Production Live!: What Industry Leaders Did On Their ‘Summer Vacation’

– Debbie Taylor, Michael Strickland and Zito
at What I Did on My Summer Vacation: How the Production Biz Stood Tall in the Pandemic” during Production Live! in Los Angeles, Calif., on June 15.
Creativity and problem solving have always been hallmarks of companies and in live entertainment, but when the pandemic put production on pause, many took things to a new level.
From feeding out of work roadies to staging livestreamed performances to making personal protective equipment or putting crews to work making sourdough cinnamon rolls, some top names in concert production detailed their efforts over the past 15 months during a Production Live! panel entitled, “What I Did on My Summer Vacation: How the Production Biz Stood Tall in the Pandemic.”
“No matter how you spent the last 14 or 5 months, you should all be proud of yourselves,” panel moderator Debbie Taylor, production coordinator for AC/DC, U2, Black Sabbath, Guns ‘N Roses and the Rolling Stones said. “This is a situation that has affected everyone, and no one got out of it untouched. Whether you had to change your job to pay the bills, retreat to take care of your mental health, or seeking a purpose, whatever you did to get through, it’s a testament to your flexibility (and) adaptability.” 
Joey Gallagher of Gallagher Staging said his company was about to enter its busiest season ever and was expanding to do so in March 2020 when the shutdown happened.
“I spent many nights thinking up solutions and I came up with quite a few and all of them were targeted toward reopening and getting our industry back up and running, at least getting our guys back up and working and keeping a good head on their shoulders and staying positive,” he said.
Gallagher converted what was going to be a new fabrication building into a digital streaming venue and also started developing COVID-19 risk mitigation protocols that could be used industry wide.
“It was like starting a new company all over again and I’ve got to say, this last 14 months or longer has been very difficult, but also very rewarding,” he said, adding that he’s developed a new passion for producing shows and has derived inspiration from what others in the industry were doing to cope.
“I think the industry really stood up together to battle this thing and keep us alive,” Gallagher said.
Gallagher was instrumental in founding Entertainment Industry Response, a group of like-minded live entertainment companies, some of them erstwhile competitors, and clients whose initial intent was to stand up temporary hospitals and whose efforts have included training production professionals across the country in safer pandemic-era operations.
“Just making sure that if there was a production out there, that they weren’t giving us a bad name,” he said. “We were there to make sure that we kept the industry at a level 10, at the highest level of safety.”
Panelist Robin Shaw, co-founder of Upstaging Inc., which normally provides tour lighting, production and transportation services, explained how her company transitioned into producing face shields and eventually masks and other types of shields or barriers for things like school or workplace desks.
Within a week Upstaging was producing thousands of face shields, she said. 
“That’s what we have been doing and we’re very happy to be getting back to our normal business,” Shaw said.
Maria Brunner, founder of Musically Fed and president and founder of Insight Management, said since the pandemic struck, Musically Fed has continued its work to recycle leftover catering food for those in need with a focus on veterans and has extended its efforts to benefit children who were no longer getting school lunches as well as out of work live production personnel.
“We had just finished working with the Grammys (when the pandemic struck the U.S.) and so (we) called up the people at Levy at Staples Center and said, what are you doing with your 32 freezers and refrigerators? We were able to put together a really good program that got about 32,000 meals out to all the schoolkids who lost their lunches immediately,” Brunner said, adding that a similar process happened with Levy at Phoenix Suns arena.
As of last Saturday, Brunner said, over 340,000 meals have been served to “our colleagues, our gig workers, our back line workers all across the nation,” she said to applause.
Tennessee-based Michael Strickland, founder of Bandit Lites, has spent much of the last 14 months making the case to members of Congress for live entertainment industry financial assistance.
Explaining that he has both a business degree and a law degree, he said he immediately reached out to U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (now retired) and Marsha Blackburn and went to work pressing the industry case.
“Fifteen months later, I know over 72 senators and/or representatives,” he said.
He said he didn’t know going into his informal lobbying effort that the live industry would be as overlooked as it was, which he attributes to a lack of knowledge about the business.
“The first time I went to D.C. I was told, ‘Get in the back of the line. You don’t have a lobbyist. You don’t have a political action committee,’’” he said, adding that he was told the same thing last week.
Strickland wants the entire industry to unite under the banner of what he’s calling the Entertainment Association.
“Here’s why,” he said. “The (National) Restaurant Association brings together all food service people from food truck operators to five-star restaurants and everything in between. The airlines association brings together all the different folks involved in the airlines industry. Airlines and foods came to Congress in battleships. We came to Congress in a thousand canoes.
“Our industry is $1 trillion and 10 million people,” he continued. “We got $16 billion through Save Our Stages. The restaurant industry is  $600 billion with five million people and they got $28 billion and right now they’re lobbying for another $140 billion and they may just get it because they have a lobby and they come together as one. I have been and will continue to urge everyone in this industry to keep your individual organizations – they’re needed and they’re great – (but) we’ve got to get together under a central banner, so that if we ever again need to go before Congress, we have a battleship.”
Strickland is now pressing to get $1.2 trillion in industry aid earmarked as part of an infrastructure package.
Zito, production manager with Zito Production Services, told the audience he and his wife decided to start a sourdough cinnamon roll bakery, Rock N Rollz, in Nashville and ended up putting 16 of his roadie employees to work. The bakery, which has ceased operations, partnered with MusiCares, which got 50 cents from every cinnamon roll sale, leading to $38,000 in donations.
“The coolest moment was, it grew to the point where we couldn’t do it anymore at home,” he said. “We needed a commercial bakery.”