Performance events are about more than just gadgets. Setting the scene before the tech is even turned on is a large part of the arcane art of stagecraft. This requires staging, rigging, props and drapes. For nearly 25 years, Sydney’s The Look has provided drapes and rigging for all manner of functions.
Founded by Geoff and Cath Newey in 1996, they have a huge range of drapes, skirts, starcloths and borders in all sorts of finishes and sizes. The Look also provide all the associated apparatus to keep these dressings in place and looking good, including tab tracks and kabuki drop systems. This is complemented with a range of tassels, bollards, masks and assorted props to round out your stage or event decoration.
Coming from exhibition work in the early 80s, Geoff got involved with bands – much like many of us – and got the bug for live shows. Doing lights, staging and whatever else was required, the lifelong learning curve was well under way.
A stab at promotion, some theatre and ballet, and then a wide mix of crewing, circuses and floristry kept up the practice for a while. A chance meeting with Meri and Leanne Took led to several years with the newly formed Staging Rentals.
The juncture was great and they went from two to 22 employees in a very short time.
The business of covering the walls went through the roof and everyone learnt a great deal on how to modularise event decorations and keep them all presentable and in one piece from gig to gig. Offered a job in prop buying, Geoff moved on but it didn’t quite gel so he went back to crewing. On the side, he started gathering some materials and got The Look started.
It was a slow, steady beginning and took many years to generate a decent turnover.
The big break for Geoff and his company came with the Sydney Olympics in 2000. Apart from hanging out with everyone he’d worked with for nearly two decades, he met international artist Nicolas Bouf and the two formed a strong bond, still robust after another two decades of The Look.
Both of them love sound, lighting, screens and the entertainment business in general. Both enjoy their work but more so because they get to be creative and artistic while doing it.
For many in our industry, the Olympics were a boon and it was just that for The Look. Initially tasked with dressing one venue, organisers asked if they could get 700 metres of wall covered early next week. “No problems.” says Geoff. An hour after finishing that, they asked if he could do another 700 metres the following day. “Sure.” No time to stress – just make it happen.
This process continued throughout the five ringed affair, with some staff racking up 120 hours a week. Geoff still considers it one of his finest moments, a proud roadie and proud Australian, showcasing our best for the world.
Like many, experience with live events has given The Look team a unique perspective on problem solving in the world around us. Far from jaded, their wealth of wisdom confers the ability to be able to think ahead and anticipate problems before they occur.
For Geoff and Nicolas, this means preparing for the worst but expecting the best. By identifying and rectifying failure points in advance, they can then spend their best attentions on getting everything looking just right come show time. Naturally, they remain flexible enough to accommodate any design revisions or changes as they arise.
Sometimes, the anticipation is in jest. There had been banter around the office that Geoff wanted a gig with the Pope. As a joke, he’d taken to asking every time he got back to the office – “Did the Pope call?” – until one day he arrived back to all the staff lined up like soldiers and he knew something was up.
Well, it wasn’t the Pope but “his mate Giovanni” who had indeed called, asking for a five story high platform and all manner of adornments for the pending Papal visit. Be careful what you wish for!
Typical Customers – Fun Jobs
Hire drapes get hung in a wide variety of situations. From film studios to fancy champagne launches, from ballet scenery to enhancing weddings, circuses, corporate and fantasy theme events, The Look does it all.
More than once they’ve been asked to set up cave-like environments, including one for the Children’s Hospital and a gem in a residence in Pt Piper.
Here they had to emulate a watery cave and beach inside. With camouflage mesh everywhere, a digitally printed floor overlay and vines and flowers galore, the guests were a little overwhelmed. Apparently the first few parties who entered from the lift thought that they’d ended up in some grotto basement and headed straight back upstairs.
Obviously, a job well done.
Weddings are a regular event for swathing and most clients want their big day absolutely perfect so they’ll go the extra mile with budget. When one client had created a room within a room with draping, it took six florists two days to hang a garden from the entire ceiling. The same client kept asking for more spaces to be decorated, so The Look kept delivering more.
Many of their jobs evolve as they go, working closely with designers and end clients to get the right outcome.
Materials have moved on from just wool and velvet to myriad fabric types and finishes. A recent addition to the extensive inventory is some quarantine mesh, embedded with fine wire, which allows 3D sculptural elements to be created.
The other notable evolutionary development for the team (and industry in general) is rigging and attachment. Some of this ornamentation can get pretty heavy and needs to stay safely in place. It also needs to pack up cleanly and be ready for the next job.
Incorporating Velcro loops and attachments was an early improvement and easy ties, stouter hemming and enhanced rigging techniques have matured over the years.
Getting customers to return everything in good nick is an ongoing challenge but also a process in constant flux!
Art of Drapery
The Look may be a business putting food on the table but art is still the main driver for Geoff and Nicolas. Making a living turning the drab into the spectacular is a lot of fun for these guys.
According to Geoff’s kids, he is “the only dad at school who has a job that he likes.” That alone is worth keeping in mind the next time that you need some trimmings around your stage.
Contact The Look:
CX Magazine – Dec 2019 Entertainment technology news and issues for Australia and New Zealand – in print and free online www.cxnetwork.com.au
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