Building Crews With Culture, Competence & Opportunity For All (Production Live! Panel Recap)

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(L to R) Alex Rodrigo, Tina Farris, Jahn Hardison, Mike Tully, Gloria Vega


Alex Rodrigo, Sacramento Kings and Golden 1 Center

Tina Farris, Tina Farris Tours
Jahn “Boxer” Hardison, Bigger Hammer Production Services
Mike Tully, Instawork
Gloria Vega, LA Stagecall

It’s almost hacky at this point to say “The pandemic changed everything.”

But truisms become that way by being true.

Stuck at home for two-plus years, many production industry vets — from the riggers and grips and sound techs and lighting folks that make shows happen on the ground, all the way to production managers — said life on the road was their past and something a little more sessile is their future.

Ultimately, that means there’s room for new blood, new ideas, new people, but it also means — for good or ill — the long-term culture of those jobs is in a position to be re-invented.

The speakers at the first panel of Production Live! at Pollstar! Live 2023 at the Beverly Hilton agreed its critical to view this watershed moment as an opportunity.

“There’s always time to bring someone in and this is a prime opportunity to bring someone in. This is the time to staff up,” Tina Farris of Tina Farris Tours said.

Casting a wide net — making sure the future understands this is an industry for everyone, that it doesn’t necessarily require a four-year college degree or prior experience — will ultimately benefit everyone. But, as Gloria Vega of LA Stagecall said, opening doors isn’t something that’s been the norm historically.

“We are in an echo chamber,” she said. “Someone has to be patient, show them what they can do. It may not be college. We had wood shop or auto shop in high school, schools can open up programs. There’s a way we can come together to figure that out.”

Farris said “this isn’t that deep,” it just requires the right partners to get together to figure out where the next generation will come from.

Jahn “Boxer” Hardison said he got his start working with Black artists and women artists, but that the production crews didn’t reflect that, being made up of overwhelmingly white men. He said those white men who got their start, like him, in those spaces, need to pay it forward.

But the labor pool has different expectations now, too; something else for production managers and hiring managers to consider. It’s not just those industry vets who decided they preferred a more consistent lifestyle that was less sporadic and more home-based, rookies have those expectations, too.

The era is over where it was “normal” for a hiring manager to cut half the workers loose after a half-day, even after having promised two weeks of 12-hour days.

“The good [production managers] care about the people who work for them and schedule people and treat them well,” Hardison says, “And they communicate and set expectations close to reality.”

Hardison said a way to bridge the gap between the vets that did the jobs for so long and the new generation crafting a newer culture is to use those retired or semi-retired folks in mentor roles; they no longer need to go on the road, but they can guide before the tour begins.

All of these factors, ideally, would build a more representative, more diverse work force. Technology, Instawork’s Mike Tully noted, can help join the two sides of the labor market — hirers and the eager — and give potential future experts a chance to see if the industry really is for them.