Vail Symposium event explores innovation in entertainment, Feb. 16 |

Vail Symposium event explores innovation in entertainment, Feb. 16

Daily staff report
Lady Gaga performs during the halftime show of the Super Bowl. "Lady Gaga and her creative team are super fun, super game for a good idea," said Soren West, CEO of Atomic Design. West will speak at the Vail Symposium on Thursday, Feb. 16.
Matt Slocum | Associated Press | AP

If you go …

What: “Bold Impressions: Innovating the Entertainment Experience,” with Soren West and Shaun Clare.

When: Thursday, Feb. 16, 5:30 p.m. reception, 6 p.m. program.

Where: Colorado Mountain College in Edwards, 150 Miller Ranch Road. Program was previously listed as being held at the Donovan Pavilion; please note the venue change.

Cost: $25 online general admission, $35 at the door, or $10 for students and teachers.

More information: Visit or call 970-476-0954 to register.

EDWARDS — Van Halen famously wrote into one of its contracts that the band should be provided a bowl of M&Ms from which all of the brown candies were removed. Such requests aren’t out of the ordinary for celebrity performers — Beyonce supposedly asks for her dressing room to be kept precisely at 78 degrees, and Katy Perry bans carnations.

Nonetheless, you can imagine creative director Soren West’s surprise when he received a call from Marilyn Manson at 2 a.m. requesting that all surfaces of the stage’s risers be non-slip because “there’s going to be lots of goat’s blood.”

Entertainment Architect

West, from Atomic Design, is an entertainment architect, a leg of the event-production business responsible for all of a show’s effects. From adapting technologies in stage design to collaborating with performers on stunts, West’s profession comes with some peculiar side effects.

West and fellow creative director Shaun Clair, of Clair Global, will speak at the Vail Symposium today at Colorado Mountain College in Edwards. Together, they’ll show how deep the rabbit hole of mega entertainment goes, with stories of interesting interactions with performers, how extravagant budgets can become, bizarre logistics and, mostly, how new technologies are keeping up with a bar that is rising higher and higher.

“We are entering this brand-new territory where we have to learn and invent the rules as we go,” West said. “Working with virtual reality, augmented reality and drones today is what Pong, the video game, was in the 1970s. This is just the beginning.”

Take, for instance, budgets. West has spent as little as $1 million to entertain a few more than 18,000 people and as much as $7.5 million on 100 people.

Live performance insights

“Often, a client spends days telling you about a $10 million idea,” West said. “Then you find out they have $12 to their name. This is always a hard task and a skill.”

Or, how viewers at the Super Bowl were likely duped by technology — that scene during the halftime show where Lady Gaga sang from the roof of the stadium? That was pre-taped and the drone action could have been combined with CGI, or computer-generated imagery. The live performance began when she jumped into the stadium.

“These things are always collaborative,” West said. “The performance belongs to the artist. Our job, as creative directors, is to bring out the best in them by amplifying their vision, pushing it a bit but always respecting their comfort zone. Lady Gaga and her creative team are super fun, super game for a good idea.”

From coming up with $15,000 and six front-row seats to the MTV Video Music Awards to appease a fire marshal, to transporting 80 pounds of magnets from Amsterdam to New York City in two days on a holiday weekend, the stories to be told by West and Clair are endless.

“Imagine trying to operate a business successfully in this consistently bizarre industry,” said Kris Sabel, executive director at the Vail Symposium. “There are lots of entertaining stories that will be told, but also a good deal to learn about how this industry is progressing from within those stories.”