As one of the leading service providers in the live events industry, Gearhouse Group not only ensures that events and productions run smoothly and at the highest standard, but is also involved in sponsorship, training and lessening the environmental impact that these events have. Creative Feel spoke to the company to find out a bit more.
Creative Feel: Please tell us a bit more about Gearhouse. What services do you offer and what do you specialise in?
Gearhouse: Gearhouse is a group of nine companies, each of which services the live events industry in a different way. Each company works as a stand-alone, but together we provide the widest range of services currently available in our region. A designated project manager coordinates all the elements on our client’s behalf so that they need only contact one person to access the full range of services. The nine companies making up Gearhouse include Gearhouse South Africa; System Solutions; INHOUSE VTM (Venue Technical Management); In2Structures; LEDVision; Sets Drapes Screens; Gearhouse Splitbeam; Havaseat and the Gearhouse Kentse Mpahlwa Academy. With these nine specialised companies, Gearhouse is able to provide a holistic and tailored approach for clients: from lighting, audio, audio-visual,power, structures and sets, to permanent pro AV installations, to the technical requirements of conference and entertainment venues, to custom designed portable venues, to set construction, to grandstand seating, to training and learnerships. Vision, passion, teamwork and a commitment to service excellence are the foundations on which Gearhouse Group has been built. The group has grown from a small, Johannesburg-based lighting company with an equipment inventory of R300 000 in 1991 to a countrywide, total technical solution group today.
CF: Please tell us some of the recent theatre productions Gearhouse Splitbeam has been involved in. In what way did you support the production and assist in making it spectacular?
GH: Some recent productions include Annie, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and Calling Me Home. For Annie and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, we provided full technical supply (including lighting, audio and rigging) for their runs in South Africa. In addition, for Priscilla Queen of the Desert we provided AV and technical direction/production management, we also provided all of this for its Hong Kong tour. For Calling Me Home – a new, entirely South African musical – Splitbeam provided technical direction and product management, from development stages through to its worldwide premiere at Joburg Theatre. The production made use of lighting, audio and AV, with much of the additional technical supplied by Splitbeam.
CF: Gearhouse Splitbeam plays an important role in supporting theatre in South Africa. Please tell us a bit more about the projects you have supported through sponsorship.
GH: Recently, we have supported Dance Umbrella, ASSITEJ-SA (the SA Cradle of Creativity Theatre Festival and ASSITEJ World Congress) and Redhill School’s Redfest 2017. Recognising the important role that Dance Umbrella plays in the South African contemporary dance field, Splitbeam has joined forces with the festival over the past five years. Sponsorship of the festival has offered Splitbeam, as a young company, exposure to the theatre world, and initiated working relationships with industry players that continue to flourish. This year will mark the thirtieth anniversary of Dance Umbrella and we hope that the festival continues for many more years. For the ASSITEJ Cradle of Creativity Theatre Festival, Splitbeam offered significant sponsorship in order to assist in putting on this massive, and highly beneficial, event. It was a huge undertaking to mount an international theatre festival hosting 40 cutting-edge international productions for youth and young audiences. Splitbeam coordinated and supplied every technical aspect of the festival, which involved creating new temporary theatre spaces and supplying lighting, audio, AV, draping, trussing and personnel. Splitbeam has developed ongoing relationships with numerous schools, and often provides technical training for students. Redhill is just one of these schools. Redfest 2017, a festival mounted by the School, has grown since its inception, and this year Splitbeam was engaged as a technical supplier, providing lighting and audio, technical staffing and production/technical management. Splitbeam has been involved in sponsoring numerous events at Redhill School to support the growth of the wonderful work that the school is doing in the arts and culture sector, specifically in theatre.
CF: In the same vein, development of the industry is also obviously important to Gearhouse, as evidenced by the training academy that you run. Could you tell us a bit more about this?
GH: Throughout all of our companies, branches and divisions, we recognise staff as our most important asset. Pride in their professional skills places them up there with the best in the world. A high priority is placed on on-going training and skills development to keep our skilled personnel abreast of all the latest technological advancements. For the past twelve years, Gearhouse has been involved in training for the industry overall, and was instrumental in writing the qualification Live Event Technical Production (LETP), a SAQA Accredited National Certificate that is run annually, free-of-charge for learners at the Gearhouse Kentse Mpahlwa Academy in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town. The twelve-month LETP course is focused on giving learners a broad-based introduction and foundation across the various disciplines of our industry, followed by a yearlong work integrated learning programme where a learner then interns in a specific discipline. Several of the learners then take positions within the group, but the majority go out into the industry and we follow their careers with pride. As the industry leader, this is part of our ethos of giving back to the industry.
CF: Gearhouse also has several initiatives in place to mitigate the company’s impact on the environment and improve the sustainability of the operation, please could you give us a bit more information on these initiatives?
GH: The live event industry is an energy-intensive one and it is, therefore, essential to make greener event choices wherever possible. Gearhouse has implemented a step-by-step greening process, starting at a grassroots level with the recycling of batteries, generator oil and consumables with energy efficient, compact procurement choices. In addition, we are streamlining our processes and systems towards reducing energy usage, manpower and transport requirements. We do what we can to mitigate the effects, and advise clients on greener options such as using LED technology over conventional lighting to achieve the same or better lighting intensity at a fraction of the power outlay; using folding truss to save an average of four metres of truck space per load and thereby reducing transport requirements; choosing digital signage, LCD or plasma screens over printed PVC or paper banners as they are not only more environmentally friendly, but more impactful; using Line Array PA systems, which require less energy, less man hours, less transport space and less steel construction than conventional point source systems; using digital consoles to reduce the amount of paperwork, manual planning and preparation required; and new generation switch-mode amplifiers to deliver four-times the power at the same consumption. In addition, Sets Drapes Screens (SDS), the Group’s set building company, has been very active in finding ways to recycle the waste associated with set manufacture. Bespoke set pieces designed for once-off use on events are a frequent request and, with storage limited to stock pieces, the reality is that many sets are destroyed and thrown away as soon as the event is over. The SDS branches have initiated recycling programmes in the immediate vicinity of each of the workshops and the scrapped set pieces are donated at designated drop-off points for use by the community. This has been very successful and greatly appreciated by local residents, who use the materials in their own homes. Recently, the Cape Town branch of SDS has taken things a step further and is using manufacturing off cuts to build flat pack ‘Hashtag Design’ furniture pieces. The pieces are creative and different and are being taken up by clients for both offices and exhibition stands. Because they are offcuts, the pricing is extremely competitive.