Working from home? Switch to the DIGITAL edition of Projection, Lights & Staging News. CLICK HERE to signup now!

Production on Deck: Eliminating Excuses

Michael S. Eddy • January 2022Stage Directions • January 5, 2022

Sarah Lozoff and David ‘dstew’ Stewart

David Stewart and Sarah Lozoff talk equity in hiring

Production on Deck (PoD) began as a resource to consolidate the many tools used across the country to identify talent from marginalized communities and has grown into a full-fledged talent and consulting firm for theatrical production roles. Six months ago, Production Manager, David ‘dstew’ Stewart and partner Sarah Lozoff, formally created Production on Deck, LLC and have hit the ground running conducting talent acquisition searches finding positions for a number of production people. They, along with consultants called Seekers, seek to expand the traditional idea of the talent pipeline, and increase pathways for marginalized communities to access jobs in the theatrical production field. With a focus on inclusion, diversity, equity, and belonging, PoD broadens the definition of ‘the best person for the job’ to one that welcomes the whole of an individual into a room. Also it should be noted that the PoD website has 36 links to lists and databases that is an incredible resource for the industry. Stewart, currently Production Manager—Disney Live Entertainment and Lozoff, currently an intimacy director for both American Ballet Theatre and RudduR Dance, recently spoke with Stage Directions about the work of PoD.

Tell us about Production on Deck and the work that you do.

Sarah Lozoff: We offer what we call a ‘stem to stern search,’ where we look for the individuals, we vet them, we do a couple rounds of interviews, and then we hand over a smaller pool of finalists to the organization. We also offer what we call our ‘amplification service’ which is where we take the search that an organization is running—they still need to go to ArtSearch, USITT, or do their normal search—but what we do, is we go and have deeper conversations with individuals and see who might be interested in applying for these positions. We still do focus on the BIPOC [Black, Indigenous, People of Color] population, but we are looking for all sorts of candidates to apply for these jobs.

What are the technical theater roles that PoD fills?

SL: It’s all production staff, not just production managers. We’re seeking technical directors, costume supervisors, sound supervisors; any production staff. But we have also been asked to seek for some company managers and other positions. If they’re seeking artistic administration, we refer them over to someone we consider a kindred organization, because that is the work that they do. We have great love and respect for them. We are honest about what our typical field of expertise is and take it from there.

Do you also get into matching up designers?

David Stewart: We haven’t been asked to find designers. That’s something that we would gladly do, but those tend to be more transient positions, so I think organizations have a pretty good handle on who they want to bring in and who they want to work with. That tends to be a more intimate process than going out and looking for full time production staff.

SL: Our Established Designers of Color list is publicly available on our website, so, anybody can look through and see how people identify and grab names and contact info from there.

Who are some of the companies that have enlisted PoD’s services?

DS: Woolly Mammoth is a company that we worked with early and often. The Repertory Theater of St. Louis, The Guthrie, Steppenwolf, Denver Center for Performing Arts, BAM, Oregon Shakespeare Festival.

SL: Also, Dallas Theater Center, Cincinnati Playhouse in the Park, Hartford Stage, and NETworks, the touring production company. We’ve worked with 24 different organizations thus far.

What would be one of your success stories?

DS: Steppenwolf’s Director of Production, Tom Pearl, wrote a nice note saying that this was probably the most qualified, and most diverse pool, of candidates he’d ever seen. That the quality definitely went up with this search working with us. Several organizations have commented that, even if we’ve come back with not a lot of applicants, they are still very, very thankful for the information they’re getting, mainly because when American theater opened up its doors again this past summer and flipped on all the lights, there was an assumption that everybody was going to be clamoring for work. A lot of people in skilled positions left the industry.

Talk about that loss of people in the industry.

SL: We conducted a survey and found that up to 28% of the production industry has left the business and are not coming back. It’s almost like people have had an opportunity during, what David often calls, the great pause, to really reflect on what their priorities are and what’s more important. And what community means to them. That’s a lot of the feedback that we’re giving to organizations—people realize that they could be home for dinners and birthdays; home to help teach their kid to ride a bike. They don’t have to miss all of that and work 12, 14-hour days, six days a week anymore. They’re not willing to give the balance they have found back up. So, we’re also trying to help organizations calibrate their expectations; help them with their job descriptions; help them with their salary expectations. We’re going to get into this even deeper in the 2022 season about salary disparity. If organizations are hoping to lure talent, they can’t keep paying the same salaries. People are not going to move from Denver to Chicago for a $500 increase in pay. There is a seismic cultural and financial change that’s going to have to happen across the theater landscape.

DS: That also goes to companies can’t keep producing at the scale they were producing at before the pandemic. There are not the people out there to fill all those roles. I think a lot of theaters are rightfully trying to pay attention to the demands that we see with American theater, but when it gets to actually applying the things around production, people get really hesitant around it. The no more 10 out of 12’s, or a five-day work week, people are like, ‘We just simply can’t do it.’ I’m like, ‘You can do it. You just are choosing not to.’ And a lot of it’s in reduction of scope. So, you can’t continue this cycle of abuse—or the cycle of massive scale—without the people or without exhausting the people that we do have and thus making the pool even smaller. And I think a lot of theaters are hesitant to reduce that scope. And I think that they’re still in for a big rude awakening.

SL: Production on Deck is sitting at a really interesting intersection right now, because we both know theater very well. We both know regional theater. We’ve worked at a lot of them. We know a lot of people. But neither one of us are residents or on staff at a theater organization right now. And so, we can both get and deliver feedback from this just really unique seat that we have and be really real with these theaters.

How do clients and people looking for work get involved with PoD?

SL: For people to get in touch with us, there’s an e-mail address—info@productionondeck.com. They reach out through that email address and do an inquiry. Our list of our services and our criteria get emailed back to them with an auto response. If they have further questions, we engage in a half-hour free consultation with them. And we go from there. We are a very transparent organization about where the field currently is and where our industry is in terms of the supply of people and the demand of the industry. The demand is far outstripping the supply for these searches.

DS: In terms of working for us, we hire consultants. We hire what are called seekers or sifters. Kate Coltun is our lead seeker and has the first right of refusal on searches. Whenever a search comes up, we always offer it to her to help us go out and amplify and seek out individual. Then we look at who has a specialty in that area. We hired Larry Bennett [Production Director at the Alliance Theatre] to help us search for production managers. We hired Sound Designer, Lindsay Jones to help us find sound supervisors. We hired Steve Rosenberg to help us find stagehands. We also work with a Chicago Activist and Actor, Bear Bellinger. Right now, we’re basically a loose conglomeration of consultants that have come together.

How can people let you know they’re available for work?

DS: We house several lists on the PoD website that people can access. It really depends on the list. Like Megan’s [Sandberg-Zakian] list—POC Theatre Designers and Technicians—is an opt-in list. There’s a link where you fill it out and then it gets added. I run the Established Designers of Color database, so people submit the information and I’ll add it in.

SL: There’s 36 links that are currently housed, or linked to, from our website of all different identity markers, whether it’s trans, or indigenous theatermakers, or established designers of color. But then there’s also a form that we have that’s a ‘looking for work’ form. So, if somebody is just like, ‘Hey, I want Production on Deck to know that I’m available,’ they can submit their information and their resume so that we can keep them in mind, but it’s not us digging through emails. We have it in a Google form that goes into a spreadsheet, and so we can have that on hand. Then we’ll start mailing job postings out to them when we get them.

To learn more about Production on Deck, go to: www.productionondeck.com