Over 1,500 people watching every twist, twirl, and tutu. Together. Some of them oceans apart. Most of them in different homes and offices around the world. But, they were all watching…together.

THAT was what was the most awe inspiring part of last Thursday’s live stream collaboration between Big Foot Media and our fabulous client, The Joffrey Ballet.

THAT is enough to give you chills, really.

The live stream Swan Lake rehearsal featured famed choreographer, Christopher Wheeldon, and was the first time in history that a U.S. company live streamed a rehearsal. The event attracted up to 1,600 viewers at it’s peak, and hundreds of comments (it’s currently at 430 on YouTube) and social media posts. Since the event, the video has been viewed over 13,000 times.

But, truly, it wasn’t about the numbers. It was about the shared experience of watching the same beautiful dancers, elegant movements and inspiring choreographer, together, in real time.

Leading Up to Live

This wasn’t an idea that hatched overnight.

Tim and I sat down with The Joffrey Ballet’s Marketing Director, Sarah Fiala, this summer and she mentioned wanting to try a live stream. I specifically remember leaving that meeting and both Tim and I being giddy just thinking about having the opportunity to do something so cutting edge. Big Foot Media’s experience with live stream consisted mostly of conferences, but we were totally game to try something new. [Ok, now that we’ve done it, I can admit we were also secretly, slightly terrified to do something that wasn’t just talking heads on a stage.]

Part of why Sarah and the rest of the crew at the Joffrey wanted to do this is because this is the first time in the Company’s history that they’ll be performing Swan Lake. Not only that, it is a completely reimagined version created by one of the dance world’s famed choreographers, Christopher Wheeldon. So, it was important to make a big splash.

“We wanted to provide a glimpse of the typical rehearsal process and show viewers what it takes to stage a major full-length ballet.,” Sarah explained. “It is all about connecting and engaging with the audience so they can have a deeper understanding of ballet and the Joffrey.”

From that first brainstorm meeting, came a lot more behind-the-scenes planning. The Joffrey Ballet is a union company, so Sarah and others had to make sure all of the dancers and the union approved. Obviously, they had to make sure Christopher Wheeldon was on board.

And then there was the logistical challenge of the rehearsal schedule.

“The daily rehearsal schedule is usually not determined until three days out, so we had to start the planning without really knowing exactly which sections of the ballet the dancers would be working on,” Sarah said. “We had to tentatively schedule the interviews based on when we thought each 5 minute break might take place.”

That, on top of the actual promotion for the event, left the Joffrey Marketing crew with a lot on their plate.

On Big Foot Media’s end, we were busy testing connections, double checking equipment and hoping technology wouldn’t fail us. At one point, the guys did a livestream of the Chicago office, with me watching from home. I’ll spare you the video of Jason singing “Welcome to Miami” to test audio levels. If you’re interested, don’t hesitate to email me.

And on top of all of the hard work and our own expectations, the event started gaining momentum in the press, too (CBS Chicago, DNA Info, Broadway World, Chicago Sun Times : Voices, Chicago Business Journal,  Chicagoist and countless other dance sites). No pressure.

Let’s Go Live

After weeks (and, arguably months) of planning, it was go time. Big Foot Media brought the entire crew (minus Michigan-based me) of Tim Whalen, Jason Whalen, Chris Zuker and Nicolas Rojas.  Tim and Nico ran the switcher while Chris and Jason manned the cameras. We also brought in our friend, Fernando Castillo from CrewPilot Studio (which happens to be in an office above us on Broadway) to run a steadicam.

Throughout the shoot, we used:

SHOOTING GEAR:

2 Canon C100s

1 Rhino Slider (4ft)

1 Steadicam

STREAMING GEAR

Blackmagic ATEM 4K Switcher

Blackmagic Intensity Shuttle HDMI->Thunderbolt Encoder

Zoom H6 – Audio Capture/Mixing

YouTube Streaming

So, obviously, it took awhile to get everything lugged upstairs and connected. And then…we got ready for the big reveal.

Marketing Associate, Vicki Crain, was in charge of social media for the day, and said once the recording started, everything moved quickly.

“Obviously, the YouTube page was the most important part, so we had to make sure the live stream was available from our website and app, as well as managing our social media networks,” Vicki said.

Both teams were relatively nervous at first.

“It was nerve wracking when we initially went live because you want to make sure everything works technically,” Sarah said.

But, lucky for all of us, the only technical problem we really ran into was a mic glitch.

“We had a wireless lavalier fail during the shoot so we had to do a quick swap in between rehearsals, but we got it switched and the show went on,” shooter extraordinaire, Chris, said.

Tim (and the rest of the team) were excited that that was the biggest issue they faced.

“Live streaming is still a risky medium because there can be so many opportunities for technology to fail,” Tim said. “But, we were so glad it went as smooth as it did.”

Live Love

The team was so focused on making things work, at first, that they didn’t realize the kind of audience they had.

“We were kind of in the moment until like an hour in, then we caught wind of about 1,500 people watching… No pressure!” Tim said.

All of the Big Foot team and Joffrey team cited the audience and their engagement (see social media posts in Storify below) as one of their favorite parts of the whole event.

“The best part of the livestream was the amount of people that were tuning in to see it,” Chris explained. “Of all the live streams we have done, this one had the most viewers by far. It was cool to watch the comments section pile up with conversations and questions from active viewers.”

Joffrey Marketing Associate, Vicki, said keeping up with all of the love on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter was one of the most challenging parts of the day.

“By the time I switched back to one, there were a number of things I had missed on another,” Vicki said.

But, she, and the Big Foot team both loved the broad range of interaction.

“Comments ranged from declaring how great the live stream was to questions about individual dancers, audition protocols and about the Joffrey,” Vicki said. “The audience loved Christopher Wheeldon’s humor and knowledge and really felt they were getting a behind-the-scenes special view.”

Both Vicki and Sarah said most of their audience were already asking when the next live stream event will be.

Live Stream Success

Despite the fact that this was a first for Big Foot Media and the Joffrey (and for a U.S. Company in all of North America), we all consider this event a huge success!

“It was amazing to work with Big Foot Media on the live stream,” Sarah said. “It was the first time that they had live streamed a ballet rehearsal and it was obviously the first time for Joffrey too, so it was definitely a team effort. We both learned a lot and we know what we want to do to switch it up and which  kinks to work out for the next time.”

Thankfully, Vicki agreed.

“The Big Foot team was great,” Vicki said. “Even though this was their first time filming a live ballet rehearsal, you would never know it. They were calm and creative and it would not have been such a success without their talent.”

We were so thankful to be a part of the whole experience and can’t wait for a chance to get to do it again.

Until next time, we look forward to getting to go back and shoot more at the Joffrey, in general. Oh, and, now that you’ve read and watched all of the behind the scenes info, we hope people will go see Swan Lake in October.

Check out a social-media look at the live stream event:


Whew. Gotta go practice my pirouettes – JS

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