A Clean Stage is a Happy Stage

This is a phrase I have been hearing since almost the first moment I started doing production. My friend and personal hero, Marty O’Connor used to say this all the time. In fact, I would imagine he still says it.  The basic premise is that taking time to make the stage clean matters.  Running cables straight, finishing a job correctly, cleaning up trash, and resetting the stage to an agreed upon “normal”, are just a few examples of what this phrase means to me.

I have heard it so many times, it feels like something everybody knows and everybody values.  We have had a few conversations about this part of our ministry lately and it is interesting how easy it is to lose sight of or to get comfortable with how things look.

At my house, when something needs to make its way back upstairs, my wife likes to put piles at the bottom of the steps to remind the kids to grab what belongs to them and take it to their rooms.  It is amazing to me how easily that pile becomes invisible.  We all just end up walking right by it, like it isn’t even there, and as a result the pile keeps getting bigger and bigger until we cant take it any more…or we have guests coming over.

When was the last time you took a good look at your stage area?  Your booth?  Backstage?  Has the pile at the bottom of your steps become invisible to you?  If you had guests coming over, would you be embarrassed by all the piles?

Keeping the stage clean is a simple yet foundational element to everything else we do.  Take a walk around with eyes open, and take your piles up to your room.


I realized yet again, that I love to collaborate. As a Technical Director, I don’t necessarily “do” anything, other than try to set other people to do what they do. If I can get out of the way or get other things out of the way so people can bring their best, then I have succeeded.  This doesn’t happen without lots of collaboration.

For people to bring their best, means they need to be allowed to make choices that I wouldn’t necessarily make.  For them to succeed, I need to learn the difference between my way being right (and theirs wrong) and my way just being different.  On some level, it would be so much easier to not collaborate and just tell everyone how I want everything to be.  The problem is that most people can’t function very long just being told what to do at every turn.  Eventually, they turn off their brains and just become robots…but at least things are done the exact certain way.

I will wrestle and struggle my way to collaborate as a first choice every time.  I know that collectively, the group as way better ideas than me alone.  If I restricted our team to just what I know and what I think, it would be a very stale and dull environment.

There is definitely a baseline of how things should be.  That should be defined and everyone should know what those things are.  Above the baseline, I want to release people to bring their best so that what we do can have the maximum impact.

If you lead production folks, how can you release people to bring their best?  How can you change your process to allow for more collaboration?

Help Me Understand…

I have been struck again this week by the fact that the world of church production is a mystery to non-production people.  This isn’t a bad thing, or something to try to solve.  Andy Stanley would say “it is a tension to be managed” (he would actually say it twice for emphasis, but I’ll just write it once).  I agree that it is something that is ongoing, but the word managed sounds too much like the word tolerated or even giving up on it being any better, almost resignation.

As I have been talking to the various production people I work with, and then speaking to the producers of the ministry they support, I am amazed at how easy it is to misunderstand each other, to assume something that isn’t true, to make conclusions about people without knowing them or asking for more information.

As I write this, I am realizing that there are tons of dynamics going on here, and that I could write all day about ways to improve things or how things should be different, but I am going to focus on one.

For crying out loud production people, start communicating with your counterparts that don’t get your world!  You do so much behind the scenes that nobody sees or even understands, and instead of giving you a pat on the back for all your hard work, they end up wondering what you do with all your time.  All they know is that they don’t see you around.  The other thing they know is that you say “no” to all their great ideas without any kind of alternatives or options.  When someone is wondering what you do all day, and then you tell them they can’t do something, no wonder there is a gulf between the booth and the stage!

For years, I would wait for the stage people to come to me to understand my world.  I’m an introvert.  It’s OK if I just hang back here by the booth and everyone will come to me and get to know me and ask me how I’m doing and marvel at all the gear I re-racked this week.  It sounds like the beginning to a bad joke.

