When I was in college studying theater and stage management, a guest instructor once exclaimed, “You know, one day stage managers will be utterly extinct. Computers will do their jobs.”
I was terrified when I heard this. I left class wondering why I was even studying technical theater. “What the hell am I doing being a theater major anyway?' I thought. “Is there a point to running around with a headset on, pointing at people and telling them what to do if one day I won’t even be needed?”
And suddenly today, I’m not needed. A virus put me out of business. (Of all the things.)
I think that’s how many of us in the special event industry feel these days. We aren’t needed. Our services aren’t needed.
There are no large gatherings to celebrate achievements or enjoy music, food and art. The entertainment and event industry is now virtually virtual. For those of us who rely on in-person client meetings and venues for performance or work, we find ourselves jobless. We have become expendable.
We want to get our hands dirty, push road boxes, tear spike tape, or print out makeshift directional signage to put backstage. And we can’t do any of those things right now. Instead, computers and machines are cranking out programming and taking over for us. The tangible tokens of our daily work are suddenly gone. Our hands have been replaced by hard drives.
So during this time, do we need to learn a new way of working and retreat to a virtual world? Do we reinvent our current businesses in order to adapt to this new direction in the industry?
I think in order to answer these questions, we have to look at one fact: We are humans. We thrive on senses. It’s why we do what we do. We are used to being in the presence of each other and our sensory product of live entertainment.
Take all of that away, and we essentially feel like fish out of water. Our identities feel like they have been stripped away. The electricity of an audience full of excitement, the warmth of the stage lights, the freezing temperatures in hotel ballrooms or venues (c’mon, you know you miss it slightly) … we thrive off of all of this, and we don’t have it. For now at least.
We ultimately need to remember why we do what we do and realize that we thrive off of a sensory product. Gatherings are what make us excited. There is a camaraderie in coming together that distance can’t replicate. Creating with our hands and delivering a product that ultimately fulfills our desire for live experiences cannot be replaced through a virtual world.
We foster relationships with vendors and crew who drive the creative product. We find fulfillment in the human connection. Let’s accept that, and also look forward to the day when we can return to these circumstances. Live sensory experiences will be back, but we should not give up and scramble in this temporary situation when what we know and enjoy about the work we do got us here in the first place. We can’t just revert to a fully virtual world if who we are is compromised. We can reinvent ourselves, but we can’t deviate from who we are and what we love to do.
So, continue to foster your relationships with those in the industry. Contact is what you can control right now. Reach out to someone and listen to their side of things. Support one another.
Be creative with what you have. Find a way to do something that keeps your creative juices flowing and your mind engaged.
If you aren’t working, you can focus on the other things you love to do. You never know what may come out of this. You may actually be in the process of reinventing yourself or your business and taking things to a whole new level. So, keep working on your craft.
And when the industry does come back, I bet we’ll appreciate it more. It’s like having your favorite comfort meal that you haven’t eaten in weeks or even months. You look forward to eating that meal, and if you’re thinking about it, you can almost taste it.
What I wouldn't give to write on a piece of paper with a pen, and share that personalized note or plan with someone else in person. I miss showing up at the crack of dawn and bringing doughnuts to a hard-working crew. I want a headset that hurts my head after wearing it for 12 hours. I miss that regular nuisance.
I also confess that I would take delight in witnessing a missed performer entrance or technical mistake on stage. After all, isn’t that the beauty of live entertainment?
Claire Friday is a live entertainment production specialist, writer and public speaker who lives in Las Vegas. She is president and CEO of Done By Friday, a production and content strategy consultancy. Friday gave a TEDx in February on the versatility of the skills fostered through an arts education. More information can be found on her website at www.done-byfriday.com.