‘I felt: this is exactly why I want to do this!’

‘Yes, I’m very proud,’ beams Marcel Vellekoop still basking in the afterglow of the experience. The 23 year old Technical Theatre Arts student landed a dream graduation assignment: technical production manager of the already historical Koningsconcert held on 30 April. ‘Armin van Buuren was told 20 minutes in advance that Willem-Alexander wanted to shake his hand.’ Stress?

Be honest, did the production crew know that the royal family would disembark?  
‘No, seriously we were completely in the dark. When I drew up the technical plans of the location, I had to take into account that, for safety reasons, the royal family would remain at a distance of 15 metres from the quay. I also drew in a sightline so that the concert would be visible from the royal boat. Armin received the message only 20 minutes before the concert started. Could he board the royal boat to meet Willem-Alexander and Maxima? No, he replied, I can’t leave my public in the middle of the concert. So instead, the king came to meet Armin. At that moment a whole fleet of police cars suddenly arrived for extra security’.   

What exactly was your contribution to this historical concert?
Together with Gertjan van de Berg, one of the production managers from Sightline, the company where I’ve been working on my graduation projects, I was responsible for the entire technical production. That includes the technical preparations, planning, drawings, coordinating the construction and of course dismantling everything afterwards. Check out the time lapse film. I made: the actual performance made up only 2 percent of all the time spent on location. A total of nine days were devoted to constructing and dismantling the whole structure resulting in 20 minutes on national TV. And that’s apart from all the preparations prior to construction.

How do you commence with such a gigantic project?
‘You start with the stage design. For the technical production manager, it serves as a departure point to make very detailed technical drawings: position and scale of the lighting, size of the video screens, length of the backdrop, etc. The outdoor location at the Kop of the Java peninsula in Amsterdam posed an extra challenge to the technical production process. I made detailed drawings down to the very centimetre of the entire terrain: public entrance to the site, location of the toilets, exact position of the stage, layout of the backstage area, etc. And of course, you know a mistake in one of your drawings spells disaster later on.’

That sounds quite stressful. Did it lead to sleepless nights?
‘No, I slept fine! Our function is to keep stress levels for everyone as low as possible by planning carefully. Although that wasn’t easy because the preparation time was extremely short. The first meeting was held on 18 March and the final design was only ready at the beginning of April. So we had to realize the whole production within four weeks.’

What was the most exciting moment?
‘The Kop van Java consists partly of a jetty. We’d requested data on the maximum load-bearing capacity of the floor. It turned out this had never been measured. Only one-and-a-half weeks before the performance date we learned that the maximum sustainable weight was 500 kilo per square metre. That’s hardly enough to support a forklift truck. So suddenly we had to make plans to move the main podium to a new location. But also there, we had no information about the load-bearing capacity. Only the day before construction was scheduled to begin did we receive the go-ahead. The whole concert might have been cancelled at the last moment. Yes, it was all very exciting.’

How did you manage to land this coveted assignment?
‘During the third year of my Technical Theatre Arts study, I followed an internship at Sightline, a company specialized in the technical realization of large scale events. My internship was really fantastic! Organizing major events is technically very challenging: hundreds of lamps, audio, video, crowd management. I knew for sure that it fitted in very well with who I am and what I want. After that, I continued to take on freelance assignments for Sightline. At the end of last year I told them I was looking for graduation productions. And then suddenly I got a phone call asking me if I would like to take on the technical production of an event on Queen’s Day. It’s really great they granted me this assignment.’

Isn’t it a rather unusual graduation assignment for a Technical Theatre Arts student?

‘You’re right, within my specialization - Technical Production - I’m a bit of a misfit. After all, it is a Theatre School. Contact had already been established with the Münchner Kammerspiele so that I could complete a graduation assignment there. But when Sightline made me an offer, I was certain where my preference lay. I really had to persuade the school this was what I wanted! Later they congratulated me for sticking to my own convictions.’

To finish off, a real cliché question: how did you feel after the Koningsconcert?

‘Fantastic! You couldn’t wish for a bigger success. Willem-Alexander also shook my hand. It was a very fast and exciting build-up to the concert but when you see that ecstatic mass of people, you know for sure: ‘This is exactly why I want to do this.’

interview by: Petra Boers