Even if the game on the field is a blowout, the intensity of the annual Super Bowl halftime show is undeniable. The modern show that strives to keep viewers glued to their seats during intermission of the most-watched sporting event in the country came into being in 1993. It was then that Michael Jackson’s 12-minute halftime spectacle set the bar for just how big a production can be put assembled — and then disassembled — in just about 20 minutes.
During her academic career at Drexel, Entertainment & Arts Management senior Rachel Bergen has twice been part of the team that makes the halftime show happen. Her experiences working with Superbowl Productions — the production crew that handles halftime — at Super Bowl XLVIII (featuring Bruno Mars) and Super Bowl 50 (featuring Beyonce, Coldplay, Bruno Mars) set her up for her job as a base operator at Red Rocks Amphitheater in Morrison, Colorado.
As her senior project, Bergen brought together some of the people behind the big production for a panel discussion at Westphal College. She recently gave the Newsblog a look at the failures, triumphs (and “malfunctions”) that take place at the Big Game when the players aren’t on the field.
What was your role in the Super Bowl halftime productions and how did that experience set you on a path toward the career you’re now pursuing?
I worked as a field team member with Superbowl Productions for Super Bowl XLVIII in East Rutherford, New Jersey and Super Bowl 50 in San Francisco. I initially signed up for the position with a handful of Drexel classmates as a volunteer, but it later switched to a paid opportunity, which was incredible.
As a field team member, I worked with a large group to bring the halftime stage from outside the stadium onto the field, assemble it, break it down after the show and, finally, take it back outside of the stadium — all very quickly, so the players could return to the field to warm up and start the second half.
It was an incredible experience that really emphasized why I was interested in getting involved in large-scale event productions. It was a very overwhelming experience at first, being around so many celebrities and seeing the show come together knowing that so many millions of people were waiting for it to happen — it was surreal to say the least.
The opportunity helped me to appreciate all the “nuts and bolts” that go into one of the biggest televised live-entertainment events on TV. There are a lot of moving parts that come together and it’s almost like clockwork the way it gets done.
Aside from the time constraint, what are some of the other challenges of producing live performances of this magnitude that people might not realize you’re dealing with?
There are so many constraints that come with producing a Super Bowl halftime show. Obviously there are lots of puzzle pieces and numerous teams of people who come together to produce one big show. Generally it’s the same groups of people each year, so they work like a machine. They know where to delegate the tasks and everyone gets their jobs done.
Working with Bruno Mars at Super Bowl XLVIII, was especially challenging because it was supposed to snow that Sunday. The weather forecast was so bad that the NFL even proposed moving the game to Monday. Obviously, that changed the plans for the Halftime show production because the stage could no longer be in the center of the field for fear of the weather. We set the stage up on the side of the field between the teams’ benches and filled the field with performers holding LED lights to make logos and designs. Rehearsals those few weeks were in the negative degrees and wind chill inside the stadium was brutal. We took tons of coffee and feet warmer breaks and sometimes our water coolers would freeze during lunch. Of course, it ended up not snowing on game day and the weather was actually extremely warm!
For Super Bowl 50, it was unique because Beyonce was performing a new and unreleased track so the song couldn’t be played over the speakers during the rehearsals. Everyone involved in the show had an earpiece to hear the rehearsal track but it wasn’t actually played out loud for people surrounding the stadium to hear.
Something interesting about Super Bowl 50 was that it was the first time a Super Bowl halftime show would take place during the day.
Generally, during a halftime show performance it’s dark, so items on the field can either be illuminated by lights or hidden in the dark. The filming of Super Bowl 50’s halftime show production was different because they wanted to focus on the show and not necessarily the stadium. During rehearsals we had to put the stage on wooden boards so it didn’t ruin the field and we only had a limited amount of time to actually practice on the field for fear that it would damage the grass.
As an audience we see an extremely small representation of the work that goes into the production. How long does it actually take to make those 24-minutes perfect?
As a field team member, I unfortunately only see the last two weeks of preparation for the show. So we rehearse getting the timing right for stage set up and break down. Then we practice the setup and break down with the equipment and, finally, with the artists.
Part of what will be talked about by the panelists is how they’ve worked to get this thing down to a science. They know what they can say “yes” to, they know what is impossible, they know what looks good on screen, they know what’s been done and what happens. “The 24-Minute Miracle” really is that — a miracle.
In terms of production preparation and perfection, I know for a fact that the producers prepare for the event as early as the June before the performance.
Within the industry, where do the Bruno/Beyonce shows stack up all-time? Which shows do your peers generally consider the standard to which all halftime shows are measured?
I think that every Super Bowl Halftime show is record-breaking for many reasons. Bruno Mars was the first performance on the sidelines and the most viewed Super Bowl halftime show of all time up until that day. On the other hand, Super Bowl 50 was an anniversary year so that will always go down in history as far as halftime shows are measured. They were each remarkable in their own way, whether it was crowd participation, aesthetics, production, performances or audience size.