Tabloids,BBC, ITV, YouTube, CNN, Entertainment Tonight and other blogs and television magazines are full of countless examples of security challenges, compromising artist moments and other assorted attacks on principals.
Many of those challenges often stem from the same root causes. Often, it is a failure to adhere to sound fundamental security or protection protocols, a lack of recognition of pre-incident indicators, inadequate security personnel or physical security barriers. Sometimes it is not a function of security not being in place but often a lack of training in threat recognition and risk mitigation. While this article focuses on the entertainment industry we have seen the same security challenges with prime ministers, European banking executives and other world leaders.
Recently, at a show in Florida, we saw an artist get slammed off the stage. There were no less than a thousand pounds of security in close proximity to the artist. Not only did the perpetrator breach the stage, he stood there for several moments starring through the artist and it was very apparent he was not part of the show, nor was his energy or demeanor friendly. The artist even made a comment about his proximity prior to the altercation.
While no security measures are 100%, below are some guiding principles and best practices which I have found help minimize the potential for an unwelcomed encounter.
Cardinal Rule Number 1 – Influence Early
Every relationship between the promoter, venue staff, the production staff, artist management, the touring director and the protection detail is different. However, one thing I have found which doesn’t change is the earlier you can become a part of the discussion generally the easier it is to incorporate your suggestions. Understanding we will always be doing
the delicate balance between security and access in our endeavors to provide the safest possible functional environment to operate in.
As the protection detail, we are often involved in the logistical planning. However, unless your team has dedicated advance personnel you can often find your security considerations to be an unfortunate afterthought by promoters, marketing or public relations personnel. Keep in mind just because you may not have a dedicated advance team it does not mean we cannot be intricately involved in the site advance and details such as the stage set up, pit areas, physical barriers, venue personnel and placement, artist parking, general access controls, credentialing, and the overall security/production footprint. It is also virtually impossible to do a good job of establishing a relatively secure environment without a thorough understanding of physical security. You need to understand how to use elevations, setback areas, barricades and manpower to your advantage. Manpower should include venue security, local law enforcement, EMTs, staffers and even photographers. Yes, I said it, even the paparazzi when used effectively can assist in expanding the protective ring.
Even in the absence of a formal protection specialist to do the advance, I have trained our touring director on certain minimal considerations I desire for us to have in place before our client/protectee formerly arrives. Some input is always better than no input. If the stage is going to be preset even before the touring director or the advance team arrives, you can always have a promoter walk the area provide you photos or a short video of the artist scheduled arrival area, stage, green room, route from the green room to the stage etc. That allows you to bring them into the security planning process and helps pre-establish a relationship in advance reducing exposure for both of you. I also like to get a gauge on ticket sales where possible to understand if the event may be potentially over sold and the capacity issues which typically come as a result. All which can be beneficial on the day or night of the show. At a minimum, it allows you to foresee where some of the potential security challenges may come from and problem solve them in advance.
The Stage Set Up
Whenever possible, I prefer an elevated stage. My preference is a minimum of 5 – 6 feet of elevation that way in order for a fan to attempt to jump on stage they would have to be a super ninja gymnast. It also dissuades the artist from wanting to jump off of the stage into the crowd. If I cannot get my desired height requirement then I look for a greater set back distance between the stage and the barricades. Also, you have to ask yourself which type of barricade is most appropriate for your desired use (hockey stop or bicycle rack). One is easier to put in place the other is more sturdy.
Personally, I prefer the hockey stop around the stage. Most venues have access to either so as we spoke previously, sharing your thoughts early allows you to better influence the process. It has been my experience that bicycle racks are better for channelling people and the hockey stops are better at restraining people although either can be breached with enough time or motivation. They are just one incremental element in the overall security plan. When we can’t get either the desired elevation or set back distance then we often will require additional manpower via venue security to effectively man the area. If I have a further need to restrict access I often will have the first row or two reserved for press this creates another human barrier and moves the fans back another four to six feet.
The Green Room/Dressing Room
The green room or dressing room should be the artist’s private retreat. It may or may not function as the temporary safe-haven in the event of an emergency. However, no cameras should be allowed in that room and minimal access by non-vetted personnel. That includes promoters, working staff and even law enforcement. It should be understood in advance by all and if necessary made part of the contract. While you may grant a visiting artist access if agreed upon by the protectee that does not necessarily ensure access to the visiting artist’s friends. Remember, you may have a confidentiality agreement with your client; those who are visiting their dressing room or green room do not. Don’t allow someone else’s social media post to become a public relations challenge for your client. The best way to ensure something said if off the record is to not say it, and the best way to minimize an embarrassing moment for your client from happening is to minimize access to their space particularly their private areas.
When possible, I want a clear apron for approach and exit. If we have a clear apron and no one is allowed access then we don’t have to deal with requests for autographs or pictures. Experience has also taught us when a fan gets in close proximity they start to feel entitled or embolden. If they can get within arm’s reach they will often try and grab or touch the protectee and ask for a picture or execute a selfie. So, if one establishes an effective perimeter you won’t have to potentially disappoint a fan, delay the show or potentially touch someone which could lead to simple assault charges.
I strive for a “Sterile Stage” if you are not a performing artist on this set or an active part of the production team for this show then you are required to watch it from a spot other than the stage that allows me to focus more on the protectee and immediately identify something or someone out of the ordinary. Anyone now in the space is automatically a red flag. I informed venue security in advance that in the event someone unauthorized breaches the stage our team (close protection) will deal with them. That minimizes those “PR unfriendly” YouTube moments and can help mitigate potential client liability. I tell them that I will hand them to venue security in the most efficient YouTube “friendly” way I can, and their job is to escort them out of the area away from where we have to exit the client post-show or away from the artist dressing room. We then walk each and every stage beforehand looking for hazards and potential obstacles. I try and make adjustments when possible and inform the protectee if there are additional considerations to be aware of.
If I allow anyone on stage no one is allowed to smoke and they are restricted to a particular section of the stage, which allows them to view the show and not become their own separate sideshow taking away from the audience’s focus on the performing artist. Remember, non-entertainers or other promoter’s guests are not used to being on an elevated stage with no guard or handrails and multiple cables running the length of the stage. Why no smoking? Even if the person is smoking a cigarette we know by the time it hits TMZ, it will be our artist’s entourage is getting high on narcotics on stage. No smoking avoids potential PR nightmares. We protect the Client’s image as well as the Client.
All-Access passes only works when you are performing not when other artists are performing. We often try to extend courtesies to other artists if they agree to be compliant with our stage guidelines. Make sure to have a good understanding of credentials and access to minimize challenges or misunderstandings later between venue staff, security or the other artists.
I generally ask security people with cell phones to put them in their front pants pockets so they are not tempted to want to use them. If their goal is to be a fan I ask them to, “please turn your security shirt inside out and watch the show from the other side of the ropes.”
Prior to departure your touring bus, sprinter van or SUV should already be positioned in close proximity to your exiting venue door. This should also be parked inside a secure area or fence. This again helps restrict fan access and unwelcome encounters which can lead to additional public relations challenges or disappointed fan moments particularly following a great show. Also, with the uptick of flour, sugar and glitter bombings there is no need for a potential adversary to try and execute their final act of defiance.
The driver’s job is to also stay with the vehicle and not allow it to be blocked in. He/she should also strive to minimize manoeuvres and adjustments upon exiting. They have the entire show to ensure this is prearranged. This is particularly beneficial in event of an emergency.
The above-stated elements are not all-inclusive ways to enhance security and mitigate risk but they do represent some existing best practices which have served me and others well. Safe travels and best of luck with the next show.