The most common and cost effective way of getting a stage platform for your event is to hire one. There are a few things you should know when hiring from a staging specialist and it helps to have a head start and a bit of knowledge before picking up the phone. Write down the answers to the header questions below on a notepad and leave space below each answer for your conversation notes.
1. Is the event indoors or outdoors?
Indoor stages present far fewer challenges since usually the floor is flat and there won’t be any wind or rain inside so a canopy isn’t necessary.
Outdoors you need to consider the surface you are putting it on. Level ground adjacent to or on a hardstanding (eg concrete or tarmac) will ultimately cost you less. Getting the hardware to the location is often what adds to costs – we’ll come back to this later. Remember what appears level may not necessarily be level! Roads have a camber, agricultural fields and car parks may be flat but not level. And what about weather cover? Performers and electrical equipment may need to be protected from wind, rain, snow or sun. Stage Trucks are great for larger outdoor events as they are relatively quick to set up, come with weather cover and can be positioned and levelled easily. Ground conditions and access is a key factor to consider when booking these.
2. What is the stage to be used for?
Usually it’s a presentation or performance. Sometimes it’s simply to support a piece of equipment or technical crew. Have as much information as possible on what’s happening on it to hand as well as an overview of the type of event you’re putting on. Is it public or private? For either there will be a venue manager or a local council officer who will need to be consulted and they are likely to (and are entitled to) request health and safety documentation as well as plans and calculations.
You’ll no doubt have a rough idea but a few factors below will help determine your optimum stage size, I’ve split these in to the three essential uses outlined in question 2.
How high? The bigger the room and audience, the higher it needs to be. 1ft -2ft tall is enough for most conference based events.
How big? For a lectern and a panel of say 4 to 5 with a central screen minimum width should be 8m (26ft), minimum depth 2m (3ft). Allow 2m x 2m for a lectern, enough for the width of your tribunal table, a gap for the screen, especially if the room has a low ceiling and space for presenters to walk and express themselves.
Weight Load? Never normally a problem until you want to place a car or elephant on the stage. Most steel constructed stage decks will be designed to withstand at least a quarter of a tonne per square metre as a rough guide. This presumes of course that it is rigged safely and complies with manufacturer requirements.
Shape? Catwalks, or more commonly known in the industry as Runways will often be T-shaped and may have a turning circle at the top end. Often a curved-front stage is used for functions such as weddings and parties. A product launch may require a circular stage to highlight the reveal, possibly even a rotating turntable.
How high? the same rules apply as with presentations, if you feel you need to go to 3ft or above then particular health and safety rules come in to play, for example handrails and bracing underneath.
How big? Bands will usually have a stage layout that they prefer to use and this will determine the size. They may require one or two “risers” to lift the drummer or keyboardist (usually people sitting to perform). Choirs will need about 1 square metre per person, for orchestras ask the conductor for the layout. Often the stage will need to be tiered in order for the audience to see performers and performers to see the conductor. Dancers will need a larger area, very smooth, flat surface and depending on the style may require a particular finish or texture.
Weight Load? The average human weighs 80kg. Always triple this to set your minimum loading on stage so once you stand 3 people on an area of 2m x 1m you may already be overloading a lower category or economy stage platform. Don’t forget that when a person jumps, the weight (or more accurately the force they exert on the platform) will more than double when they land. Your staging supplier should be able to analyse all these factors when you explain what you need. Needless to say take all props and scenery in to account although they are usually designed to be lightweight for quick scene changes.
Shape? Very much depends on the event as described in the presentation section but expect more cost for more elaborate designs.
Equipment or Technician Platform
Consider whether your technical control crew can see the stage, they may need to be raised. A video wall will need to sit at a height well above floor level, a video camera operator may need to be elevated above the heads of an audience.
Size, height, weight load and shape will follow the same criteria as performance and presentation sections although you won’t find many camera operators jumping!
4. Look and finish?
Surface? Carpet or vinyl? Bare deck is often black and while a coat of paint will cover many flaws it will look rather industrial and bland if not covered. Coloured carpet or textured vinyl adds a bespoke feel to the stage which you may want to tie in with your brand or theme.
Sides? Skirt, fabric or vinyl? No cover around the edges will mean everyone sees the legs and all the empty cases and junk you’ve shoved under the stage! Most stage or AV companies will provide a black skirt for little extra cost and will offer hard edges which can be a specific colour that can complement the surface. Frosted perspex edging used in conjunction with under-stage lighting will really impress.
Trim? Sometimes a white edge may be required for safety reasons which can be cheaply achieved using gaffer tape. A polished aluminium edge will make the temporary stage look almost permanent. For fashion runways and feature stages LED ribbon lighting is popular.
How are people going to get on to the stage? Even at 1ft high it’s not easy for someone in a long tight skirt to walk on stage elegantly! You’ll need steps or treads which will depend on the platform height.
Do you need more than one set of treads? Don’t forget people walking off the stage too, especially for awards type events.
Do you need handrails? Elderly people will appreciate a handrail on at least one side of the steps.
Do you need a wheelchair ramp? There are safety guidelines for gradient and width that your supplier will know and understand.
What do you need to put on the stage? Lectern? Chairs? Bar stools? Sofa? Awards or tribunal table? Altar? Branding, pull-up banners, graphics? Theming props? All these will impact the size, shape and style of the stage so good to know beforehand rather than arriving with four Oscar statues and realising there’s nowhere to put them!
5. The Cost?
Possibly stating the obvious but simple rules of thumb below:
The further away your stage location is from where a truck or van can offload, the greater the cost of logistics (includes lifts!)
The bigger the stage the more costly it will be (duh!)
A very high weight load requirement will add further costs
Ground surfaces that are uneven or not level will add to costs
Above two feet high (61cm) will add to the cost
Curved and more elaborate shapes will be more costly
Surface cost low to high: bare – painted – carpet – vinyl – padded vinyl
Edging cost low to high: none – skirt – fabric – vinyl – padded vinyl – perspex
Trim cost low to high: none – gaffer tape – plastic – aluminium
Accessories – always price on application!
Safety is the highest priority when building a temporary stage, the risks of getting it wrong are too high to contemplate. Assumptions instead of calculations are out of the question.
Always employ an experienced stage construction company, ask for previous experience and references. If they can’t produce a risk assessment for your specified platform within a day of your request then don’t employ them. If they have to go away and think about whether they can do the job then they most probably can’t.