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Behind the Scenes at Carols by Candlelight

18 December 2015

Carols by Candlelight has been an Australian tradition for 77 years. On Christmas Eve families gather around the television, or visit the Sidney Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne to watch well-known celebrities sing our favourite songs.

But how much do you know about what goes on behind the scenes to put on the show? Kelly Swanson is the Events Officer at Vision Australia and it is her role to bring everything together to create a magical experience that raises vital funds to support children who are blind or have low vision.

I work for Vision Australia, a national charity supporting people who are blind or have low vision to be able to live the lives they choose. My role here is to bring the magic of Christmas to life through Australia’s most iconic Christmas event — Carols by Candlelight and, for me, Christmas lasts all year round.

If I do my job right, the live and broadcast audiences get to enjoy a wonderful show filled with incredible performances from generous performers who donate their time to support our cause. It can be hard to imagine just how much work gets done behind the scenes, but, as with any major event, it doesn’t all happen overnight.

I work on Carols from January to December. In the earlier months, the role involves liaising with sponsors and partners and negotiating new relationships. I am also required to report on the past years’ activity and ensure all of our obligations have been met. I’m communicating with our sponsors and partners all the time.

As time progresses the event management really heats up. I am responsible for a lot of the nuts and bolts that bring together all the different aspects of the show, everything from event logistics to ticket sales. I’m the point of contact for everyone keeping them informed of any changes as they occur.

Things really get going in August with operational matters like organising security passes and preparing signage. October is when the pace becomes furious right until the venue set up on December 22nd and restocking the merchandise after the rehearsal on the 23rd.

One of the new initiatives that I am particularly looking forward to this year is our competition to win one of three trips to Disneyland — I’ve been co-ordinating this since April. 

I find that the general public often think that Carols is simply a show on television. However, the real essence of the event is that it helps Vision Australia to raise awareness of our work we do to support people who are blind of have low vision. I think that is in the true spirit of Christmas.

The Nine Network has been a key partner in the event for almost 40 years — supplying all the broadcast equipment and recruiting the talent — what you see on television is what they do.

Vision Australia owns the event and the whole thing runs on donations — sponsors providing all the equipment needed for the staging, volunteers selling merchandise and manning the gates, and as I mentioned earlier, even the performers work for free.

Some people think it is odd to hear songs about sleigh bells in the middle of summer but as a Californian the weather isn’t too different from what I grew up with. Carols by Candlelight is uniquely Australian. It is such an amazing tradition and I feel honoured to be a part of it here in my adopted country.

On the night, there are a few minor things for me to do, like directing traffic and ensuring hampers are delivered to competition winners. My favourite part is being in the wings looking out at the crowd as all the candles are lit, many of the kids are asleep by then. You can feel a real atmosphere in the place.

Overall, seeing all the hard work come together and be enjoyed by more than two million people nationally is very rewarding. I just want to put on the very best show possible and encourage people to be a part of it, and to support those living with low vision or blindness to be able to follow their dreams. It is an unforgettable job!

Kelly Swanson is an events officer at Vision Australia.

Kelly Swanson stands in front of a building

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