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VMA exclusive: MTV hosts mini-festival on streets of L.A. during Video Music Awards

VMA exclusive: MTV hosts mini-festival on streets of L.A. during Video Music Awards
Macklemore rehearses for MTV's Video Music Awards. (Wally Skalij / Los Angeles Times)

When the MTV Video Music Awards are broadcast live from the Microsoft Theater on Sunday, a handful of the shows will be taking place off campus, blocks away from the awards show's L.A. Live location.

Telecast performances from Macklemore & Ryan Lewis, Pharrell and Demi Lovato will happen on a remote stage erected in front of the Orpheum Theatre in downtown Los Angeles' historic Broadway Theater District.

Tickets for the special concert were not on sale to the general public. Instead, audience members will include a mix of contest winners and superfans.

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FULL COVERAGE: 2015 MTV Video Music Awards

The concept of beaming performances in from another location is nothing new to the VMAs, or any awards show, for that matter.

But what viewers at home, or inside the Microsoft Theater, won't see is the full concert built around Sunday's performance on the streets of L.A.

A two-hour concert will accompany the televised performance, shutting down the strip of South Broadway in front of the theater to accommodate the more than 2,000 invited fans.

"Every year, we try to change it up and push things forward and challenge ourselves," said VMA executive producer Jesse Ignjatovic. "We wanted to push the show to different places. We're in the [Microsoft Theater, formerly the Nokia Theatre] again, and it's amazing, but what else can we do to bring a bigger reach to the show creatively?"

Creating a festival of sorts with the VMA brand that would run concurrently with the awards show within the shadow of the ceremony was something producers mulled over for quite sometime.


"The idea being that it gives us an opportunity to leave the room and have a different sort of context of music into the show … and bring more people into the show, frankly," Ignjatovic added. "It takes us away from the typical cycle of presenter, award, performance. We get to break that format up a bit."

Discussions on the initial concept began late last year, with the network presenting the idea to the city in January. The office of Councilman José Huizar, whose district includes most of downtown, was instrumental in helping MTV pull off the show.

Unlike the awards themselves, the concert hasn't been promoted.

Under strict orders from the city, producers couldn't drum up hype for the concert by revealing or teasing plans, and work was done in secret, although banners could be seen hanging outside the Orpheum on Friday as the stage's construction was completed.

"It's immensely complex, as you can imagine," said Garrett English, VMA executive producer and executive in charge of production for the network. "We have two very large-scale events happening simultaneously that are interconnected. It's a lot of movement and a massive undertaking."

The televised awards ceremony will pop in and out from the festival stage, but the action at both locations won't stop. "It's a festival in the truest sense of the word, where you're getting a short set from each of the artists," Ignjatovic said.

Deciding who would perform on the festival stage, producers said, was about which acts "can bring it in that environment," Ignjatovic said.

"All the artists on the show could, but the artists who have embraced it have taken it to a VMA level and aesthetic," he said. "It's a testament to the VMAs. If an artist gets one of those slots, they want to create the most over-the-top performance they can because that's the stage to do it on."

Sunday's concert shows the network continuing to push awards show limits.

Since its inception in 1984, the VMAs, more than any music awards show, have worked outside the boundaries of any venue to create spectacle. Last year, Maroon 5 performed in the parking lot of the Forum on a shiny, 50-foot stage that formed the band's logo while surrounded by 3,000 fans.

Foo Fighters used Radio City Hall's famous marquee as a stage one year. Eminem marched an army of lookalikes down a New York Street during another VMA event.

The entire Paramount Studios backlot was used to anchor the action of 2008's ceremony, and a few years ago, Katy Perry closed the show by performing underneath the Brooklyn Bridge.

"We have a track record of engaging fans in groundbreaking ways, and we're excited to push the envelope again this year," said Emily Silver, senior director of media for Pepsi, which is presenting the concert alongside MTV. "We delivered Katy Perry on a remote stage under the Brooklyn Bridge [in 2013], and now we've upped the ante by taking over downtown L.A. with performances from three of the hottest music acts."

The setting is especially appropriate for Macklemore & Ryan Lewis.

Earlier this week, the Grammy-winning Seattle hip-hop duo released the first single from their follow-up to 2012's "The Heist." The video for the '80s hip-hop throwback, aptly titled "Downtown," makes good use of an urban setting, and the pair plan on performing the debut on the festival stage.

"We spent a really, really long time working on this song, and to be able to perform it for the first time live on the streets of downtown L.A. is pretty crazy," Lewis said. "The VMAs have always been a show that pushes boundaries, and we are excited to be a part of it this year."

"Remote [performance] has always been a piece of the VMAs," English said. "We try very hard not to get stuck in a rut. That takes us to a place like this year."

For more music news follow me on Twitter: @gerrickkennedy

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