Stage Electrics has once again provided full technical production for the Guardian Hay Festival, held in Hay-on-Wye in the Brecon Beacons each summer. The world's leading literary festival, famously labelled by Bill Clinton as "The Woodstock of the mind", has also exported its concept to create sister events as far flung as India, Columbia, Mexico, Spain, Maldives and Kenya.
In 23 years the event has grown from a number of venues in the picturesque town to a much larger greenfield site just outside.
The site infrastructure is designed to ensure that visitors and guest celebrities alike enjoy the experience without traditional festival discomforts. Generous trackway and tentage ensure that encounters with mud, even in a wet year, are minimised; conversely, on sunny days there is plenty of space for visitors to relax on the lawns.
Content spans the literature readings and discussions for which the festival is most famous, and embraces comedy sessions and live music from folk and world music to rock&roll and jazz, with headliners in 2010 including Christy Moore, Natacha Atlas, Toumani Diabate, Stereophonics' Kelly Jones, Beth Orton, Ketil Bjornstad, The Whip, Dennis Rollins and Orquesta Buena Vista Social Club.
Stage Electrics has been responsible for the event's complete technical infrastructure and production since 2000, with the sole exception of 2006. The brief, from Hay Festival's Technical Director Paul Elkington to Stage Electrics Project Manager John Radford, encompasses site-wide and venue-wide power distribution, site lighting, and full technical facilities for each venue, including stage and house lighting, audio and AV systems including plasma screens and projection facilities. The company's technical crews install all of these systems, and work closely with the concession groups to supply power to the individual concessions. Hay Festival crew handle day-to-day stage management and production operation, with Stage Electrics crew on hand to deal with special power, lighting or PA requirements and maintenance.
Venues range in size from gazebos and small cafés seating a few dozen people to the 1500-seat Barclays Wealth Pavilion with its grandstand seating, compact EAW line array PA, automated stage lighting and a large video projection screen. Filling the spectrum in between are a 800-seat venue and a 420-seat cinema, and several 200-plus venues. Stages open at 9:00 am and run through to 11:00 pm, with key events individually ticketed, although general site admission is free.
With such variety, and the fact that performances can be moved from one venue to another at short notice to maximise audience capacity in line with ticket demand, well planned logistics and communications are major factors in the smooth running of the whole operation. The need for crew to be particularly on their toes is seen when, for instance, a particular lecture is scheduled for a 200 seat venue but sells out very quickly, requiring a sudden change of venue to allow more people into see it.
The relationship with Hay Festival and its participants has given the Stage Electrics team much insight into the particular needs of the event, including the variabilities of concessions' power requirements, for which a generous allowance is made, as well as the need to have a copious supply of spare equipment and parts on hand to deal with technical contingencies, unannounced guest performers and inclement weather.
At the end of the festival, Stage Electrics' crew swiftly remove the technical systems from site, allowing the Hay Festival team to restore the green fields to their natural state.