Get out of your cube, your office, the booth and engage with the people on stage on stage or whoever you need to, in order to bridge the chasm of understanding the exists.  Make the move to help the non-production people you work with understand your world…in language they can understand.  Create opportunities to connect outside of the tension of services and rehearsals.

Is there tension?  Yes.  Will it go away?  Probably not.  Do we need to live with it?  No.  Should it be managed?  I think we must get beyond managed and figure out ways to leverage the tension for the benefit of our churches.  How can we take our differences and celebrate them and push each other to create the best services for our congregations possible?  One thing is for sure, it won’t happen without tons of communication.  That starts with you.

Production is Art

Have you ever noticed that the stereotype for production at events involves a microphone not being on, followed feed back. I always get annoyed when I am watching a movie or a TV show where this scene is acted out. It is so cliche and predictable, and so true so much of the time.

I was at an event a while ago, and I saw all this play itself out.  The technical botches went beyond mics not being on, but included poor lighting and less than wonderful graphic work.  People are so used to going to events where this happens, that it is accepted as normal.  So normal, that it is part of pop culture.

As a technical artist, I put a lot of effort into changing this generalization by making any production I am a part of invisible, seamless with what is happening on stage.  It’s not always wiz bang or the most cutting edge technology, but it is always using technology to advance the event/service to a higher place. This includes having mics on when they should be, lighting something up that should be lit, or pointing a camera where the focus needs to be, but it also means something much more.

To take this one step further, if production is only about hitting every cue right, pointing lights in the right spot or having a mic on a the right moment, we are missing so much of what production can be about.  I have been thinking about U2’s current tour and how breathtaking the production is.  Now if the same set and same lights and same everything were applied to a high school  battle of the bands, we would all say the production distracted from the content of the event (or maybe vice versa).  For U2, the production supports, nay, enhances the content that U2 is bringing to the party.  Does this happen because there are some gear happy tech people in a dark room deciding what the production should look and feel like?  Definitely not.  What’s happening here is U2 is partnering with some amazing production artists to create an entire experience for thousands of people.

Now, I would wait in line to hear U2 play at the Penny Road Pub down the street without much production, and it would be amazing.  But with the combined efforts of the members of U2 and their production team, they can create an experience like none other for thousands of people at once.

Let’s take this one step even further.  What if we used the technical arts, not for the sake of using cool gear, or trying to be the U2 360 Tour, but for the sake of enhancing the message of Christ.  Not changing the message.  Not creating our own message.  Not enhancing it into something totally distracting.  But working closely with the people creating content to craft a life changing experience for people, together.

Production without content is like battle of the bands using U2’s stage:  a huge waste.  And content without production is like seeing U2 at the Penny Road Pub:  good, but not all it could be.  But content, enhanced by the artistic use of production is a powerful combination.

Encourage yourself

I was so moved today listening to Harvey Carey talk to a room full of technical artists. He spoke directly to the heart of what most of us deal with on a daily basis with no real encouragement to keep at it and keep moving forward.

He talked about about how King David had to encourage himself.

And David was greatly distressed; for the people spake of stoning him, because the soul of all the people was grieved, every man for his sons and for his daughters: but David encouraged himself in the LORD his God. 1 Samuel 30:6

We have to remind ourselves that what we do matters and has eternal significance.  We can’t wait for someone else to tell us what a great job we did, we have to be able to tell ourselves.  When we are down and things get difficult, we need to encourage ourselves in the Lord, or as the NIV says: “David found strength in the LORD”.

The beauty of the Gurus of Tech Chicago conference, as well as CTDRT.com and CTANonline.com, is that we can encourage each other.  We have to take advantage of the communities of technical artists in our own backyards and build each other up and support each other.

Does this mean you can now wait for someone from this community to reach out and encourage you?  No.  You reach out.  You encourage the TD at the church down the street.  You make the effort to get together for lunch.  You put yourself out there and make the call.  Nobody else is going to get it started if you don’t.