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David Keene: The Biggest Cross-over Event in History

How the Pope's visit energized the industry

It’s axiomatic that in today’s staging world, the same technology is often used for a presentation by a geeky CEO at a national sales conference and by Taylor Swift. But it was certainly a new twist on things when the Pope took the U.S. by storm in late summer– capped off by a truly spectacular event in Philly that would be the envy of many top touring stars. 

While the political events of the Pope’s visit got most of the media attention– his address to a joint session of Congress, activities on the pristine White House lawn, and the separate address to the UN in New York, the big stage in Philadelphia was the most dramatic use of staging technology by a religious figure, well, ever. And it was ostensibly the largest multiple screen event ever staged. And it was great to see friends and staging veterans involved: Jeff Studley and his team at suburban Washington DC-based CPR MultiMedia Solutions, who have staged some of the most important live events in the Washington DC area, Maryland-based Staging Dimensions, and Philadelphia-based Upstage Video. (I’m sure more staging companies were involved– but in an event so massive we can only cover so much in one article– and I’m sure I’ll hear about more pieces of the puzzle all autumn.)

As Johnny Jan, Director of Creative Services & Marketing at CPR MultiMedia Solutions, says in the article, “Some days you need a cup of coffee to energize the day, but when you get a request from a client for a project during the Pope’s Visit to the White House that energy blows the roof off and the wheels get rolling quickly.”

Indeed. Regardless of what your religious affiliations are, you could not help being amazed by the papal visit as a whole, technology included. (Personally, being educated by Jesuits, I have a fascination with this first ever Jesuit Pope, but try as I might here I can’t think of a technology basis for that fascination).  From a pure technology standpoint, it was refreshing to see even more “entertainment” side technology and techniques being used in the papal events. Social media boards via huge LED screens. More extensive IMAG screen distribution throughout the crowd in Philly (almost like delay speakers in the P.A. world). 

Of course, the security aspect of the events was a story in themselves. The fact that this part of the equation never came much to light during the events or the media coverage is a testament to the fact that “no news is good news” in that department. It was interesting to see how the different staging companies had different security protocols to deal with, with the more DC-centric companies mostly already having security regimes in place given that they deal with Presidents, heads of state etc on a regular basis.

It may be a while before another religious leader comes to town with this kind of show technology. I hope it’s a trend– not sure when it will happen again, but next time you can bet there will be a host of great staging companies ready to take that call when it comes in.

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