TAMPA Jim Fenhagen and his colleague Eddie Knasiak at Jack Morton Worldwide faced an unusual situation last summer when they began working on the design of the stage for the Republican National Convention: They didn’t know who the candidate would be.
“A year out it wasn’t clear who was going to get the nomination. You have to figure out a design that hopefully is flexible enough that when a candidate comes in, you can use as much of it as possible,” said Fenhagen, a senior vice president at Jack Morton Worldwide, who has designed sets for The Daily Show, Piers Morgan Tonight on CNN, and recently ABC’s Good Morning America. “Once the candidate is chosen, the convention committee is very open to what [the candidate] thinks we should do, because ultimately it is their campaign and their image they are trying to communicate.”
Fenhagen's team began by focusing on the elements that would be the same for any nominee: the general layout of lighting and rigging, and the location of the stage within the Tampa Bay Times Forum. By last spring, when it became clear Romney would be the nominee, Fenhagen met with Romney campaign strategist Russ Schriefer to finalize the design. “He talked about how Mitt Romney did really well in these town-hall meetings, these smaller, more intimate settings,” Fenhagen said. “So how could we create something in this big scale that still felt intimate so he could connect with delegates who were there? And he used this phrase, ‘Wouldn’t it be great if it felt like he was in America’s living room.’ That stuck out.”
So the designers went back to work. “There was a pretty intense period in March, April, and May where we pulled it all together,” he said. ”[The final design] had the same footprint as the original but a totally different design.”
Here’s a look at the final product: the stage, designed by Fenhagen and Knasiak, and constructed by Freeman, where Romney is scheduled to accept the nomination Thursday night.