LACONIA — The show must go on … even in the midst of a pandemic.
That is certainly the case with the Greater Lakes Region Children’s Auction, which gets underway on Tuesday.
But while the show will go on as it has every year since 1982, it will look different.
In this time of social distancing, there will be far fewer people on the auction’s broadcast set. With all the emphasis on extra cleaning and hygiene measures, the auction items will be dealt with in a way that they are touched by as few hands as possible. Instead of all the elements of the auction taking place in one large venue as in the past, this year the operation will be split among three buildings at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford, with access to each building restricted to authorized people.
The auction has always been a media event, starting out on radio only. Today, however, in addition being broadcast on FM station, The Hawk, it is carried on two Atlantic Broadband channels, as well as being live streamed on websites for Lakes Region Public Access and The Laconia Daily Sun.
The auction will run next Tuesday through next Friday, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. each day.
The work to retool the live coverage for this year’s auction began in July, according to Grace McNamara, executive director of Lakes Region Public Access, who has been overseeing much of the production planning.
The set has been scaled down. Zack Derby, the auction’s primary host, will be talking with most guests via Zoom or another form of remote technology. And in another departure from the usual format, viewers will not see a bank of volunteers sitting shoulder-to-shoulder taking bids for auction items over the phone. Those volunteers will instead be in a separate room, socially-distanced.
In addition the staging for the telecast has been scaled way back, McNamara explained.
“Instead of using eight cameras, there will be only three,” she said.
And two of those cameras will be equipped with robotic technology that allows them to be operated by a technician in the control room. So there will be just one cameraman on the set.
Another innovation will be the use of vMix — an audio-visual software that will enable the auction host to talk live with multiple guests in separate locations. Those watching the auction will see the host and guests appear on a split-screen.
The Enablement Group, a Laconia firm that provides video production services, has been working with LRPA on some of the enhanced technology needed for this year’s programming.
Many segments have been prerecorded for showing during the auction broadcast. Those recording sessions started a month ago, McNamara said.
“The number of spots that will be done on the set will be very limited,” McNamara said.
“It will look very much like what you’ve been seeing on news programs like CNN, where rather than having several reporters or panelists appear on the set, they participate from different locations,” McNamara said.
Photographs have been taken of each auction item, so when it comes up for bid, that photograph will appear on the screen. That will eliminate the need for someone on the set to have to hold up the item for the camera operator to get a close-up shot.
Three buildings at the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion will be used for the auction. Workers will not be permitted to go from one building to another, McNamara said.
Auction items will be handled as little as possible. Items going up for auction will be delivered to one building. Once an item has been auctioned off it will be taken to another building. From there an auction worker will bring the item out to the winning bidder’s vehicle, explained Jaimie Sousa, the chair of the Children’s Auction board.
Auction workers have been taking additional precautions all week, limiting their interactions to family members and those in their “social bubble,” Sousa said.
Though the technology and logistics have changed, the aim of the Children’s Auction remains the same: raising money for local charities, all through volunteer efforts, community donations, and corporate sponsorships. Last year’s auction brought in just over $600,000.
“It’s been challenging,” MaNamara said of all the changes that have been made in order to make this year’s auction a COVID-safe event. But she credited the event’s sponsors — The Hawk, Atlantic Broadband, The Laconia Daily Sun, and TEG — for their efforts to make the event a success. “That’s what a partnership is all about,” she said.