“Artistically phenomenal” is one way to describe modern competitive marching arts. As designers explore the limits more and more on costuming, visual design, and music selection, the students are being asked to perform at at higher level. Brass lines are dancing. Color guards are showcasing gymnastic finesse. Front ensembles are becoming more expressive. Football fields are transitioning from half-time hype spaces to theatrical stages.
A New Era
With the evolution of the competitive side of marching band comes a greater demand for staging props that allow a band to perform in uniquely vertical, horizontal, and angular spaces. On the most elite level, top drum corps are pushing the limits of staging each year. Just last year, the Santa Clara Vanguard revolutionized stackable, storage-efficient props that allowed performers to captivate an audience on multiple levels. The Boston Crusaders, in the last 2 years, have used the same rotating, compass-like prop. The Crossmen built a massive sand dial on which members were able to rotate vertically with the force of their own bodies. The Bluecoats have fielded massive chairs and a slide that appears to belong in a skate park. #DCI2019 is no less innovative and exploratory. These innovative, theatrical designs have become a mainstay in the marching band world as well. Design teams are finding unique ways to make their programs and their students’ performances stand out.
Pushing the artistic limits of staging and theatrics is a great way to evolve the activity; but with added layers of complexity on a marching field comes added risk. With the end of the 2019 Drum Corps International Tour season in sight and the competitive marching season in swing, let’s take a look at prop and equipment considerations.
When designing for a marching or winter guard show, considerations to performer safety and risk mitigation are paramount. The NFHS Band Safety Course outlines these considerations thoroughly.
- 4 ft. – At this height, it is recommended that safety equipment be used.
- 6 ft. – Many organizations require the use of safety equipment (i.e. guard rails for drum major podiums or harnesses and ground-level padding). In fact, DCI mandates that no performer be placed on a prop higher than 6 ft. without the use of guard rails, and no lifts or stunts may be performed at this height without proper safety considerations.
- Prop measurements need to be taken with wheels & railings accounted for.
- 12 ft. – It is recommended that staging does not exceed this height (including wheels, railings, additional equipment, etc.). Many venues have height maximums, and tunnels or doorways often limit the height of staging props.
- Always consider the abilities of your membership. Ensure that if you desire for them to perform on an elevated space, you have provided the proper training, technique, and safety protocol. The prop isn’t effective if the performer can’t maximize their capabilities on it.
- Ensure all performers, staff, and volunteers are trained on the handling of props and additional equipment. Teach them the wheel systems, how to properly load/unload equipment, and how to safely climb/descend the prop. Additionally, create contingency plans in case of abnormal conditions that may lead to increased risk when handling and performing on the props.
Designers need to consider venue allowances, abilities of their members, and the functionality of the prop itself. Special care and attention need to be given to training performers to use the prop safely and with skill. DCI recently updated their prop policy, which regards the production and manufacturing of props for the safety of the performer (See Appendix 526 in the Policies and Procedures Appendix).
Make your competitive season as safe and generally effective as possible! Your performers will succeed only when they are comfortable with the responsibilities laid before them and when they know their safety is the first priority. For more information on this topic or for additional resources regarding prop and equipment safety, enroll in the free NFHS Band Safety Course!