(New York) Three hours after Pope Francis delivers the first ever canonization mass on U.S. soil next Wednesday, Ed Sheeran and Christina Perri will perform across town at Washington, D.C.’s Verizon Center. But the two events are more alike than one might assume.
“Producing an event for the Pope is similar to producing a rock concert,” said Blayne Candy, co-founder of Showcall, the D.C.-based events company responsible for producing the mass.
Candy and his partner, Ajay Patil, said they were not at liberty to divulge the total production cost for the mass. But that number is likely dragging quite a few zeroes. Because such an event requires personnel, high-tech equipment, and security of, well, biblical proportions.
An estimated crowd of 25,000 will attend the mass, which will take place on the east portico of the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception. The event will utilize 100 microphones, 150 high-powered speakers, and 1.1 miles of audio cable. Two hundred feet of metal truss will bolster 100 automated moving lights as well as 104 conventional and 18 LED light fixtures.
“We have the potential to produce 317,000 watts of daylight,” Patil said. “To compare, the sun on average produces 96,000 watts of daylight across the same area. So we could be three times brighter than the sun if need be.”
But the stage renderings, which were released at a media event outside of the Basilica on September 17, appear surprisingly modest at first glance. This was intentional, according to Showcall.
“We were of the understanding that the Holy Father is an understated character from his perspective, and we wanted the stage to reflect that,” says Patil.
Showcall wanted the stage and altar experience to be both elegant and intimate. This meant designing a stage that felt like an extension of the Basilica rather than an accessory to it. Showcall’s designers opted for only two modest LED screens in hopes of drawing the crowd into the physical experience. But this task was not without challenges.
“The presence of trees throughout the crowd area made our task difficult, so we leveraged 3D-rendering programs to place ourselves in the position of any guest with a ticket to see what they can see and anticipate what they can and can’t hear,” said Candy.
In at least one way, the Pope’s mass is even more complicated than a rock concert: security. The event has been designated a National Special Security Event (NSSE) by the federal government, which means the Secret Service is responsible for keeping everyone at the event safe, not just the Holy Father. The manpower and tactics involved are classified and not even Showcall’s co-founders know what types of precautions are being taken.
But according to Candy and Patil, who are both Roman Catholic, perhaps the most unique aspect of next week’s mass will be the audience. The Pope has attracted more than just hardcore believers to the church. Even non-practicing Catholics and Protestants seem enraptured by him.
“This pope has enlarged the tent for Catholics,” says Candy. “So the biggest surprise at this event may be the way it will energize a diverse community.”
Reaching beyond one’s fanbase to attract such a vast array of people is something not even rock stars like Sheeran and Perri can claim.