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Formative sets the stage for local concerts

 Formative sets the stage for local concerts

Stage and production agency Formative once again sets the stage for local concerts

In 2015, the Cape Town-based duo of Business Director Gareth Hadden and Creative Director Grant Orchard – founders of the stage and production design agency Formative – set out to capture South African musicians and audiences alike with the then ambitious Fill Up the Dome concert by Cassper Nyovest. Fast forward to 2016 and the team at Formative once again worked together with hip hop artist Nyovest to present Fill Up Orlando Stadium, which took place on 29 October and saw 40,000 people revel in a once again polished production.

Keeping true to the philosophy that less is more, Hadden and Orchard, who collectively possess decades-worth of experience working on international as well as local television, stage and live event productions; believe in integrating cutting edge design and technology into their productions. What Orchard describes as a “show within a show”, Fill Up Orlando Stadium was a first for South Africa as the set continuously metamorphosed; seamlessly transitioning from one song into the next over a two and a half hour process. “Traditionally, concert stage design is quite symmetrical but that wasn’t what this concert called for,” says Orchard. “Suspended, monolithic LED screens asymmetrically flanked a revolving, mirrored stage on which Cassper performed from throughout the concert. The results were both functional and captivating; the audience were never aware of actual set changes but rather emotive transitions from one song into the next.”


Technically the concert required precision in order to be successful. Formative is the only stage and production agency in South Africa to utilise 3D stage visualising software called d3. “Artwork, dimensions, time codes and specifications are directly fed into d3. The programme then correlates all the information and queues the mechanical as well as visual elements into one continuous timeline,” explains Orchard. The programme could, in essence – and once pre-set – run automatically during a show, however, the full Formative contingent is always on hand to ensure that each facet of the production is carried out as initially visualised.

Having a software programme deliver on queue doesn’t, however, assist in overcoming the physical challenges the team faced when creating the overall concert. “Last year at the TicketPro Dome we had an established infrastructure from which to work from,” recounts Hadden. “Creating a stage – with all its mechanical high-tech, moving components – in a stadium came with unique challenges ranging from accessibility, having to build an infrastructure to support the stage, and even what pitch cover was required for varying areas of the playing field on which the infrastructure was built on.”

When speaking of the influence that drives Formative designs, Orchard says: “Our concepts orchestrate scenic, lighting, video and motion graphics into a singular vision.” And it is exactly that focus that yields the results Formative has achieved over the past five years. By creating all the elements of a production in one environment – such as d3 – projects become seamless from start to finish. “It not only saves on time and ensures the production has a uniform look and feel, but it also effectively utilises budget; deploying funds on actual deliverables as opposed to additional agency fees.”

Both UK nationals, Hadden and Orchard have collectively lived in South African for almost 15 years. Together with a team of four in-house designers they share experience working in theatre, music festivals, broadcast, interior design and architecture.


Some of their clients to date include:

–       AKA’s performance at the 2016 Rocking the Daisies festival

–       Anatii’s 2016 Album tour featuring Omarion

–       Santam (2011-2015)

–       2015 and 2016 MTV Africa Music Awards

–       AfricaCom (2011-2016)and

–       Huisgenoot Kyknet SuperSkouspel 2015

“At Formative we develop unique ideas with flawless execution,” explains Business Director Hadden. “Our team has over two decades of first-hand experience working on some of the world’s biggest stages coupled with an enviable set of technical skills to complement our creative fanaticism.” Budget is also not seen as a limitation at Formative: “It’s a common misconception that only large budgets can produce incredible performances,” says Orchard. “Certainly, a large budget does allow for more scope in general, however, it’s about using resources skilfully that really makes the greatest impact.”

The team at Formative is constantly watching and learning from its international counterparts. “The quality of custom content created for South Africa stages is improving but there is still a lot to learn from watching how the exact philosophy our team works by – that less is more – can ultimately benefit a production; how moments can be created with less yet still captivate audiences,” says Orchard.

In Hadden’s opinion, there is scope for South African artists to follow in Nyovest’s footsteps and create memorable productions of their own, however, he and Orchard agree that in order for this to take place brands will need to back local artists as well as relinquish often strict control over the creative process. “Having worked in and with the corporate world for years, we are able to incorporate branding into any situation without compromising on both brand remits or, for example, a performer’s individuality as an artist,” explains Hadden. “It doesn’t have to be a sacrifice of one for the other; it’s merely about using minimalist yet effective use of design.”


“In our line of business there are no second chances. Everything is live and under immediate scrutiny,” adds Hadden. “What we produce needs to be as near to perfect as we can get it and as soon as we press play.” With this in mind, Hadden and Orchard list some of their key learnings accumulated over the years as:

– Be a partner to your client and not just a supplier.

– Planning is imperative. Plan. Plan. Then plan some more.

– Your work is only as good as your suppliers so choose them wisely.

– Be upfront with clients and manage their expectations from the start.

– Accountability is key to building strong relationships with both clients and suppliers.

When asked what the most important element of a production is for Formative: “It’s about creating moments,” Hadden and Orchard say simultaneously. “Moments that stay with you forever.”

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