26 Aug 2022

Why I like the live entertainment biz

by John O'Brien

It has hurt me physically and mentally. It has hurt me sonically and socially. It has bruised my soul. Yet still I come back for more of the entertainment game. Why?

Because of so many reasons. Seeing beaming smiles on punter’s faces is huge reward in itself. When an act is kicking it and the audience is responding in kind, it doesn’t matter how big or small the show, how many boxes or fixtures are used, it is just an absolute buzz to be around.

You can approach it on your own terms; work for a company or production house, work for a management group or a venue, or follow the freelance route, and try them all. Build a career on your own terms or blaze it down just as easily.

The game can be looser than a kaftan at an office job. For starters, there’s no dress code. Tutus are optional. There’s little of the 9 to 5 routine. Sometimes, there’s little routine at all!

You get to meet some amazing people. The entertainment game attracts a wide variety of misfits and interesting personalities. You’ll get the odd diva, but that can be entertaining too. The camaraderie built by achieving the impossible, show after show, will provide you with friends for life.

Those friends form an integral part of the teamwork that is essential to staging performances successfully, on-stage, on-screen, or on-air. Having everyone on-task and working together at critical moments can be the difference between a memorable event or a complete disaster. All in the public eye.

If it’s your thing and the stars align correctly, you get to travel the world. You also get familiar with carnets, visa hassles and forgetting where you are on the planet when waking up in the morning.

Speaking of stars, you get to see or work with your favourite artists, acts, and shows. Sometimes, this sword is double edged. Don’t forget that public facing figures have private lives. Some are delightful offstage, some not. Guess what? They are human after all, with all the foibles us lesser mortals bring, amplified and distorted by endless public ego massaging.

So many options

Entertainment offers a wide variety of outlets and platforms both during and after a show career. Rock, theatre, broadcast, circus, events, film, festivals and more all cross over with similar tech, logistical structures and show vibe. Corporate or install AV are related pathways for many.

Few industries have such a mashup of tech and creativity, an intersect that allows a curious mind endless possibility. Architecture is the closest ‘traditional’ discipline but it’s dead boring compared to show life. I tried both and gigs are way more fun!

‘The show must go on’. I don’t know how often this mindset has helped me in other pursuits outside gig life. Being able to focus intently and problem solve at crunch time is an invaluable state of mind that no university can teach. Convincing others of this merit is another challenge.

My favourite bit of all is the ‘show rush.’ There is a particular nervy feeling that event personnel get:

  • when the first chord cuts through the darkness
  • when the curtains part and the set is revealed
  • when the kabuki drops on a product launch
  • when the MC walks onstage for the grand intro
  • when the cut goes to the on-air presenter
  • when the siren signals start of play
  • when the pyros go off at the crescendo

These moments are equally exhilarating and frightening. Rarely do other jobs offer such a reliable endorphin surge as you get when it’s showtime. Even the most jaded entertainment professionals still feel a bit of this and keep coming back for more.

Slave to the grind of the rhythm

Networking is a necessary evil in any industry. In entertainment, even more so. It’s a tight little game, where everyone knows of your faux-pas or meltdowns. You are only as good as your last gig. But this also means everyone is only a phone call or two away when you need them.

Even working with a show that you love, like any job, there are elements of drudgery. Waiting in transit queues, doing the books at BAS or tax time, chasing up unpaid invoices; these are universal.

Past governments’ deliberate ignorance of and obvious distaste for entertainment (and arts in general) as valid and vibrant business sectors are obvious. The cynic in me will wait and see what a change to more liberal governance may bring.

Even roses have thorns

After bigging up all the positive aspects of the industry, here are a few angles that might have you thinking twice.

First up, the hours are crap. Say goodbye to any semblance of meaningful interaction with people in normal lives. Travel weariness is another burden. It’s not just the endless hours of trucks, vans, planes and hotels, but a general disconnect from home base, family and friends.

Because most shows are temporary or transient, there is a distinct lack of long-term security or planning opportunities. What happens when you are sick or injured? Who will pay the bills when you cannot earn? We’ve seen plenty of those discussions over the shutdown years.

As anywhere, there is a randomness of success or failure. Many talented people flounder because they weren’t in the right place at the right time or just didn’t fit in when they were. Being friendly with key decision makers certainly helps but it can border on nepotism.

After experiencing the inner workings of the rock and roll machine, my dewy-eyed punter impressions remain forever tainted. The innocent joy of soaking up a live show for what it is, without picking the eyes out of the production is long gone. Those that say ‘make your passion a job and you’ll never work again’ are full of it. It’s still a job, and a tough one at that, however passionate you are about it.

Why it’s still worth a crack

For a minority, there’s fame and fortune. Numerous local artists and crew grace the world stage at the top level. Even if you don’t get that far, there are genuine ongoing opportunities around the country. Particularly now, after the skills drain of late. Whichever way you go, you’ll end up with a trove of cool stories to bore the kids with.

For all the reasons outlined above and more, I still love the industry. My back might be shot, my ears forever ring with a 3k test-tone and my ticker remain scarred from innumerable electric shocks, but I’ll return for the next show, ready to soak it all in and go on another ride.

The biz still gives me a buzz.


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