Nobody will hear a note of music at today’s Victoria Symphony Splash if somebody forgets to pull the switch that typically turns on the Christmas lights on the sequoia tree on the front lawn of the legislature.
That small detail is just one of the behind-the-scenes logistics for the annual music event, which brings out tens of thousands of people.
There is an electrical outlet at the base of the giant tree that powers the Christmas lights but is otherwise turned off.
The location is also a perfect place for a music production’s front of house, where a sound engineer commands an audio console to acoustically blend together instruments and vocals to produce a balanced sound.
Without power, the engineer can’t get a proper mix on the soundboard, and all the work of the musicians on stage goes to waste.
Anton Skinner, the production manager of water logistics for Symphony Splash, also needs to make sure he has a crane to load speakers, build a stage for musicians on a barge that docks in the Inner Harbour, weld a railing on the barge so nobody falls off (and to hang banners from sponsors), arrange for orange safety mesh to be installed under the ramp of the steamship dock so kayakers don’t moor there, and drop two anchors in the harbour to moor the barge — all while working around the arrivals and departures of three ferries, and takeoffs and landings of float planes.
And, as if he didn’t have enough on his plate, this year he has been told the barge he usually uses has been retired (it’s been repurposed as a party barge) and the replacement is 45 feet longer. The new barge is 165 feet long, 44 feet wide and 12 1/2 feet off the water.
“That means the stage will now be set at a different angle and closer to the shore than before,” said Skinner, who has served as production manager for Symphony Splash for the last 17 years. “But that also means realigning the direction of the speakers and a host of other changes.”
That includes accounting for the tide. Depending on whether it is flooding or ebbing, the tide can change the height of the stage, relative to the audience on the land, by up to seven feet.
Skinner only tackles the logistics on the water. Someone else takes care of the logistics on land, including managing approximately 350 volunteers.
Looking after the floating aspects of the production includes liaising with the Greater Victoria Harbour Authority, Transport Canada and myriad businesses that operate out of the Inner Harbour.
Skinner is also responsible for the safety of both the performers and the water-borne audience.
“I have to ensure the 100 or so people on the barge are safe, but also the people on the water,” said Skinner, who previously was production manager for the McPherson Theatre. “That means I have to ensure that kayakers have lights on their boats and safety of the [electrical] wires in the water.”
There is a safety boat moored on the side of the barge for emergencies and, occasionally, to approach boaters to advise them that barbecuing their dinner during a performance is frowned upon.
While safety of the performers is paramount, their comfort and well-being are also important.
“As some part of the performance takes place after the sun goes down, it can get chilly on the water,” said Skinner.
His solution is old-school but tried and true — use the heat generated by the incandescent lights to warm the musicians.
“I shall have 70 barrel cans [a type of stage light], each producing 1,000 watts apiece, providing both light and heat,” he said.
Through experience, he has found that they work better than patio heaters and keep both performers and their instruments comfortable and not too cold.
“It’s 30-year-old technology — but it still works,” said Skinner, who has been involved in the entertainment industry since the 1980s.
Skinner is also responsible for the fireworks that provide the spectacular pyrotechnic finale to the concert as the orchestra plays Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture. His experience with fireworks includes working as the pyrotechnic engineer at Butchart Gardens.
While the fireworks and the firing of a field cannon might mean the end of the show for spectators, the job is not yet done for Skinner.
He and his crew will remain to offload some of the equipment — a task that will see them working until 3 a.m. Monday. He will consult the tide charts again to determine the best time to haul the barge from the Inner Harbour to its berth at the Ralmax dock.
His job this year is compounded by maintenance work being carried out on the Bay Street bridge. He might have to strike some of the stage so there is enough clearance to transit under the bridge.
If all goes to plan, he will be finished sometime on Tuesday, a full week after he took possession of the barge.
His many years of experience in the entertainment industry give him the seniority to pick the jobs he wants to take on. Despite the challenges, he keeps signing up to be production manager for Symphony Splash.
“It’s always interesting,” he said.
Schedule for the 30th Symphony Splash at Victoria's Inner Harbour today. Admission is by donation; donate $5 or more to receive a Splash button
1-4 p.m. Family Zone on Empress lawn
3 p.m. Beverage garden and food vendors open
4 p.m. Naden Band plays on the barge
6:20 p.m. Orchestra parade, musicians walk through the crowd and onto the barge
7:30 p.m. Victoria Symphony performs, led by conductor Christian Kluxen; the young soloist is pianist Carey Wang
Canadian Scottish Regiment (Princess Mary's) Pipes and Drums performs during intermission
9:40 p.m. Approximate time for fireworks, while the orchestra plays the 1812 Overture
10 p.m. Symphony Splash concludes