STAFFING UP: l-R: Moderator Todd Dyer, Robin Shaw, Fanshen Cox, Kalpana Kotagal, Tina Farris, and Malcom Weldon
Todd Dyer, VP of Sales – Venues, Music Tours & Live Events, CAPS, A Cast & Crew Company
Fanshen Cox, Development Executive & Producer, Pearl Street Films
Tina Farris, CEO/Owner, Tina Farris Tours
Kalpana Kotagal, Partner, Cohen Milstein
Robin Shaw, Co-Founder, Upstaging, Inc.
Malcolm Weldon, Production Manager, Just A Guy Pushing Boxes
If there was one overarching theme to Production Live! Panel “Staffing Up With Expertise, Skill & Inclusivity,” it was this: it’s not enough to say you or your company is doing its utmost to diversify itself without the all-important followup and analysis of information and data to not just ensure the hiring goals are met, but that those hired are thriving.
Moderator Todd Dyer of CAPS led a wide-ranging that covered finding and hiring diverse, talented people; a discussion of inclusion riders, and thinking differently about where and how to find qualified people – as well as what “qualified’ can mean.
Whether potential future crews are recruited from specific collegiate programs or from high school audio/visual programs, its incumbent for those hiring to go to where people live. Not everyone has a direct pipeline – unless they know or are related to someone in the business – to jobs in live events.
In fact, that’s been how the industry managed to remain it had for so long. Robin Shaw of Uprising noted that even though she was the only woman in production transportation when she first came in, the tendency was for those hiring to look to who they knew to fill positions as they came open. And those people tended to look like the one doing the hiring.
She has since begun doing outreach at trade schools and community colleges, places not traditionally thought of hotbeds of potential staffing talent – but should be.
“In the past, we’ve looked at friends and other people we knew, and that pool is drying up,” Shaw noted. “I’ve been looking at community colleges and other programs where people can be taught skills whether as lighting techs, electricians, truckers, welders, in construction and stage building, even rigging. Last week, I attended a conference for the american Association of Community Colleges and it was an amazing experience. We’re looking to get new blood.”
The idea of going to community colleges inspired an enthusiastic response from Fanshen Cox, Development Executive & Producer, Pearl Street Films who, along with Cohen Milstein partner Kalpana Kotagal, spearheaded a subsequent discussion of inclusion riders, found more regularly in film and TV industries but could become a factor in the live industry as well.
When it comes to inclusion riders, “People with leverage were able to say this needs to be in my contract,” Cox explains. “Now we are going to companies with leverage, like Endeavor Content. There are so many opportunities to use the inclusion rider. It encourages you to be reflective and ask where are you not thinking outside the box about what makes a qualified person.”
Malcolm Weldon, production manager for Just A Guy Pushing Boxes, laughed at the notion of what it means to be “qualified.”
“How does a local stagehand move into a touring company?” he asked. “Sometimes, in communities of color, those paths didn’t exist. It still comes down to letting people know there’s no free ride. You have to grind it out. If you do, you will get another job. You’re always judged off the last job you’ve done. Its not magical.
“There is so much behind the scenes work” he continues. “More than an actor trying to be an actor. Now, there’s the internet and avenues to reach out to kids. Maybe you are related to or know someone and get a leg up. That’s OK, because the ones who seem to excel usually are the ones who had to struggle, but know enough to see when something’s done right and wrong. Maybe people you never thought of might become a rigger or whatever. Or to become a recording engineer. I got in after I saw an ad in the Calendar section of the LA Times.”
Tina Farris, the owner and CEO of Tina Farris Tours, says that when it comes to approaching the subject of how “qualified talent” is defined, “I’m not precious about it and that’s not how i frame things,” she says. “I don’t frame in a way that BIPOC aren’t as qualified, because there’s plenty of white guys … [laughs]. You bring a skill set, and don’t put people on blast who don’t do things the way you do.”
Kotagal says its critical to “push folks out of the path of least resistance” and gave a “how to” list for diversifying staffs. “First, you have to deep and broaden diversity hiring pools. Set benchmarks and goals, and then set your sights higher. Collect data and hold people accountable. Then make sure their work life is equitable once you’ve hired them.”