Seven months away from the Democratic national convention, organizers have already opened a Philadelphia office, held a series of town hall meetings with local businesses, given the national media a tour of the Wells Fargo Center and assigned every state delegation a hotel.
The show's co-producer Ricky Kirshner and the convention committee's CEO, Rev. Leah D. Daughtry, provided some updates to The Inquirer on what the early planning process for the July 25-28 convention is like from the director's chair.
Kirshner knows how it's done: He has produced every Democratic national convention since 1992.
The son of late TV rock legend Don Kirshner, he has also been at the helm of several Super Bowl halftime shows (including the upcoming 50th) and the Tony Awards.
Daughtry, too, knows conventions. She headed the Convention Committee in 2008, when President Obama was first nominated, and has worked on several others. She has said this DNC will be the most diverse in history and as part of that goal, the committee aims to award 35 percent of contracts to minority, female and LGBT-owned businesses.
Question: You've both been involved in six conventions. What will be different about Philadelphia's?
Daughtry: Every city adds its own flavor to conventions. The great thing about Philadelphia is the historicity of the city itself and it's serving an important place in our American Democracy. It is probably the best place to talk about Democratic Party values.
Kirshner: There has been a convention here before, they've done one at the venue before, that's important. Conventions are not like any other productions - not like a tour that comes in and loads in for a day and moves on. It's a long-term project, so having people at the venue with experience is huge.
Q: What challenges are specific to Philadelphia?
Kirshner: Keeping the weight off eating cheesesteaks. Seriously, the food scene's a real challenge. Those (Beiler) donuts - they're incredible.
Daughtry: Yeah, the restaurant scene, it's a problem for us.
Q: What was the worst "oh, crap" moment from previous conventions?
Daughtry: The 'Oh, crap' moment is always Thursday night when you're waiting for the balloons to drop and you sit there with bated breath to make sure they come down. . .we had some issues in Boston where the white balloons and then the red balloons fell.
Kirshner: As a producer you can never look at the bright side, there's always, 'What could we have done better?' There's tons of stuff. I don't want to talk about it, though!
Q: What do you predict will be the stand-out moment of this convention?
Kirshner: The interesting thing about a convention is, there are many moments that are great moments that you don't expect. With the Super Bowl (halftime show) you know three or four things that will be really cool or the Tony Awards - but a convention... No one knew who Barack Obama was when he gave the speech in 2004; the kiss Al Gore gave Tipper was not scripted - it just kind of happened.
Q: Have delegates started asking about logistics?
Daughtry: Delegates have not been selected yet - they are selected through the primary and caucus process which begins Feb. 1 in Iowa. We'll have 6,000 delegates to do the business of the convention. We already contracted 15,000 hotel rooms. The hotels become their base for each state.
Q: Do you expect security to be tighter than it was in 2012? What might that look like?
Daughtry: Since 9/11, conventions have been "national special security events." We are always concerned about safety and security of delegates, particularly, on our side since we have a president, two former living presidents and a nominee who has held other offices - whether senator, governor, secretary of state, whoever the nominee happens to be.
Q: Do you know if there will be a venue move on the fourth night, as in previous conventions?
Daughtry: We are planning all four nights will be at the Wells Fargo Center.
Q: How will the Wells Fargo Center be transformed?
Kirshner: Honestly, I haven't even looked at a first set of design ideas yet. We're looking at LED screens, ways to create backgrounds in a different way, for it to be aesthetically pleasing.
Q: Is there a production theme and how influential is the candidate pick on what that theme is?
Daughtry: The infrastructure, the voting system, all of that is written in stone and set up by the party two years ago, but the overarching message and the input on design and all that is the purview of the nominee, because it has to reflect the vision the nominee has for the country.