THE NETHERLANDS – After half a century, Ahoy is really used to something, but an event was never before as big as the Eurovision Song Contest. The kick-off was given last week and for almost three weeks of building, 24/7, hundreds and eventually, thousands of people will work on some special Olympic proportions project.
April 11: Sunday morning a little after 10 am. Outside it is about five degrees, but the sun has broken through. Inside, the director of Ahoy and the head of the Eurovision Song Contest open the door of a truck that transports dozens of flight cases. It is a year after Ahoy received trucks, in the same way, to set up an emergency hospital for corona patients. The empty beds of that time are the boxes with lamps, amplifiers and microphones of today.
Jolanda Jansen (Ahoy) and Sietse Bakker (executive producer of the Eurovision Song Contest) perform a symbolic kick-off because, in reality, the first trucks have already entered Ahoy around 06:00 in the morning. On the first day, a total of 42 will arrive, calculates head of production Erwin Rintjema. Everything that arrives this Sunday is destined for the roof. All-day long, cables hang from the ceiling in the arena that lifts material from the numerous unfolded flight cases on the floor.
The numbers show how big the Eurovision Song Contest is. For the largest productions, there are about 250 “lifting points” in the roof where items can be hoisted up. “There will be six hundred” here, says Rintjema.
“There will be 190 tons of weight on the roof, which is unprecedented. This includes two thousand lamps, but also video screens and speaker systems. Today we have about 250 people at lunch, that’s a quiet kick-off,” said Rintjema, who will soon have double the number of men and women walking around. All with a face mask, a yellow or orange vest and a helmet with the Eurovision imprint.
They work for just under three weeks to hold the first technical rehearsals at the end of April. From May 8, the first participants will sing in rehearsals for the semifinals (May 18 and 20) and the final on May 22. For the time being, 3,500 spectators are allowed to attend each show. They sit in the stands, the arena floor is reserved for employees and artists. The green room appears in front of the stage, where the participants wait for the scoring after their performance. “They already provide the typical Eurovision atmosphere with flags,” Bakker expects.
All spectators will be seated on seats in the stands. Should it be the case that at the end of April, when the construction is ready, the situation around corona means that no audience is allowed to be present at all, then the organization has a solution, a kind of light curtain under the stands?
Bakker: “Lamps will be hung from the first tribunal, which in that case we will shine straight across the hall so that you no longer see empty seats.”
For the time being, visitors are welcome, they can have themselves tested anywhere in the country beforehand. For employees and accredited press, there is a true tent camp next to Ahoy with a separate corona test street, where besides cotton swabs, a breathalyzer is also used. The staff is tested there every two days.
Although it will take a few weeks before the build-up is finished, it already feels like D-day for Jolanda Jansen from Ahoy. “We’ve all been so looking forward to this,” she says as she watches the workers on the floor from the first ring.
“I thought back to a year ago yesterday when there were also trucks and the press, but then for the emergency hospital. On the floor where the stage will be placed, there was a tent with bedding and medical equipment.”
That image will soon be pushed far into the background when the stage is there. It is 52 meters wide, which does not even fit in the Ahoy Arena. “That is why we have to build a part over the stands,” says Jansen.
“We have had North Sea Jazz, the World Cup gymnastics, World Cup short track, MTV Awards, Friends of Amstel Live and the Tour start, but this beats everything. For almost seven weeks we have people in the house who are busy with the organization, we have the largest stage ever in the Netherlands and it is also the most complex television operation we have ever had in this country. After a year without public events in Ahoy, we are immediately restarting with the Olympic Games of music.”