Stage Management 101: Communication Is Everything With Multi-Act Productions

Production Live!
Michael Guilbert
– Production Live!
Stage Management 101

Having multiple acts on the bill isn’t just a thing at multi-day festivals, but one-day events as well. This creates challenges for all involved, from the tour and artist managers to the promoters and production companies. 

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Mary Jo Kaczka (Tour Manager), Kevin Lyman (Vans Warped Tour), Eric Mayers (Red Light Management), Dan Parise (Diversified Production Services) and Lindsey Sokol (C3 Presents) addressed these challenges in a panel dubbed Stage Management 101 – or Rosetta Stone Stage Management, as moderator Charlie Hernandez (Just a Bunch of Roadies) put it.

It quickly emerged that communication is key. “It’s a conversation,” was probably the single most used phrase during the session. It’s the only way to avoid conflict at events, where one band gets in, sets up, plays the show and gets out again in time for the next act to take the stage. Managing artists’ and the promoters expectations was a big part of that conversation, said Lyman, adding that he has moved more and more into a consultant role over the years.

The panel agreed that it was usually not a problem to find a compromise with A and B acts. It’s the A+ artists where it gets tricky. The biggest names in the game aren’t easily dissuaded from using their prime set up. Luckily, a lot of high-profile artists bring their own crews and equipment, letting the promoter off the hook. And, as Sokol, pointed out, there are less and less A+ artists around anyways.

Production Live!
Michael Guilbert
– Production Live!
C3’s Lindsey Sokol

Representing high profile events such as Lollapalooza or Austin City Limits, Sokol is in a lucky position. C3’s events have more leeway when communicating with artists and their management, as it’s seen as a privilege to be able to play them. At the same time, C3 commands such a vast network of crews and workers that ways of making even the most elaborate last-minute demands work can be found.

It’s much harder for independent promoters, who might feel inclined to agree to any demand from high-profile artists despite lacking the resources, because they feel it’s the only way of raising the profile of their own event – even if that means forfeiting profits.

If promoters take the artist letter seriously and communicate any issues with it in timely fashion, and if artists and their camp show understanding for the turn-around times events are working with these days, nothing should go wrong. Something always goes wrong, of course, but there is no need to exacerbate the problem by refusing to aim for efficient communication, panelists agreed.

Mayers said it was the managers fault, if either the artists or the promoters encountered any surprises on event day. After all, it was his job to facilitate a smooth working relationship between both parties. He said it helped to “be nimble.”

Hernandez emphasized that it couldn’t hurt to “pick up a phone.” It was important to hear the voice of the person you were doing business with, he said, which could be easily forgotten in the age of smartphones. The entire panel agreed that “I didn’t get the email” wasn’t ever an excuse for anything.

Being a thoroughbred roadie himself, Hernandez went to bat for the the countless workers on site that never got mentioned in any news report, award speech or festival poster. It’s the men and women clambering about the trusses, who make last-minute miracles work in case communication does fail.