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Stage and Production Agency Formative Takes Centre Stage

Keeping true to the philosophy that less is more, Gareth Hadden and Grant Orchard are the founders of the stage and production design agency Formative. Based in Cape Town, the duo of Business Director and Creative Director respectively possess decades-worth of experience working on international as well as local television, stage and live event productions. One such production includes the recent Cassper Nyovest “Fill Up the Dome” concert, which saw over 20,000 concert-goers basking in the glow of not only a first in South African music history but also a demonstration in polished stage design.
By integrating cutting edge design and technology, the team at Formative are able to create productions that skilfully deploy fewer resources to create maximum impact. “For example,” explains Creative Director Orchard: “A stage design may include over 100 individual lights but it’s not about having them all on at the same; that would just give away too much too soon.” This, believes Orchard, is what positions Formative as not only the leader in their field but currently the only agency in South Africa to offer stage and scenic design, lighting design, video and projection design, as well as 3D spatial rendering as part of its in-house services.
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“Our concepts orchestrate scenic, lighting, video and motion graphics into a singular vision,” adds Orchard, and it is exactly that focus that yields the results Formative has achieved over the past four years. By creating all the elements of a production in one environment projects become seamless from start to finish. “We produce all the visual elements together with the audio and lighting effects,” says Orchard. “It not only saves on time and ensures the production has a uniform look and feel, but it also effectively utilises the budget; deploying funds on actual deliverables as opposed to additional agency fees.”
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Both UK nationals, Hadden and Orchard have collectively lived in South African for almost 14 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 Santam (2011-2015), the 2015 MTV African Music Awards, AfricaCom (2011-2015), and the Huisgenoot Kyknet SuperSkouspel 015.
“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.
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”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.
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Case in point would be the now historic“ Fill Up the Dome” concert funded and spearheaded by South African hip hop artist Cassper yovest. Whilst working on the 2015 MTV Africa Music Awards Nyovest was impressed with the video content Formative created for the ceremony. Fast forward a few months and one more meeting later, Formative were tasked with conceptualising and developing the production, which took place on 31 October 2015. “Formative knew what I wanted to create from the get go,”says Nyovest. “The moments they helped me create were not only precise but were also made with purpose. I can’t wait to work with them again. This is real talk. They have helped set the bar high for all South African artists, and I personally don’t want to produce anything less than perfect from here on out.”
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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.”
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“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.
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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.”