How many IITians does it take to pull off a proshow? All of them: a handful who do the hard labour and the rest who reap the former’s rewards. Being as large scale as they are, proshows are no joke in terms of their management and smooth execution. Of course there are bound to be numerous roadblocks on the way, but the relatively consistent quality delivered at the end every year is what makes them worth the entire buzz. During Saarang 2016, we went on a field trip to find out what exactly is entailed in the making its highlight events. To this end, we spoke to the two Pro-show cores, Ashwin Pothen and Harshith Guntha. We also managed to get a few insights from other crewmembers who were more than happy to share their woes with us.
As we all know, Saarang in its recent history has had five nights with a Proshow for each. What sets us apart from other colleges is that in addition to the Rock Night, EDM Night and Popular Night we also have Classical Night and Choreo Night. Classical Night has been one to consistently rope in stalwarts of the Indian music and dance scene, such as Shobhana, Ustad Amjad Ali Khan, and many more. Choreo Night is a ticketed event that provides a huge platform for college dance contingents to showcase their talent and gain a following among an audience of around five thousand people. The proceeds from Choreo Night are donated every year, a tradition that has been kept up for several years now.
The planning for professional shows, or proshows as they are called, are born months prior to the scheduled date by the Saarang Proshows team. Shortlisting and roping in artists is the most important and time-consuming part. Organisers are kept on their toes as they await confirmation of artists, their requirements for the show, dealing with last minute mishaps brought on by unforeseen circumstances and much more. To deal with precisely such situations, there are special technical arrangements made to speedily resolve last minute glitches.
When it comes to Proshows, the sound system constitutes the most important equipment of all. Artists who perform differ in their preferences for types of speakers and amplifiers. Speaking to the Proshows equipment coordinator Mehul (3rd year Chemical Engineering), we learnt that artists are required to submit specifications for the type of systems they want in the form of ‘tech riders’ and the Proshows team makes arrangements to hire or buy equipment from vendors accordingly. Vendors who are able to comply with the requirements specified in the technical riders for a reasonable price are chosen shortlisted, and one is selected based on the best review from credible sources and the most reasonable price quoted. This year, the vendor hired was Picture Productions: the company had had prior experience with Saarang (for the last two years) and therefore knew and understood the magnitude of the event and the specifications required. The truss on the stage is taken care of entirely by Picture Production and doesn’t require much overseeing or involvement on the part of the proshows team. Everything is set up by Day -1, that is the afternoon preceding that of the Classical Night which is held on Day 0.
As far as instruments go, artists bring their own for comfort’s sake; however, the institute provides artists with a drum kit due to the understandable difficulty of artists bringing an entire set themselves. There is a console set up right in front of the OAT main gate, which is where most of the stage management happens. Picture Productions provides this console along with a sound and light engineer. Most artistes have dedicated sound engineers as part of their crew who mediate between the team and the artists in terms of equipment specifics and so on – these are the ones who draft and submit a technical rider on behalf of the artists.
The main job of the console is to control sound and lighting, as well as to unobtrusively resolve technical glitches that occur during performances. Most of the work done here is not observable by the audience. It is also charged with playing teasers between performances which is conveyed to the proshows team by the sponsors team. Backing tracks are another important feature of any of the proshows, particularly the rock show and popular night. The console is instructed to play these tracks for the artists on stage as and when they are cued to do so.
The number of people involved both on and offstage calls for effective communication between the former and the latter. For this, the cores and coords are equipped with walkie talkies in order to easily pass on instructions, deal with delays and bridge time lapses – all without the notice of the audience. According to one of the deputy coords, Sriram AR, EDM night is the easiest to manage as most controls are in the hands of the DJ onstage. Often there is no requirement of even a soundcheck, as EDM artists directly take the stage. Rock show on the other hand, is the most difficult to manage and involves the most work. This is because of the involvement of multiple instruments each of which need to be tuned differently. More number of instruments corresponds to more speakers, amplifiers, mics, etc, which in turn correspond to more number of controls to be monitored back at the console. The soundcheck for each band, including the opening and headlining acts, come close to 2 hours or sometimes even more – such is the meticulousness with which artists perform their checks prior to the show. Popular Night is tricky as there are several instrumentalists on stage all at once. Choreo night brings its own fair share of technicalities. Besides playing the music tracks in the right order and on time, the console is required to abide by the specific lighting patterns requested by the various teams participating.
Another issue the equipment team has to keep in mind is the sound limit of 85-95 decibels in the institute, since IIT Madras falls under the Zone of Forest Management. The equipment team does regular checks during the event to make sure the decibel level outside the OAT is within the limit. There have been problems in the past when artists demanded full control of the sound but were stifled by the sound management crew that regulates volume levels periodically. Working on the Proshows Equipment’s team, Mehul Says, is “full of surprises”. Last year the main speakers were damaged because an overzealous monkey dropped Coca-Cola on an amplifier and burnt it out mere hours before the show. Managing such last minute mishaps, yet still giving the audience a great evening without letting said mishaps affect their experience of Saarang, he claims, is the best part of working in the Proshows team.
With Proshows being one of the highlights of Saarang, managing the massive turn-up watching their favourite artists perform is another domain which needs a lot of attention. We spoke to Praveen, the coordinator delegated with the task of security and crowd management. The security team has about 100 security volunteers, overseen by professors, who chalk out everything from the security of the artists to the emergency evacuation plan is chalked out beforehand. Attendees who enter cannot exit the venue again unless they don’t intend to return. This is to minimise the entry of those without tickets and thereby avoid overcrowding of the venue. Different coloured wristbands corresponded to different tickets, which ensured that there were no currents of people moving between barricaded areas within the venue. Bags were strictly not allowed and to this end, a locker facility was introduced to stow away any that visitors unknowingly brought. On the performer’s side of things: artists are escorted into the green room 20 minutes before they are scheduled to be onstage.
Besides the large scale shows at night, the Proshows team also organizes the World Music acts, independent artists from around the world are invited and given a platform. Through opening acts in proshows, Saarang also aims to gives domestic talent a platform to shine. “This boost is given not just through performance before a new and large audience, but also through endorsement of the artists across various media platforms as a part of Saarang’s publicity”, says Ashwin Pothen, Core for Saarang Proshows.
This year’s Saarang had a special theme in the context of the devastating Chennai Floods – ‘A Fundraiser to Reclaim the Spirit of Chennai.’ It aimed to show solidarity to the city’s ordeal through music and soul. Excess revenue from Saarang’s proceedings, approximately to the tune of tens of lakhs, are to be donated to the Chief Minister’s Relief Fund for flood relief activities, giving a social facet to the proshows that we have mostly come to enjoy and cherish.
Photo credits : Mehul Chaudhary and Arjun Rakesh