...But Its Still a People Business

A little more than a year ago, we welcomed a new staff member into our midst. Fresh out of the Entertainment Technology program at New York City Technical College, with diploma in hand, Nereida Garcia embarked on a career as junior show manager in our staging department. Not being a wallflower, Nereida soon jumped at opportunities and showed an innate ability to deal well with crew and clients on projects big and small. As the year draws to an end, I thought it would be interesting to chat with Ms. Garcia and gain her perspective on being new to a career in a dynamic, male-dominated industry.

To begin our discussion, I asked about her initial job experiences and what they meant to her. In response, Nereida related the excitement she felt setting up a job at the legendary Waldorf Hotel, a place she knew mainly from the movie Coming to America.

Im thinking how great it is to be working in this awesome place and that its too bad Im spending so much time hanging out in the kitchen hallway, she said. Or the first time I worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, a place I hadnt visited since second grade. I love working in all these different places and getting to know their loading docks so well! I thought about how weird it must be for someone relatively young and inexperienced to deal with clients, some of whom have a lot of years in the biz. The response I received indicated creativity and empathy, two of the key ingredients for successful client management. Theyre just people and you find ways to communicate with them on a level they can deal with. For example, Im on the phone with a client trying to get an idea how many 4x8-foot risers she needs for her event. I tell her the risers are four feet by eight feet and have two-foot legs.
She says, So, theyre really six feet by ten feet? I go huh? No, theyre 4x8. Hey, do you have an index card on your desk? Well, hold that card flat, two inches over your desk and pretend the card is really four feet wide and eight feet long and is standing on legs that are two feet tall. Got it, sweetheart? Now, how many do you want?

It was apparent to me that one of the factors that comes into play is that Nereida is not only an observer of popular culture but an observer of peoples behavior and she constantly adjusts her behavior and attitude based on what she observes. As she told me, I like watching people and seeing how they do what they do. Its always interesting. In other words, watch and learn.

At one point in our chat, Nereida stated that she always knew she wanted to be in this business. How did that come about? I wondered. The answer lies in the age-old issue of teenage romance. As a student at a city high school with a specialization in dramatic arts, young Ms. Garcia became enamored of a male classmate who always got to wear the comm headset during school performances. She thinks thats it, I want to be a stage tech and manager, its so cool.

Where the Boys Are
Speaking of boys, I asked how she deals with being the rare female tech manager on show site. In typically humorous fashion, the response is, At least I dont have to worry about whether my hair and make-up look good. In addition, you have to get used to the lack of idle chatter. With the guys, they go about their business and dont shoot the bull until the shows up and running. Sometimes they give me a bit of business about being a girl, but its usually good natured. I supposed that growing up a city kid helps in this respect, a concept with which Nereida readily agreed.

What was her scariest moment on the job? That had to be a show I was loading in at 4 a.m. in the pouring rain. The four stagehands that were supposed to be booked didnt show up and it was me and Tomasz, our sound guy, with a ton of gear and no one to help set it up. This is where the commitment of the people Im lucky enough to work with comes into play. Tomasz woke up a few of the shop guys and within 40 minutes they were on site and, working very quickly; we had everything up and running in plenty of time. These guys help me succeed every day.

Tell me more, I say.

On one of my early shows, I hadnt ordered enough scaffold and Im freaking out that we cant put the equipment in position. Im working with Clem, one of our most experienced fellas, who says, Dont worry, girlie, were in a hotel. There are tables. Well use tables stacked on top of each other and some gaff tape and a couple of shoe laces and it will work for today, and, thats what we did and it did work. Knowing thats not what I want to live through, Ive learned to check my shop orders a lot more carefully.

And this business, with all its stresses and deadlines and nervous stage managers, is not without its lighter moments. For one job, I was working at the Met Museum when I call what I thought was the facilities office and tell them Im dropping cam-locs down the hole so the electrician can do the tie-in for us. Turns out Im speaking with the security office and they want to know what hole I dropped my camera down and who tied me up.

A year down the career road, I want to know where the good stuff in life is coming from. Opening her large eyes to their maximum, Nereida related the story of a recent awards telecast she managed, utilizing a large group of our most experienced tech staff, and how energizing it was to keep everyone organized and the work flowing smoothly. From my point of view, the best part is they recently booked the show again for next year. Then, there was the show with the TD, a hot shot from CNN, who came in 10 minutes before show, asked her for all the things he needed and got them instantly, thanks to thorough preparation and top-notch support from the crew.