The woman shining a unique Queensland light on to the AFL’s big dance
A whole year of planning has been squeezed into six weeks to ensure the AFL’s historic Queensland-based grand final is a roaring success.
When the curtain rises on the AFL Grand Final pre-game show at the Gabba on Saturday, it will be unlike anything Queensland, or the AFL, has ever seen — rivalling even rock and pop stadium concerts more accustomed to wowing audiences with pyro, lighting and special effects.
Full of spectacular production firsts, transcendent emotional moments, and ties to AFL’s traditional home, heart and people of Melbourne, the Queensland pre-game and half-time entertainment will be unique.
And it has all been pulled off in just six weeks of feverish planning.
Creative Director and producer of the AFL grand final entertainment, director of Gold Coast-based Cochrane Entertainment Thea Jeanes-Cochrane, said the program is a complete reimagining of grand final entertainment.
“I love the challenge, I love being overly ambitious and love to over-deliver, so certainly hope that on this occasion that is the case and we do Queensland proud and Australia proud.”
With the Grand Final being held for the first time at night, state-of-the art technology, lighting and design will be utilised along with cutting-edge pyrotechnics to engage the whole stadium.
“There’s a lot that I’m excited about that we will be deploying and a lot of firsts, especially in some of the production values,” Jeanes-Cochrane said.
“There will be some surprise elements to come. It’s going to be quite different, quite unique.”
Jeanes-Cochrane said in the frenzy of the past six weeks, the team secured a Queensland-heavy, all-Australian line-up that includes Brisbane-band Sheppard, Sydney Brit-poppers DMA’s and Wolfmother’s lead vocalist and guitarist Andrew Stockdale.
The Queensland Symphony Orchestra will play a significant role, while Brisbane indie-pop band Cub Sport, Indigenous electronic duo Electric Fields, Thelma Plum and Rockhampton roots duo Busby Marou will all feature.
In a surprise element, Queensland’s surf lifesavers will be honoured, with nippers and lifesavers taking a key role in the traditional Grand Final ceremony.
A special Welcome to Country will be performed by Brisbane group Tribal Experiences from Yuggera-Toorabul Country.
Jeanes-Cochrane said the half-time show is built around the performance by Sheppard, known for chart-toppers including ‘Geronimo’ and ‘Coming Home’.
“That will be a real Queensland moment through the production and throughout lighting and effects,” she said.
“That storytelling will be really beautiful and I think just a really fantastic moment for Queenslanders in particular to be proud of, but it also embraces a lot of Australia.”
One of the distinct elements will be the contribution of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra, led by renowned musical director Chong Lim.
“He (Chong Lim) has very cleverly worked with the orchestra on some really key highlight moments. Those special moments are delivered musically, but also accentuated by production values and highlights that you can bring in when it’s night time.
“So those exciting moments will come when people get to see how the artists perform, how they engage together, and how we involve the orchestra and other elements as well through the night.”
It’s not just the artists themselves drawn from Queensland.
A leading originator and producer of entertainment spectaculars and global touring exhibitions, including for The Rolling Stones, Real Madrid Football Club and the Nelson Mandela Foundation, Jeanes-Cochrane has been able to assemble members of the creative team for the show from throughout the state.
“It’s been a monumental effort, with many of the incredible creative and production team of people I’ve worked with over my career who’ve jumped in,’’ she said.
“It’s certainly been a very interesting and challenging journey. From a personal point of view I’m very pleased that we are able to employ so many people from throughout Queensland to be able to pull this together.
“Our industry is going through a really challenging and difficult time and we and the AFL have been delighted to engage local professionals.
“We’re very proud of the all-Australian, and particularly the Queensland line up that we’ve been able to assemble and it is worth noting that the number of artists we’ve engaged is more than the AFL have ever had on the bill for previous grand finals.
“And certainly being able to offer a half-time show is a first, and a half-time show in a dark environment is really what allows us to deploy fantastic production and staging and take value of that half-time moment.
“That’s going to be a really exciting moment for people who are in the audience but also for people watching the broadcast.”
Salute to Melbourne
Jeanes-Cochrane said while the entertainment spectacular was a celebration, it was also mindful of the reason Queensland was hosting the grand final.
As a result of the pandemic outbreak that swept across Victoria and ongoing coronavirus-induced lockdowns across Melbourne, the AFL made the decision to move the trophy decider outside Melbourne.
Much of the 2020 AFL season has also had to be played in Queensland, with hubs set up on the Gold and Sunshine coasts allowing teams to stay and play against each other.
“We have some moments built into the show where we involve Melbourne,” Jeanes-Cochrane said.
“We think that’s an appropriate thing to do and a great way to express our understanding of what the people of Victoria have been going through and how difficult it is for them to see what is traditionally theirs and held in their backyard, move to another state temporarily.”
One of the moments includes ‘Up There Cazaly’ writer Mike Brady performing the famed footy anthem from the grand final’s traditional home of the MCG, but there were other special connections as well, she said.
Honouring high expectations
From the moment the 2020 AFL grand final was awarded to the Gabba in Brisbane on 2 September, anticipation has been mounting over Queensland’s historical hosting of the game being played for the first time outside of Victoria.
“It’s been insane,” Jeanes-Cochrane said.
She said the decision went down to the wire as to which city would host the grand final, with planning kicking off the moment AFL CEO Gillon McLachlan stood in front of the golf course at the Mercure Hotel AFL hub on the Gold Coast to announce Queensland and the Gabba as the hosts.
“I had presented an idea to the AFL in the hope it might come to Queensland and we reimagined the entertainment aspects given it was a unique year,” she said.
“If there was any year to reimagine the entertainment aspects of a grand final event this was the year to do it.”
As the team begins the week-long bump-in to the Gabba, it is the culmination of an unforgettable experience for Jeanes-Cochrane that will produce an uncompromised event created in a compressed timeframe with the unique requirements of a COVID-compliant overlay.
“The degree of difficulty for everybody would probably be an 11. But it’s such a great honour and it’s something that for everybody involved is completely unexpected.”