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Cory FitzGerald

by Michael S. Eddy • in
  • 1000 Words With...
  • November 2018
• Created: November 12, 2018

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Cory FitzGerald’s career has been on an ever-upwards arc. He hit the ground running when his knowledge of consoles and programming got him gigs that took him all around the world. His work as a troubleshooter for a manufacturer would eventually lead to programming for LeRoy Bennett. His experience and reputation are seen in his long list of credits. FitzGerald programmed for a wide variety of productions; from Broadway shows, to TV specials, events, and concert tours. He built a solid reputation first as a programmer, then as a designer. Recent projects include designing for artists such as Bruno Mars, Beyoncé and Jay-Z, Justin Bieber, Jennifer Lopez, Janet Jackson, Skrillex, and many more. Most recently, he served as the creative show director for the Gwen Stefani residency in Las Vegas, Just A Girl and in 2017, he became a senior design partner at Silent House Productions. I had the great good fortune to catch FitzGerald on a rare break recently to discuss his career.

PLSN: How did you get into the industry?

Cory FitzGerald: I grew up in New York going to theater and always loved the creativity I saw on stage. At 12-years-old, I was at theater camp, I thought I wanted to act but ultimately found myself more interested in the the technical and started working on the lighting team. In high school, I worked in the school theater and at 16 started at Angstrom Stage Lighting in LA. I then went to NYU’s TISCH School of the Arts where I received my BFA in theatrical lighting design. While in college, I attended the first—and only—Automated Lighting Academy that was hosted by Nils Thorjussen [of Flying Pig Systems] and Mike Nevitt among many others. There I met some incredible programmers and designers including Paul Sonnleitner, who ended up bringing me on as an intern at High End Systems in 2001.
At High End, I worked with the Flying Pig guys both in the London and New York offices. With them, I learned consoles, programming, as well as support and training. When I finished college, I went full time doing support, traveling the world as a troubleshooter. I got experience being on-site, meeting people in the industry, learning how they worked, and especially how different people program shows. I then went freelance, learned the grandMA console, and spent the next several years programming a wide variety of shows. Each new and different show taught me valuable lessons and helped me discover more about what I could do.
My path changed dramatically when I got a call to work on the Madonna Confessions tour with LeRoy Bennett. I had met him a few years earlier on the install of Treasure Island’s Sirens of TI Show. Having never really worked specifically in concert touring, it opened my eyes to what could be done by applying a theatrical eye to a rock ‘n’ roll environment. Roy taught me so much about visualizing the music and seeing the bigger picture of a show as a whole, he challenged me to continually out do what I thought was possible.
I began working with Bruno Mars in 2010 at the start his first major tour; that was my first real jump into designing for myself. I’d designed a couple of shows previously, but that was the first 5 truck tour where I was out on my own. I started to take on other clients while as well as more responsibility in the Lighting and Production Designer role with Bruno, as well as new clients such as J. Lo, Gwen Stefani, and Janet Jackson. Working with Bruno on that first tour and building off those accumulated experiences really gave me the confidence, and luckily success, that put a lot of new opportunities on the table.
Recently, I stepped into the role of creative director for Gwen Stefani’s residency in Las Vegas, “Just A Girl”. I really enjoy how that position can control and oversee what’s happening with all departments and make them cohesive as a whole. After years of watching shows come together, it feels like a natural progression after years of watching shows come together, to finally be able to take on that responsibility and bring the vision to life.

What do you find most memorable of your experiences as a designer?

The fascinating thing for me to see now is the entirety of the show come together from start to finish: initial meetings about concept, finding and developing the resources involved, creating CAD and renders of different ideas, and finally loading in–where changes are made in real time – and eventually seeing the show in front of an audience. It’s truly humbling to get to see something you thought up come to life and then be seen by the public.

What do you enjoy most about your career?

In a nutshell, that it is a career. It’s amazing that someone’s willing to pay someone else to do this. The fact that we get to do the things we love to do, to create art, to create these moments. That you get to touch all these lives. I always imagine the old McDonalds’ sign, ‘80 Billion served’. I think about how many people have seen a show that I’ve had some small part of over the years. You start multiplying it by clubs, arenas, stadiums, and now YouTube views, and suddenly it puts a lot of perspective on how many people have gotten to experience a live event that we all got to be a part of in some way. I feel that really creates a unique bond.

And what do you least like about your job?

The hours. The schedule is never conducive to having a life outside of work, so that’s always the worst part. But, I’m working in balancing things a little better now and that seems to help quite a bit.

What advice would you pass along to someone who’s starting out in the industry?

Never say no to a gig. If this is what you want to do, there’s no gig too small—or too big. One day you could be doing a 60-truck tour; next day you could be doing a Birthday Party. Every gig has something to teach you, so basically, there are no bad gigs. Learn your craft, figure out what you want to do, and keep doing it.

What surprised you most about your career path?

The confidence people have in others based on reputation alone. I mean, that’s essentially what experience is, but it still gets me how this whole business is based on word of mouth, confidence, and reputation. I think the fact that people are willing to give you that opportunity based on a recommendation is still pretty amazing.

What would you like fellow collaborators to say about you; either from working with you or seeing one of your shows?

“That was a lot of fun.” For either scenario. I enjoy knowing people like to work with me, and I want people to enjoy my work. So, as long as they’re having fun, I’m having fun.

Michael S. Eddy is editor-in-chief of PLSN’s sister publication, Stage Directions (http://stage-directions.com).

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