In part 1, I told you the story of what led me to produce a papal visit which, from my experience, was the same as any event, only BIGGER. This was like a religious Olympics that also included Heads of State, thirty sites, thousands of vendor contracts, risk mitigation, and lots of security. An empty 24th floor of an office building was turned into what I picture the reporters wing of the New York Times is like — full of secrecy, media management, and an expected massive crowd. It was full of hierarchy. Lots of hierarchy, surrounded with stakeholders everywhere. 

I may have been naïve, but what I pictured at the start of the planning for this event turned out to be nothing like I expected. While I knew it would be big from a size standpoint (that was its appeal to me), I had no idea how important it could be from a political, media, religious, and security standpoint. This was John Paul II, a Head of State and the leader of Catholicism worldwide. President Clinton flew in to welcome him to Denver.  

I came to believe my friend Bert may have recommended me as much or more for my temperament and tolerance as my experience or expertise (something that has changed a bit since then). I was the Production Director for an event that had all the elements of any other event, but so many of those elements had additional nuances attached, such as who was speaking, who was listening, was this public or private, the security concerns, ceremonial procedures, and a hundred other things I’d never been exposed to up until the task of producing this event. Worse, there was no expert available for guidance. I needed to become a Hoover vacuum for information. 

My role in the event included identifying infrastructure needs, site design, stage design for the Papal Mass and Mile High stadium appearance, hiring production staff, vendor acquisitions, and scheduling.  The venues I had to manage ran the gamut in size and scope: from a meeting room in the back of a church, to Convention Center rooms, Red Rocks Amphitheater, Civic Center Park downtown, Mile High Stadium and an absolutely infrastructure-less 500-acre site that needed to support at least half a million people over two or three days. That site had no water service, roadways, power, helicopter landing pads, or anything else.  

The job also morphed into interpreting what the Vatican, federal, state and local government, and security officials deemed appropriate or necessary, and working it into my plan. This eventually came to include some odd things… like fencing off two acres of a protected butterfly breeding ground not far from the center of the site that would soon hold 500,000 faithful followers, and finding a guy that could build a chair fit for His Holiness. I also soon found myself reporting not just to Kate, but to a very large conference table full of people who represented government, the church, and all levels of security including the Vatican and the Secret Service. 

Soon after taking the job, I visited all the sites involved (that number would later grow), took notes on all the pertinent information, and drew preliminary plans for each. Then, I attempted to identify the limitations for each, along with the who and what that would be happening in each to fill in the plan. I started with the big pieces and worked my way down to the details. I’d learn later that the plan and budget would never be final, continually changing with each meeting. The day Kate and I recognized and accepted that fact was a very good day. 

Stay tuned for part three where I talk about the hurdles of producing a papal visit and part four where I share the five things I learned. 

Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy draws upon more than 25 years of concert and corporate special events production experience to create spectacularly creative experiences for our Event 360 clients. A co-founder of Event 360, Mike is an Emmy Award-winning professional who has developed brand-building events, product launches and tours worldwide. As the Line Producer and Director of Special Events for a major movie studio, Mike took film premieres to a new level through extravaganzas in the New Orleans Superdome, the Rose Bowl, aboard the U.S.S. John C. Stennis aircraft carrier and numerous other improbable but spectacular film venues. Mike’s other key achievements include the production of a Papal Mass in Denver for 500,000 attendees and tour management and production for Harry Connick, Jr., 10,000 Maniacs and numerous other internationally known touring artists with music.

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