Penticton’s Conrad Burek (right) talks to a crew member during the set up for the recent We Will Rock You performance at the South Okanagan Events Centre. (Mark Brett - Western News)

Behind the scenes: The ‘unsung heroes’ of the South Okanagan Events Centre

Large numbers of local workers benefit from the big productions that come to Penticton each year.

When a major production comes to town it’s all hands on deck at the South Okanagan Events Centre (SOEC).

With thousands of moving and stationary parts all needing to be put in their proper places and the clock ticking, set up and take down are critical components of any successful show.

And that’s where the many local part-time workers, called the “unsung heroes” of the entertainment business by those in the know, really shine.

“Absolutely, we couldn’t do it without them. Conrad’s (lighting director Conrad Burek) crews, the stage hands, all the way to the conversion crew who flip it from hockey to stage show. You can’t do it without them, it just doesn’t work,” said Kevin Webb, SOEC assistant general manager. “It takes about 25 workers to do the (ice) conversion and the stage hands that do the show could be anywhere from 20 to a Cirque (Cirque du Soleil) show where there could be from 80 to just shy of 100.”

A rigger is one of the tougher jobs to fill for concerts and shows. (Mark Brett – Western News)

As well, there are part-time house keeping crews that come in to do the cleaning work afterwards.

On the eve of a show on hockey night, work on the conversion begins after fans have left the Vees game. That includes installing an ice deck over the frozen surface, taking all the glass out, building the stage and turning the hockey dressing rooms into entertainer dressing rooms complete with furniture and carpeting.

“That will go to four or five o’clock in the morning so they’re ready to go when the show arrives, generally about eight o’clock the next morning,” said Webb. “That’s where Conrad’s and Gord Osland’s IATSE (International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees) stage hands help set up the show.”

READ MORE: Dazzling Penticton debut for Cirque du Soleil’s Crystal

It’s also when the magic truly happens as tour employees and part timers work together to build sets and install lights and audio, all in just a matter of hours.

And just as importantly, tear it down so the trucks can be on their way in time to get to the next venue and return the SOEC to the way it was the night before.

Local crew member Ian Sebesta is silhouetted by the overhead lighting backstage. (Mark Brett – Western News)

“If it looks like nothing ever happened after the show, that’s a good day for me,” said Webb, adding the employment injects thousands of dollars into the local economy each year.

For Burek, who has spent many years in the entertainment business, including working as an actor and who is in high demand for his lighting skills, the speed and accuracy of assembling all the pieces is still amazing.

“It’s quite remarkable, if you’ve never seen it before, even for me, I was working on this (nodding to the efforts on the We Will Rock You floor) and I turned around and that (stage set) was already built and that brings me such great joy, such great joy,” he said. “It’s fun too because you’re always problem solving, you’re always figuring stuff out, how do you make his work, how do you make that work.”

He added that are constants in the work.

“Every show has different pieces but it’s always the same, off the truck and put it up don’t send anybody to the hospital or the morgue that’s pretty much it,” said Burek with a laugh, adding that safety is paramount in all jobs relating to setup and take down.

One the biggest jobs he worked locally was the 2018 Cirque production of Crystal at the SOEC.

That involved 17 truckloads of equipment and set materials and required between 75 and 85 additional workers helping out the 28-member Cirque crew.

“That was quite a unique show and Cirque does everything just right,” said Burek. “That entire ice show was gone in two hours.”

Cirque’s production manager at the time said without the freelance workers his workers couldn’t do it alone.

Over the years Burek said the SOEC has developed a strong reputation in the entertainment industry when it comes down to setup and take down.

READ MORE: Okanagan woman living the dream with Cirque du Soleil

“That’s because we’ve got a rock-solid crew here and that’s the big thing,” he said. “It all started when the arena (SOEC) started in 2008, we’ve had some attrition over the years but our core crew is rock solid, they stand up to any of those in the big city.”

He also mentioned the added employment value that it brings to the local economy.

“It’s outside money that comes into the community, it keeps us in our rents and mortgages for sure.”


 

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Crews prepare to move one of the larger props into place before the start of the show. (Mark Brett - Western News)

For most of the larger productions and concerts that come to the South Okanagan Events Centre as many as 80 local people are hired to help the travelling workers. (Mark Brett - Western News)

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