How I Got A Thinking Ape on the Podium at Tech’s Got Talent

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“…everything changed the afternoon of May 18th.”

I’m not much into lip syncs to be honest. As a musician, I loathe how people get famous by fooling people they can sing. This is one of the reasons why I didn’t initially participate in the Tech’s Got Talent 2017 event in March, but everything changed the afternoon of May 18th.

Tech’s Got Talent is a lip sync battle contest where several companies from Vancouver’s tech sector come out to perform and compete in the name of charity. Great cause.

In the weeks leading up to the main event, the People Team at ATA had organized a core group of coworkers who would be involved in the performance and ran a fundraising barbecue and silent auction for our charity of choice, Strive Living Society. Fantastic fundraising work by the People Team.

On May 18th, I heard my friend and coworker, Christine Biala, talking to someone in one of the meeting rooms. She was moving piles of cardboard around with a stressed out look on her face. I asked her what she was doing.

“I’m building a car for Tech’s Got Talent.”

Sometimes, life gets in the way and one of the people involved with creative direction on the performance had to step down. So the onus was on Christine to put together a prop in exactly two weeks. At that moment, I decided to step in to help Christine. Christine is a talented illustrator, so I had no reservations of her ability to come up with a solution. What she lacked was the big picture vision of how this would pan out on a stage. We talked a bit about what the team needed and I offered suggestions on how to make a massive impact in the competition.

The group had already agreed on the theme of the performance and selected people to play specific characters. It was going to be ATA’s rendition of Wayne’s World Bohemian Rhapsody complete with Mirth Mobile. Christine was entirely responsible for the prop and she only had cardboard to work with. She needed my help.

The team had already raised enough money to enter in the lip sync competition, so I thought, why not at least place them on the podium?

In order to do this, a few things had to happen. The car had to be 3D. It’s not good enough to bring a taped together cardboard car on stage that will fall apart on the way there. You needed to build it out of stronger stuff. I won’t go into detail about construction of the car, since the scope of that would be too large for this post, but I’ll highlight some of it.

Power tools were necessary in order to accomplish a look that was acceptable. Luckily, I’m handy and have been fixing and building things since I was a kid, so I had all the tools. I opted to actually build a skeleton of the car out of 2 x 2 lumber and wrap it with different types of materials.

The Right Blue

Christine Painting Flames

Electrical

The blue had to be the right blue. The Mirth Mobile has a distict baby blue, just light enough for the flames to pop out of the sides. Another parameter was to make sure that the performers feet wouldn’t show on stage to prevent the “flintstone” effect. I used pieces of leftover black roofing paper that I had at home to solve this problem.

After building the physical frame, Christine was responsible for painting the car and adding the distinct flames on the doors. Other parts of the car such as the grill, license plate, door handles were all printed and designed by Tiffany Tang, another artist at ATA. While I delegated those tasks to the artists, I worked on the electrical to have working headlights and turn signals that I could control on the side of the stage.

“It meant a lot to me to teach them how to use power tools to help expedite the building process.”

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Christine, Tiffany and I spent our entire May long weekend building the Mirth Mobile at the office. It meant a lot to me to teach them how to use power tools to help expedite the building process. Since I’m the youngest in my family, it was nice to feel like a big brother for a day…. or four. We literally spent 12 hour days over the weekend in order for this to pan out and be ready for rehearsal.

That was the next task. Rehearsal. With all the commitments the team had, (Occupational Health and Safety meetings, fundraising, work/life in general, etc.) they hadn’t held one yet, which meant that choreography wasn’t started. But they were more than willing to find time here and there to help out where they could which added up fast. As I built the car, I would listen to the Wayne’s World version of Bohemian Rhapsody in order to get ideas running around in my head. I watched that scene at least ten to fifteen times a day that whole weekend in order for me to get a feel for what was needed.

Besides the movie lip sync being a cult classic, there are other significant things that are in plain sight in that clip too. The filmmakers highlight some of the best spots in Illinois by showing their signage lit up at night. So as the vision of the performance started to form in my mind, I knew we had to incorporate all of those things. With my contacts from my previous employers, I called in a few favors and had signs of those Illinois landmarks printed for free.

The next step was to edit the music down to two minutes and twenty nine seconds. Why not two-thirty like they asked? Because I wasn’t going to take chances on anything. Those were the parameters, so I was sticking to them. I combined the movie and the original recording of Bohemian Rhapsody together in order to make it fit under the time allotted. Combining my editing and musical skills, I made it work.

Next was the choreography. This is where I had to tap into my theatre background. The scene took place in a car, so I had to take a little creative license in order to give it enough movement to make it workable on stage. Not only that, I had to choreograph the loading-unloading and assembly-disassembly of the car. I knew that it had to be quick and roles would have to be designated.

The car was finished in four days, we were nine days away from the event, and I now had the task of teaching the choreography to the group in less than four rehearsals. What was great about the team is that as soon as they saw clear leadership and vision, they all got extremely excited and were ready to take their efforts another step further.

“The team was great to work with, took direction well, and gave their 110% at every rehearsal.”

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The team was great to work with, took direction well, and gave their 110% at every rehearsal. It was nice because we had a mixed vibe of excitement and nervousness. To ease some of the tension, I asked the performers to give their input on “creative executive decisions” on some of the movement for their characters on stage. There was definitely a leadership-teamwork feeling in the room during every rehearsal.

I have a long history of performance and for many people on the team, this would be their first time on stage, so I gave them some ideas of what to expect. I told them that they would be sweating; their blood would be pumping and adrenaline running wild for two minutes and thirty twenty-nine seconds. “But it won’t feel that way,” I said to the team. “You will blink and it will be all over. Then all you can do for the rest of the night is wait to hear the results. It ain’t over ‘til it’s over.” When our name was called to the stage for presentation of awards, excitement swept the crew.

“We raised $2623 for Strive Living Society. Enough to buy them a new fridge!”

Overall, the best performance the crew gave including all rehearsals was the main event. We placed second to ACL, a close second. According to the organizers, we were tied with them and the judges had to deliberate who got first. My guess is that we were the only ones with a “negative” comment from the judges and that was the deciding factor. I put that in quotes because negative comments make for “good TV.” To us at ATA, placing second was quite the success. We raised $2623 for Strive Living Society. Enough to buy them a new fridge!

What I took away from this was not only that I pulled through on my promise to place the team, but that I helped grow relationships and felt closer to people in the office that I wouldn’t have before. I saw what an inspired team can accomplish in such a short amount of time. I watched Christine paint flames with meticulous detail; I watched everyone smile when they were up on that stage and saw the rush that they had for the entire night. We have a bond that no one can take away.

Days after the event, the car was set up in the ATA foyer. The group’s slack channel was buzzing with new ideas for next year’s event and everyone was energized. I’m proud to have worked with them. And all of this comes back to the car. After seeing what was possible with tools and materials that you could find at home depot with limited time, the rest of the team felt excited and compelled to step up their game. Many stepped out of their comfort zone and added unbelieveable energy on stage for the performance.

I’m excited to see if I end up on a team for the next Tech’s Got Talent. My goal now is to find a company that values these kinds of experiences/events and place them on the podium with Big Vision + Big Execution; Big T Style.

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