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fixing snafus
illustration: Regan Dunnick
Under the Weather
New York's state of emergency wouldn't be lifted until 36 hours before our event launch – and parking a truck in Manhattan amid a near record-breaking snowfall would require stealthy driving, brute force, and lots of shovels.
Plan A
Snow days can be a blessing or a curse. For school-aged children and even some working adults, a world of white can mean spending a day at home in their PJs and fuzzy slippers, drinking hot chocolate (or wine), and binge-watching hour upon hour of Netflix. In fact, snow days can pretty much be heaven on earth. But for those who must carry on with everyday tasks despite the frozen deluge, snow days can be absolute hell.

In January 2016, employees at my company, AVFX Inc. in Boston, certainly fell into the latter group. Working through its agency, Sydney-based AGB Events, Tourism Australia had hired AVFX, a provider of audio, video, and lighting technology, to create a promotional spectacle of sorts in New York's Bryant Park on a Monday night in January. The date corresponded with the city's planned festivities for Australia Day, which is the Aussie equivalent of Independence Day in the United States. The event also would serve as the global launch of a new ad campaign to promote Australian tourism.

While AGB Events designed the overall experience, AVFX developed the core audiovisual components. These contributions included a six-screen video "aquarium" effect that would appear on the walls of the Celsius Club, the event's main indoor venue adjacent to Bryant Park. We were also responsible for a massive projection-mapping effect that would feature brilliant aquatic-themed images projected atop Bryant Park's famous ice-skating rink. Aussie star Chris Hemsworth would act as the ambassador for the event, so we were expecting huge crowds and a swarm of paparazzi on Monday night.

Our employees in Boston planned to take a train to New York on the Thursday before the affair to meet with our client contacts, do another walk-through of the venues and staging locations, and brainstorm for any potential hiccups to ensure everything went off without a hitch. Our AV technicians and event crew would arrive Friday night, also via train, to prepare for the Saturday setup. And one massive tractor-trailer full of all the equipment we'd need for the Celsius Club and the projection-mapping spectacular would pull onto a street adjacent to Bryant Park on Saturday morning, giving everyone plenty of time to get things up and running for Monday's kickoff.

Although it was decidedly detailed, our plan seemed practically foolproof – until Mother Nature threw a major wrench into the works. On the Friday before our event, she started dumping snow on New York, and she kept dumping well into Saturday night, at which time Manhattan was blanketed with more than 2 feet of snow. Luckily the Tourism Australia reps and our employees had made it into the city before the brunt of the storm hit. However, the truck full of equipment wasn't quite so fortunate.

Sometime on Thursday our driver phoned to tell me that he was on time, but that given the governor's recently declared state of emergency for Friday, trucks were prohibited from crossing onto the island of Manhattan until the declaration was lifted. As such, he was going to hunker down just outside of New York and pray for sun and fast snow-removal crews. What none of us knew at the time, however, was that the state of emergency wouldn't be lifted until Sunday, roughly 36 hours before our event launch – and that parking a truck in Manhattan amid a near record-breaking snowfall would require stealthy driving, brute force, and shovels, lots of shovels.

Plan B
Between our driver's call on Thursday and early Sunday morning, our crew in New York did everything they could to prep for his late arrival. But frankly, that wasn't much, as everything we needed to take our next slippery steps was stuck on that truck.

Finally, at roughly mid-morning on Sunday, the truck carefully rolled into Manhattan and headed toward Bryant Park. We all breathed a sigh of relief – a sigh that turned into a gasp soon after we arrived on site. As we looked around the Bryant Park area, we quickly realized that the streets in the vicinity weren't nearly as ready for the truck's arrival as we were. They were jam-packed with snow, with nary a city crew in sight.

We hunted high and low for a space close to the venue where the truck could park, but even on the streets that had been plowed, which were already littered with partially buried cars and mounds of snow, it was practically impossible to wedge a tractor-trailer onto the street, much less into a viable parking space. So we did what any Bostonian worth their salt would do; we bought shovels and went to work on a side street.

After what seemed like hours, we'd tunneled out an area large enough for the truck to squeeze down the street and into a gap in the snow piles. Our skilled driver had to literally ram the trailer up and into a snow bank, in effect impaling it in place to get it fully out of the street and allow other cars to pass by.

With the truck in position, even more fun ensued. We now faced the arduous task of wheeling case upon case of AV equipment through the snow into Bryant Park. So once again, we whipped out our shovels and summoned every ounce of brute force we had left to move every case into position. And as luck would have it, just as we were finishing up, the venue's snow-removal crew finally sprang into action, clearing away the snow that had just made our move-in nothing short of a nightmare.

After our equipment reached the venues, however, everything else went off pretty much as planned. Granted, our poor technicians worked for 24 hours straight and were only afforded a three-hour nap before the event launched. But we were able to get everything up and running just in time to create a magnificent event that delighted our client and attracted an impressive number of attendees.

In fact, given the city's now-white backdrop, the colorful aquatic images that appeared on the skating rink and inside the venue were a stark – not to mention eye-catching – contrast that drew even more attention to the event. Plus, by the time our truck driver was ready to try to shimmy back out of the city, snow-removal crews had worked their magic on several major routes, enabling him to get back on his way with little difficulty.

So it just goes to show that despite your best-laid plans, Mother Nature still holds all the cards. And when it comes to potential weather snafus, there's no business like snow business.

— Jack Spitale, technical producer, AVFX Inc., Boston

Send your Plan B exhibiting experiences to Linda Armstrong, larmstrong@exhibitormagazine.com.

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