The live entertainment industry includes a vast amount of career paths, from managing to lighting to design to marketing. Dozens of minds and even more hands work together to deliver one night of escape to thousands of fans, and Imogene Strauss is one of the exceptional people who has put on different hats in the industry to deliver nights of entertainment from artists. Her official title is creative director, but she has built a reputation as a sort of factotum in the industry.
“I’m finally in a place where I’m really happy with the variety of things that I can do and dip my toes into … without having to say, ‘I’m an interior designer forever, that is my whole career,’” Strauss tells Pollstar. “The possibility to dip my toes in all these different things that I was interested in was like, ‘Oh, I can kind of do everything and not give up anything. I don’t have to be one-track minded.’”
Strauss does actually have interior design jobs at the moment, as well as creative tour gigs in which she works on design. She has been working with singer-songwriter Charli XCX as a music video director, promo shoot producer, stage designer and just about any creative role. She is also working on Coachella shows for Romy of The XX, Dominic Fike and Charli XCX.
A younger Strauss could have never imagined she’d be designing sets for artists performing at one of the biggest festivals in the world despite having been raised in a household full of music. Growing up in New York City near Irving Plaza, her father, Justin Strauss, was a DJ and he sneaked her into several shows through the backdoor.
“I always loved music and live shows with sort of a passion because my dad was DJ,” she says. “I DJ, but I do it for fun and never saw that as a career. … That just didn’t seem possible or practical.”
She rebelled against the notion of making a living off music and went to college thinking she was going to be a scientist. Strauss’s plan later changed after working as a curator at MoMA PS1, a contemporary art center. There, she met Beyoncé’s sister Solange and singer Dev Hynes during a summer music series. After developing a relationship with the artists, Strauss became their assistant at age 22. One year later, the two artists asked her to manage them, and Strauss then teamed up with a business partner to form a management company.
“I think part of the reason Solange and Hynes really loved working with me was my attention to detail on the creative side of things, how much care I put into that, how much I understood their worlds and how I wasn’t a business person,” Strauss says.
Six years after starting her own company, Strauss had a change of heart and shut down the operation.
“It wasn’t for me,” she says. “It was just something I just sort of fell into really young. I’m really grateful I did it, but then I kind of went on a mission to figure out what it was I did want to do, and I think creative direction — and working in live shows especially — is something that I really felt connected to as a manager.”
The journey of self-discovery took two years, but she mustered the courage to pack up and move to Los Angeles to give the creative world a shot. Strauss worked for Willo Perron, a famous creative designer and director who collaborated with Jay-Z, Rihanna and Kanye West, before going on her own.
“There are some similarities between management and creative direction,” Strauss says. “I think creative direction is a big picture thing — you look at every aspect of the artist’s career but it’s from the creative perspective as opposed to the business perspective.”
After rebelling against the industry during her youth, Strauss made her way back into live entertainment on her terms. She always had an affinity for music but needed time to figure out what role she wanted to have in it. Turns out, she wanted several.
“My favorite part of what I do is making things and getting to experience them and getting to watch other people experience them,” she says. “I think that’s why live shows really excite me. I love the whole process of the design and rehearsal.”
There was one live show in particular that left an indelible mark on Strauss and changed the way she saw live entertainment.
“I would say the first show that really opened my mind to the possibilities of what a live show could be is the Miley Cyrus ‘Bangerz Tour,’” Strauss says. “It was just the craziest thing. There were no limits on what a show could be. … This really was out there. It really made me think about live shows in a different way.”
She now explores all those possibilities with the tours she works on. Strauss recently collaborated with Clairo for her ‘Immunity Tour’ and is now working on Caroline Polachek’s biggest tour. She continues to forge relationships, especially with female artists, but laments the fact that there aren’t more women on the production side of the industry.
“I would say the live industry on every level is extremely male-dominated,” she says. “I work with an all-male crew almost all the time. Lighting designers, production managers, content creators, they’re almost all men.”
Had it not been for Solange and Hynes believing in her, Strauss doesn’t know if she’d still be in the industry, and she hopes more women similar support as they navigate a male-dominated profession.
“I worked so hard for so long on things that weren’t totally right, but I saw some potential in them,” she says. “Finding bits of potential in anything that you’re doing and following that and not getting bogged down by the crap, you just have to work your way through. Find women who inspire you, reach out to them and work with them.”