Say ‘Yes’ to the Mess

by Chris Lose • in
  • LD at Large
  • May 2018
• Created: May 14, 2018

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Life is messy. We can clean it up over and over and over again, but it will return to its messy state without any interference from us. The six-year-old twins that dominate my household have led me to conclude that raging against the mess will only lead to more rage. Accepting the mess allows me to take ownership of the mess, move forward and strive towards a cleaner, better outcome. The time has come for all of us to stop smoking on our perfectionist pipe dreams and inhale a big dose of real-life messiness. By embracing the mess, we can allow ourselves the freedom to make mistakes, learn from them and take on bigger challenges in the future. I would like to tell you a story about a time that answering yes to all the messes was the path to a cleaner product.

‡‡         Potential Disaster

This is the only way that I can describe the situation that I had agreed to. I knew this gig was going to be messy from the onset. Four Lighting Designers, all with big personalities, all coming into the project at different stages of production working on the same rig. The only thing that saved this from becoming a real disaster was everyone putting their egos aside and respecting each other’s input. We each weighed our opinions and figured out a solid compromise that benefitted the vision of the show.

I received a call from a LD “A” in mid-December about a gig that started in January in Las Vegas. The artist was embarking on his first residency in Las Vegas. He was able to do all of the design, programming, and creative work but he was unable to do the bulk of the load-in, the first show or the run. He reached out to me to assist during the timeframe. I asked him what he needed from me and he described my duties as “just be the responsible adult on-site.” That sounded like a vague job description, so I asked what the politics of the situation were. Long story short: The artist has been touring with the same designer, LD “B,” for the last five years or so. When the residency was booked, artist management asked for a larger production than what the band was currently touring with. In order to do that, management brought in an outside production company that would help create a Vegas-sized show that would shock-and-awe the Vegas crowds. This included bringing in LD “A” as Production Lighting Designer, along with a shop full of additional lighting, a video wall and a redesign of the entire show.

The initial stages of pre-production took place unbeknownst to the touring production crew. LD “A” was the one who had to inform LD “B” that he had been hired to assist in the Vegas production. LD “B” was initially under the impression that the artist was bringing in their normal touring rig. If that had been the case, LD “B” would have had a piece-of-pie gig. He would have had his familiar rig for a month without having to load in or out. Finding out that he needed to get the hang of a new rig, learn and program a new show was a shock. In order to complete the sheer amount of necessary programming, LD “B” brought in LD/Programmer “C”, another solid LD and programmer. “B” and “C” accepted the challenge and moved forward.

LD “A,” “B” and “C” made it through pre-production and previz with only a few hitches. Adding a fourth opinion (LD/programmer “D,” a.k.a., myself) could have been the straw to break the camel’s back. The first day of load-in brought all of us together, LDs “A” through “D.” I met up with the alphabetized designers at the console and all agreed that this was the most LDs that a show of this size could possibly require. We all agreed to an unspoken hierarchy that allowed us to move forward with respect and integrity. These are the “yessons” that I took away from that messy gig.

‡‡         Say “Yes” First

When the production manager asks you if something is possible, say “Yes” first. Saying “Yes” quickly shows that we are willing to entertain the ideas and that we are on the same team. By saying yes, we prove that we are going to do everything in our ability to ensure the vision of the artist. Start discussing the plan immediately with enthusiasm and figure out exactly what their idea will entail. Quickly skim over the big picture idea and confirm that everyone has the same objective in mind. Keep moving forward with the big picture and progress into the logistics with finer details.

‡‡         People Love Hearing “Yes”

Saying “Yes” opens us up to opportunities that we have previously missed. By saying yes, we invite possibility into our designs and the ability to learn what our lighting skills are capable of. Answering yes to the tough questions shows to others that we are willing to explore new avenues and discover new techniques.

‡‡         Say “Yes” until “No” Presents Itself

The demons are in the details. Logistics cost money, and money requires approvals. Big ideas need to prove their financial worthiness to the people that love saying “No” the most. Accountants have been responsible for the death of many beautiful looks. Several “Yeses” can eventually lead to a “No” from a frigid accountant who can’t envision the visual impact of our 20-foot-tall, chrome-plated inflatable dog balloons. “No’s” will happen. Our clients need to hear the “No” from someone other than us. We get all the credit for saying “Yes,” and we get to make the accountant the big bad naysayer. Our clients will not be shy to ask us to take part in their next big production with a bigger budget if they think we can handle that level of responsibility.

‡‡         Make Sure That “No” Means “No”

Even when the accountant says “No,” question why. Ask why we can’t afford to do exactly what the artist (or the artist’s wife) wants us to put on stage. Why can’t our Stonehenge be 40 feet tall? Why can’t we hang 200 MagicBlades tomorrow? Why can’t we load in at 5 p.m.? It is our job to find every possible path towards the vision of our clients. We need to explore every available “wing bolt and thumb screw” interpretation of the artistic vision. We need to present clever ideas until we have exhausted all possible outcomes. It is only when there are no alternatives that we can turn to our clients in good conscience and say “No.”

‡‡         The Final Yesson

Do not let messiness get in the way of creative process. If that truss needs seven lights and that requires an additional socapex, then we need to do it. If our artist needs 97 individual festoon lights that require individual cabling on the downstage edge, and we have a 96-way dimmer, we better make the accountant tell him that he can’t have it. Saying “Yes” to the mess shows that we are ready, willing and excited about the project at hand. Enjoy your yessing.


Illustration/Animation by Andy Au

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