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We Are Invisible

Chris Lose • LD at LargeOctober 2020 • October 8, 2020

I’m invisible, and it’s all my fault. You are, too. We did this to ourselves. I have been in the production industry my entire professional career. As a teenager, I had a job as a janitor at a ski resort. It paid some bills, but I didn’t have many. I needed to buy Beastie Boys CDs and gas for my Subaru. I also had a job as a pizza chef for a few weeks. The pay was scraps, but I got to bring home a pizza after work. I was pretty popular for a few minutes. .

Given those exceptions, I have dedicated my life to concert lighting. I don’t know anything else. I don’t have any certificates, credentials or credibility outside of our narrow field of expertise. I don’t have any friends, colleagues or clients outside of our bubble of influence. However, I am highly trained at hiding in the shadows, standing behind the camera and avoiding the spotlight.

We wear black to not be noticed, we stand in places that allow us to blend into the scenery, and when the lights come up, we scurry to avoid them. We are perpetually applauded for the fact that we are unseen. When we have done our job perfectly, no one will ever see us. It is our ninja-nature that makes us imperceptible to the audience at large. Much like the nocturnal creatures that fill the night, we have made ourselves invisible to thrive and survive. Let’s take a moment to explore the most invisible among us.

‡‡         Wardrobe

Wardrobe is the most sensory feature of entertainment and, all too often, the most overlooked. Costume and makeup stir emotions within us without awareness. We have evolved to distinguish color and texture as good or bad without any hesitation. We need to know a ripe banana from a rotten coconut without a second thought. This thought process exists behind our consciousness. We all wear clothing, that part is true. We can easily forget that a costume is how our artists present themselves to the world. The audience judges their favorite artists based on their wardrobe. This includes every facet and accessory. From the rings on their fingers to the soles of their shoes, artists will be judged on their appearance. The fans want to see themselves in the clothing worn by their rock gods. The fans want to connect with their idols by emulating their clothing and mimicking their appearance. This image takes years of creativity and craftsmanship to produce. Musical artists rarely have the time or the ability to cultivate a winning image on their own. They rely on a team of hair, makeup and costume professionals to make them look the way they do. The fashion industry, as a whole, and the stage costume industry, as a fraction, are the unsung heroes of our generational imagery. Legendary icons like Bowie, Mercury, Beyoncé and Prince have a team of wardrobe to thank.

‡‡         Sales

If they aren’t selling, we aren’t gigging. I cannot overstate that. One salesperson can sell a show that employs thousands of individuals. They put their necks on the line and vouch for an entire production that won’t even materialize until weeks or months later. They are responsible for the connections that lead to every subsequent relationship, contract and invoice. Corporate salespeople are the linchpins that keep us attached to an income. When we support our salespeople, they have no option but to support us back. They sell the venues that house us. They promote the services that provide for us. They market the products that engage us. As technicians, the only time we ever need to interact with the sales team is when the end-client wants them to break bad news to us. The sales team is constantly responding to last-second changes, new opinions, poor planning and overstated promises with grace and composure. Our future employment depends on their abilities to create a sense of trust and confidence in our services.

‡‡         Box Office

If they aren’t putting butts in seats, we aren’t working. For better or worse, a show that brings in lots of people is a show that employs technicians. Regardless of our personal opinions of the artist, the presenter or the keynote speaker, if they are bringing people into a room, we need seats for them. The more popular the artist, the more work we get. Each seat sold is one more guarantee of future employment. The team of box office professionals is the front line of any event. They are the smiling faces that greet the audience. They are the only real human interaction between the venue and the audience. They are the face and the voice of the venue. The Box office staff can separate a five-star Yelp review from a one-star train wreck with some rudimentary people skills. The box office staff spends more time in the venue than any other production discipline. They are the nine-to-five workers that make our atypical schedules possible.

‡‡         Security

Security is the team of people that we really don’t want to notice (or even acknowledge)…at all. We want them to not even be around. That is…until the moment that we need them. Then we want them here immediately and we went them to be the most well-trained, compassionate, competent people in the room. We want them to understand drunkanese. We want them to know CPR. We want them to know a real tour laminate from a fraud. We want them to know how to apply a tourniquet. We want them to know every alternate route to the bathroom. Most importantly, we want them to be on our side at all times. The security team is usually a third-party contractor. Most venues cannot afford to maintain a staff of hundreds when there are no shows. The security team is most often a freelance team. Without overstating their role, they are the unaffiliated ninja commandos that protect us from the hordes of drunken Karens.

‡‡         Solidarity

These are just a few of unsung professionals who support the supporters of the arts. As a lighting director, I get to sit at front of house and soak up my percentage of the applause. I have the pleasure of receiving instant appreciation for a perfectly timed cue. Wardrobe never gets to hear a fan screaming, “That ring perfectly complements those shoes!” The sales team will never hear a Phanatic client yelling, “The feature set of this venue perfectly matches my budgetary requirements!” For every complaint that the Box Office hears, there will be a thousand happy customers shuffling past without even a thank you. Our security professionals may go home with physical and emotional bruises only to return eight hours later to start all over again. A battle scar may be the only gratitude they receive. In these uncertain times, please remember to reach out and help those who help us. A kind word, a random text or a Facebook like might even be enough. We are all in this sinking ship together. We need every person onboard to wash our hands, grab a cork and stop the hemorrhaging. Like ninjas, we are invisible, but we are powerful.

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