After a strong start, 2020 turned out to be a year like no other. Starting the year with projects across the UK and Europe, and some planed for further afield, we were looking forward to building on a successful 2019. We were planning for our 30th Anniversary and looking at how we would celebrate and mark this historic achievement.
Along with many other projects, February saw us at the O2 for the Brit Awards. We added some creative draping to Misty Buckley’s amazing looking set and worked with US Singer, Lizzo, on her performance, utilising our Fabric reveal drums to slide a chiffon dress off her shoulders and vanish into the wings like magic.
From March onwards, the world started to feel the effects of the looming pandemic. Over the course of a couple of weeks, we saw jobs start to cancel, some in advance, some as crew stepped off an aeroplane, some after the truck had been loaded, and some after we had installed the equipment. It was heartbreaking to see but eventually, the job board was cleared entirely – a sight we had never seen before in our 30 years glorious years. Our new facility in Paris had only just finalised their move to a new and bigger warehouse before being forced to close. With this in mind, we were very aware of the increasing concern across the whole of Europe. We moved slightly quicker than the Government in closing the doors, although we did this with the expectation that in the worst-case scenario, we would be back in around 5 weeks. We briefed the staff accordingly, we all wished each other well and insisted we all stay safe and we said goodbye. It felt like the last day before Christmas but with a fear you may fall ill before you could get home.
No one could have foreseen what would subsequently unfold. Furlough was very much welcomed as a measure of support. All staff, bar the Directors and a core team of essential roles, took advantage of the scheme. Those left worked together from home, keeping in contact via regular Microsoft Teams chats.
As the sun came out and the garden started to bloom, the usual hopeful season of the year was overshadowed – but the expectation of a return to work still seemed a long way away. It became increasingly clear that the future of our industry was not as transparent as we once thought. We have always prided ourselves on the people at Blackout, “Without the right people…it’s just drapes and rigging” and we still believe that, however, we had to make some tough decisions that deeply affected some of our valued team. Sadly, we had to make some changes and part company with some of the people we had seen grow and prosper within our organisation. That was truly hard, although we appreciate that it was much harder for them. We can only offer our sincerest thanks to any of our team who we have lost during this difficult period. To their credit, it was handled with grace and dignity and their hard work over the years was much appreciated.
We had to move on and as the weather got hotter, we started to see some shoots of recovery in the industry and a small amount of work. By July, the creak of the warehouse doors could be heard once more. Covid protocols were put in place, changes to the layout were implemented and the hand sanitisers were once again topped up. With a small team utilising the new Flexi-furlough scheme, we began to get going again, albeit with baby steps.
Television and Broadcast become alive again! We had a range of projects from streaming studios in the warehouse for long-established clients, such as Creative Technology and Black Skull. We had equipment heading to many of the studios around London; The Riverside, Kennington Studios, Elstree and Shepperton all saw our vehicles pass through their gates.
We provided a full production rigging and drape package for the CPL series ‘A League of Their Own’, enjoying its 15th series. We also worked with them to provide rigging and an automation package for “At the Movies” filmed at the original BBC TC1 in Shepherds Bush.
We also eventually provided our bespoke Red Ground supported Truss structure for the rescheduled Sky Arts Portrait Artist of the year, which was originally planned for March. This has been a feature in our usually busy calendar for a few years now and it was good to see the team again, especially Kate and Lisa from production company Papilio.
A highlight of our return was providing the ground support Truss within the Painted Hall at the Greenwich Old Royal Naval College in order to rig the Luke Jerram Art installation, Gaia for the Greenwich and Docklands Festival.
A truly stunning piece in an incredible setting, the brief to provide a low-profile infrastructure to suspend the 7m globe within the ornate room was truly met.
We also worked with Tuesday’s Child and Set Square Creative to rig the set for the new series, ‘Guessable’, and scenic roof construction suspended on over 60 steel fixings.
Along the way, we have still been manufacturing drapes alongside our usual hire service. Green screens have proved popular with both temporary and permanent installations, along with projection gauzes, printed banners and the usual black drapes in a variety of materials.
We were looking forward to our regular venues such as the Excel Centre opening in the Autumn, but we await the Government’s next step for news on those. We have enjoyed a couple of visits to the Royal Albert Hall, helping Alan Wells rig his spider Cam and installing a Kinesys system for an aerial performance.
One of our biggest regrets during this time was the rather subdued retirement of 2 long-serving and unequivocally valuable people. Martin Wood, our Managing Director, had overseen us with a stoic hand for many years, guiding us through 3 different warehouses and was instrumental in the growth of the company under his tenure. Jenny Clark had been the lead role within our drape manufacturing department for the very beginning, her knowledge and depth of experience will be difficult to replace.
We finished off the year with some interesting projects, such as our annual job of bringing Christmas cheer to the shoppers of Covent Garden by installing their Christmas Decorations, slightly curtailed by the shoppers not being allowed to shop.
An MTV World Stage performance for Anne-Marie, a hugely successful ‘The Grinch the Musical’ and an enormous outdoor cinema screen with Jack Bryant Productions for Netflix.
We also introduced a range of Temporary modular Covid screening systems, ‘Isodrape’, which was deployed successfully on ‘The Grinch the Musical’ to segregate the crew catering areas to provide Covid secure dining.
We don’t really know how this year will unfold, but we hope to be unfolding our drapes again for more events to come in the future.
Although the team may have fewer faces, the service behind them remains the same, and along with guidance from the Government, we will remain here to tackle what comes our way.
We are here, we are open, we are Covid secure and we are ready to help with all your drapes and rigging needs.