic — excellent change of plans on the fly!

    I particularly like the idea of “I could do a program (of any needed duration up to 45 minutes) there.” I was talking with a friend recently who is great about that with the stories he tells. They’re “supposed” to be 20 minute stories, but he can break them into any increment smaller than that as needed.

    That is a gift that I don’t have, but something I’m working to develop (for stories, not magical entertainment…)

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