Work SpotlightJune 16, 2017

Setting the Stage for University of Michigan’s Bicentennial Commencement

It’s a big deal when you are invited to “The Big House.” It’s an even bigger deal when you are invited to the University of Michigan’s iconic football stadium to produce its Bicentennial Commencement. That’s why all of us at Bartha were thrilled and honored to provide a full-range of services for this historic occasion earlier this spring, including creative event design and large-scale staging and production.

After thoroughly exploring the details of the university’s RFP, and our own additional research, our overall objective was to design an experience that paid respect to the historical significance of this event and the university, while at the same time adding impactful theatrical elements to the ceremony. As the name “Big House” implies, the venue is larger than most – accommodating well over 100,000 attendees – meaning that the scale of the ideas, staging and audience experience had to be larger than most as well.


Focal Point

The focal point was a 40’ x 60’ covered stage in the north end of the stadium, with a 20’ x 36’ center-stage LED curtain and one 16’ x 18’ outboard LED display on each side of the stage.


Scenic elements included 20’ x 12’ commemorative banners and 40’-high manufactured vertical images of recognizable buildings, creating a University of Michigan campus skyline.


An ornate ceremonial podium was placed on a center stage thrust extending 12’ toward the audience. The center thrust was flanked on each side by ADA switchback ramps, providing universal access from the field to the stage.

Scenic Elements

We also included a full range of scenic elements that drew attention to staging focal points. A large maize and blue Block M was hung high above center stage at the design’s tallest point as well as positioned above the tunnel graduates used to enter the field during the procession. Fabric strips extended from the bottom of the Block M to further define the entrance.

Satellite Stage

A satellite stage – with the maize and blue Block M centered on the stage deck – was positioned in the middle of the football field to provide a shift in focus, bringing the proceedings further into the audience and engaging them with student performances, including the “Amazing Blue Medley” finale with renowned songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul accompanied by graduating seniors from the Music Theatre Department and the UM School of Music, Theatre and Dance. The duo, collectively known as Pasek and Paul, are University of Michigan graduates who each earned a Golden Globe and an Academy Award earlier this year for Best Original Song, “City of Stars” from the film “La La Land.”

In addition to staging and scenic elements, technology was leveraged to tell the 200-year story of the University of Michigan while connecting the program’s essential elements, including the Procession of Graduates, Voice of the Past, Student Message of the Future, University Bicentennial Alumni Awards Presentation, the President’s Address and the Presentation of Graduates.

Our Creative Services and Video Production teams provided support and partnered with the University of Michigan to produce a series of videos celebrating the impact of recent graduates. We also produced video and PowerPoint content celebrating the university’s history and future, which were shown during the Procession of Graduates.

In addition to providing creative and production support, we also arranged for the setup of the field cover and on-field chairs for the graduates.

The University of Michigan’s Bicentennial Commencement was a grand occasion in “The Big House” that highlighted the 200-year history of one the country’s finest learning institutions, set the stage for the next 200 years and made memories that will last a lifetime for thousands of graduates and their loved ones. Whether your next event is in a stadium, arena, exhibit hall, ballroom or any other venue, let Bartha put this level of creativity and expertise into your next event. Click here to get started today!