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Production Pros Ponder, Plan, Play During Pandemic

Debi Moen • April 2020Designer Watch • April 8, 2020

LD Celine Royer designed and programmed Ru Paul’s Drag Race Live, now on hold at the Flamingo in Las Vegas until May. 

Tindersticks’ band LD Jon Pollak notes that he was on tour in France when that country’s president, Emmanuel Macron, “shut the country down.” Pollak adds that “our crew arrived for load-in at our last venue of the tour only to hear local techs say ‘Get to the airport now!’ We scrambled and got flights home, with a few hours left before all transport stopped. Some of the band, who arrived later, were stuck in France and had to go to their consulates to get a pass out.”

There are scores more stories like this. The Covid-19 virus has not just shut down our industry, it has shut down the world. Closed for concerts and events, stadiums and convention centers are bringing in new (socially distant) crowds — for drive-through virus testing and as makeshift hospitals.

Designer Watch asked designers to share projects and ponderings while we’re all alone together in this surreal natural disaster.

LD Celine Royer is taking online classes on various CAD/render software while on lockdown in Los Angeles. Just prior, she designed and programmed Ru Paul’s Drag Race Live residency — an energetic, live show with heavy audience interaction based on the TV show — now on pause at the Flamingo in Las Vegas until May. Andy Walmsley designed the set, while Chris Martini operates the show.

Like the rest of us, LD Michael Smalley is unsure when his job resumes as the creative director for Mariah Carey’s The Butterfly Returns residency at Caesars Palace in Las Vegas. “Currently we have Christmas pretty locked in,” Smalley says, “unless this virus presses on into the fall.” For now, he’s taking specific console and media server training and “working on internal company infrastructure with Phantom Labs partner Gabe Fraboni and how we attack gigs and better service our potential clients,” he says. “I won’t lie. It’s been pretty stressful for me, like most in our industry. I’m trying to see the positives in this forced break/rest time, to maintain a ‘future is bright’ outlook as much as possible.”

LD Jef Benjamin says he “almost” applied for a job at a local grocery store, but decided to stay the course, refocusing on photography, content/video creation and music videos. “We shot a music video at my house for J Grgry and Da Wrydoz. We had a great shoot for the Wrydoz in a field with a huge bonfire. It felt great to be near good friends doing what we are meant to do. Create!” He’s also plotting for Earth, Wind & Fire dates in Las Vegas and the co-headline summer tour with Santana. “I don’t want the industry to suddenly be back to business with me hunkered down in a bunker unprepared with nothing ready to rock a show with!” His advice: “Be safe! Productive! Positive! And prepared! Create!”

‡‡         Quick Cues

LD Troy Stubby is counting on his cannabis license (surely a business that’s flying high right now). Based in Colorado where weed is legal, the LD says, “I just started as Cannabis Trimmer Bud Tender for a dispensary. Cannabis has always been my second passion, so this will fill my time until the road calls again.”

LD Scott Warner is cleaning up and streamlining his hobbies and home. “I have been buying woodworking tools and totally redoing my garage and my home recording studio to make it more efficient and organized,” he shares.

While LD Andrew Kleiner awaits The Head and the Heart tour rescheduling, he’s indulging in family time. “I have been taking online coding classes in Lua, Java and C++. I’m teaching myself some (drafting/modeling software) skills — which I think a lot of us are probably doing, and messing around with guitar and piano.”

LD Meagan Metcalf is finishing up visualization training she admits she’s been putting off for a while, along with cleaning up her base show file, hiking with her dog, and “doing lots of virtual hangouts with friends.”

LD Martin Thomas, whose Alan Parsons tour was canceled while on the road, shares his thoughts. “Everyone I know is in the same state of shock; as a survivor of 2001 and 2008, I was hoping to never go through this again, but I did see the signs and prepared accordingly… and I locked in a mortgage refinance at a smokin’ rate a week before the first market crash. I will be okay, and I hope the same for all my brothers and sisters throughout the industry. My prayers go out to those headed into difficult times.”

For part of March, LD Rachel Mullen traveled through Australia, designing and programming lighting for Norwegian Creative Studios’ five Broadway-style shows on board their Mariner cruise line. Now at home, she’s watching webinars and visualization classes, and taking console training courses online. “In addition to trying to keep my mind sharp,” she says, “I am gardening and making a lot of home cooked meals.”

LD Sarah Landau checked in mid-March from sunny Playa del Carmen, hiding from the virus while indulging in the ultimate socially distant activity: solo cave diving. Meanwhile, she’s production designing Crowded House’s next tour, hopefully starting in the fall. Ironically, “crowded house” might not be the way to describe the future in our industry, she believes. “We will truly be the last industry to come back from all this. I can’t imagine people will feel comfortable gathering by the thousands even for quite a long time after things start to return to normal.”

Darkroom Creative’s Seth Jackson and Nathan Alves are preparing video content and pre-visualizing for Toby Keith’s new “Country Comes To Town” tour and The Doobie Brothers’ 50th Anniversary Tour (featuring the return of Michael McDonald), both set for now with a June kick-off. Now with time to catch up on reading, Jackson debuts his new book, Concert Design: The Road, The Craft, The Industry. Find it on Amazon or at routledge.com.

Tour manager David Davidian is at home advancing shows for Alice Cooper (end of May), and the Hollywood Vampires (August, if things work themselves out). Meanwhile, he’s mixing it up with yard work and housecleaning. Davidian says, “I feel for all the people who are losing jobs and fear for the rush after this is over, with everyone trying to schedule postponed dates in the same time frames, stretching all production resources. This thing is crazy. In a job that has always been recession-proof and dramatic event-proof, this one has hit harder than anything I can remember in the 48 years I’ve been doing this.”

LD Cosmo Wilson is slated to join Davidian as Hollywood Vampires’ LD, and is unsure about the Aerosmith residency for May and their European tour in June starting, in of all places, Milan, Italy. “When this thing passes — and it will pass — the world is going to need entertainment more than ever,” Wilson believes. “After the SARS pandemic, I was with AC/DC when we played the SARS show in Toronto, specifically to show the world that Toronto (a SARS hotspot) was back in business. The world is going to need us to share music and happiness. It is important that we all stand together and help keep all of us sane and positive, and most important, be safe out there! But this will pass!”

Patrick Dierson says several corporate theater projects have shifted toward broadcast solutions in lieu of public gatherings. The Activity is upgrading its previz studios, fine tuning standardized templates for CAD files, and focusing on product development and its online store. Dierson says, “We encourage everyone to invest in themselves by honing existing skills and learning new ones so that they become even more valuable assets once our industry comes out the other side.”

Meanwhile, LD Chris Lose is “pumping out a podcast a day” with as many designer friends as possible. Expressing what we all feel: “Everyone is home. This is unprecedented.”

Stay safe and healthy! And while you’re socially distancing, send an email to dmoen@plsn.com to share ponderings and projects for the next column.

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