Good morning all, welcome to the first day of the artists’ Junior Eurovision journey on the Gliwice stage. Today we’ll be seeing ten countries working through their routines for the first time… Except we won’t.
New for Junior Eurovision 2019 is the fact that the first dress rehearsals will be held behind closed doors, with only the delegations and technical staff able to be in the arena.
The EBU will, via their social media channels, be revealing short clips from on stage and backstage. As press we will get the same visuals as the public during Tuesday and Wednesday. If I took my press accreditation to the arena today I wouldn’t even be welcomed in. The Press Centre will only be opening on Thursday when second rehearsals begin.
I asked the EBU to give a statement regarding this change.
”The EBU continually reviews the organisation of its Live Events to ensure that Member broadcasters and their artists are given the best experience both on and off stage.
With this in mind it was decided that, in order to safeguard the well-being of the young artists taking part in the Junior Eurovision Song Contest, it was in the interests of all participants that they be allowed to rehearse privately during their first experience on stage.
As these rehearsals are not open to press, a decision was also made to open the press centre for the event later than in previous years. Highlights from these rehearsals will continue to be shared on our official YouTube channel.”
Safeguarding The Wellbeing Of Young Artists
First rehearsal is a big and scary proposition. It’s the first time for many of the artists on a stage of that size and scale, combined with their lights cues and medium-sized props. For many acts, the most difficult thing will be picking out the little red dot above the camera lens to follow as it zooms from steadycam to crane to fixed camera and back again.
It should be a learning process, not the demand for perfection it so often is. One example would be from Junior Eurovision in 2015. I saw Malta’s Destiny Chukunyere rehearse, and was underwhelmed. I wrote an article on the running order where I assumed it would be a Belarus/Armenia battle for victory. But Destiny was just getting started, and come the Jury Final her vocal fireworks blasted off and she was on her way. In hindsight, Destiny was using that first rehearsal to walk through how to perform her song. Myself, and I assume others in the press centre, were too quick to judge.
When You Witness A First Rehearsal
I’m a bit of an old hack at the Eurovision press circuit now, having been to five Eurovision Song Contests and five Junior Eurovisions. First rehearsals are one of my favourite parts. There’s the obvious, the fact that you are seeing the songs on stage for the first time, and you get to be one of the first to see the crazy gimmicks and props before the excitement is spoilt by the blogs and betting sites.
I remember one particular first rehearsal from Vienna in 2015, that from Spain represented by Edurne with ’Amanecer’.
If you saw the three minutes on stage, you’ll note there were plenty of Eurovision classic moments; the appearing dancer, the costume reveal, a stage turning from darkness to light. It was a complex performance, and the first two or three run throughs were comedy gold, and everything that could go wrong on camera did. The highlight I remember is Edurne’s dancer being caught in the background of one camera shot running off stage carrying her long red dress trailing behind him.
The press room was in stitches.
Hilarious as it was, it was at that point I realised that we were seeing something we shouldn’t. The first time an artist goes on stage should be one where they get time to make things fit together, time to feel comfortable on the stage. A first rehearsal shouldn’t be for our twisted pleasure where one slip because you wore the wrong shoes doesn’t lead to the bloggers getting their claws out.
I’m actually taken here to think about a story that appeared from this year’s Eurobash, the OGAE UK convention. Michael Rice, the UK’s Eurovision entrant in Tel Aviv, was present and spoke to the audience about his experience. One of the most revealing moments was Michael revealing how some of the nasty comments were getting to him, and the BBC encouraged him to put his phone away. There’s a delegation’s duty of care to protect their artist from all the comments, the feedback and the general bad blood the over-analysis of every step he made on that stage did.
You know what, I’m going to go further than this is a good thing for Junior Eurovision. First rehearsals at the Eurovision Song Contest in May should also be behind closed doors.
Saving Time, Saving Money
There’s far more benefit to this than just the idea of safeguarding artists. Firstly you have the fact that there’s less time needed for much of the periphery of the Song Contest. The press centre is open for two days less at Junior Eurovision, and that would be four days less at the Eurovision Song Contest. The associated security, cleaning and catering staff for the hundreds of journalists can be reduced therefore too.
Ah, you say, but that means less press and less coverage for the artists. In terms of quantity that may be true. However the quality of the journalism will not be weakened. Having been in the press room each day for two weeks, in all honesty I must say we rarely learn anything from the second rehearsals. Camera shots are tightened up, sometimes a few are changed ever so slightly, but its so rare that anything is noteworthy. That means in the first week of Eurovision fortnight that the Monday to Thursday are filled with suspense and what ifs, but the long Friday and Saturday second rehearsals are a drag. The EBU’s coverage, where they drip feed more snippets and reveals from first rehearsal to second rehearsal, helps to generate more excitement from content that is essentially the same.
Wouldn’t it be better for Eurovision press excitement to start up on that Friday and Saturday and ramp up all the way to the Grand Final the week after?
Another potential problem to sort out with this is to with artist interviews. You see after each rehearsal the acts come through into the press centre, attend some sort of press conference answering safe questions, and then most delegations take the artist through to interview after interview after interview. If the press centre is open less, surely then will there be less chance for interviews?
The EBU already have got a solution for this, at least for Junior Eurovision.
”To ensure the artists are allowed sufficient time to rest between rehearsals, it was also decided to create one joint opportunity to meet the press on the Saturday afternoon in a relaxed, informal environment. Accredited press can also arrange with individual delegations a suitable time to interview their artists.”
Relaxed and informal is no bad thing. Delegations can sometimes be stuck in interview rooms at Eurovision after a rehearsal all day answering interview questions, most of which aren’t adding anything new. It is tiring for the adults, never mind the children.
This sounds like a set-up more like how Eurovision in Concert or the London Preview Party operates, as does SVT’s Melodifestivalen. Nobody can claim that Sweden’s biggest TV show doesn’t get enough media coverage.
The idea of one joint opportunity too makes meeting the press a far less stressful environment. Let’s not be locked up in a small 6 ft by 6 ft box or on a raised platform waiting for questions from the floor. Instead let’s mingle in a huge open area where everybody is having a good time. It is a positive experience.
You know what. Extend this to the Eurovision Song Contest as well. We don’t need all the interview rooms in the press centre, or press conferences duller than ditchwater. We don’t need the same list of websites doing the same list of questions to the same bunch of artists. We don’t need long boring days at the press centre for each delegation. You want to interview an artist in depth – no problem – let’s organise a session early in the Eurovision fortnight for press to ’meet the Heads of Press’ to co-ordinate interviews at dates, times and locations of the artist’s choosing.
Junior Eurovision Is Where We Try New Ideas
Junior Eurovision has a history of trying new ideas. Juries were introduced here in 2008. The running order was mainly selected by the broadcaster in 2012, before the Eurovision Song Contest started with producer-led running orders. This can be another idea that becomes a success and jumps to the adult edition.
Starting the open rehearsal period later will be a cost-saver for the EBU and for the press, with no reduction in the quality of their journalism. Artists will get a calmer rehearsal experience where they can experiment on stage without being judged, and without fear of every mistake being critiqued. It’s simply sensible that the official requirements for press conferences are reduced, and delegations can pick and choose the interview schedule that is most comfortable for them.
It is correct therefore that rather than be in the press centre today I have instead been typing and editing this piece from the comfort of my hotel room. I hope artists and delegations see the benefits of this freedom, and that it inspires them to insist Rotterdam 2020 follows suit from Gliwice’s lead.