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  • Kim Sawyer

Updated: Sep 22



I recently watched a documentary on HBO called “The Weight of Gold.” It starts with the acknowledgement that the Olympics were postponed in 2020 due to the uncertainty of COVID-19. It then continues to educate us about the life of an Olympic athlete — talented beyond comprehension, yet also isolated mentally and physically. They are glorified when they win yet shamed and forgotten if they place anywhere other than gold. Passion barely begins to describe the drive behind their ability to be hyper-focused on their goal of winning, and then — when it’s all over, whether they win or lose — they are forced to deal with “coming down” from their high of competing at the most elite level…alone.

Few can understand the mental battle that often ensues after being so passionate about something their entire life, and then, just like that, it’s over… and they have to figure out who they are and how they are going to live passionately, financially, and with purpose moving forward. And it’s not just the winners — it’s the 14,000 other Olympians who don’t place, along with their coaches, their trainers, their doctors, their parents, and the rest of the teams whose lives were dedicated to the success of the athlete.

I was able to relate to the contents of this documentary — not from an athletic capacity (unfortunately!) but from a place of compassion for a very misunderstood industry. I work in the entertainment industry as a live event producer. I have a deep passion for creating unparalleled experiences for my clients and for showcasing the amazing artists I am fortunate enough to work with. I work for Fireplay, a design firm that brings A-list artists’ and clients’ visions to life through next-level creative design and execution.

It’s not too difficult to relate to the documentary, as live event producers are the ones who literally and physically produce the Olympics. They dedicate years to the creative ideation, planning, logistics, and execution of a moment in time that can’t be replicated or redone. They are hyper-focused on the goal of creating the event. In a blink of an eye, it’s over, and they are left alone to come down from the high of their production, often contemplating who they are and what they are going to do next.

Keep in mind, just like the Olympians, this is when the industry is running normally. We joke about having the “post-event blues” often, but usually this is combatted by some rest and then the excitement of producing the next event. But nothing about 2020 has been normal, especially for our industry. Right now, every event producer, lighting designer, crew member, rigger, manager, vendor, sponsor, truck driver, fabricator, creative director, catering crew, and ticketer who was part of the live event world has nowhere to place their endless supply of passion and desire to create these life changing moments. In an instant, as of March 2020, our industry was canceled with no support system to bring us back to life. We were the first industry to be canceled and will be the last industry to come back to life.




I began writing this on Sept 1, 2020, the day the event industry is on “Red Alert” in a global effort to raise awareness about the dire condition of our industry in the hopes that systemic change and support is made to keep those 12 million in our industry supported during this time. Education, awareness, and action at the highest levels are necessary for the entertainment industry to be healthy both physically and financially.

I don’t have a call to action that is particularly profound or unique compared to what our industry leaders have already proposed. However, we learn a lot about ourselves and our peers when faced with adversity, especially during quarantine with too much time on our hands.

As an event producer who is lucky enough to have worked with amazing employees, bosses, vendors, and venues in the industry for over eleven years, I know our industry is fully of doers problem solvers, and team players. We will not give up, and that gives me faith and hope for recovery.

I have spent many years introspecting, exploring, and doing the daunting work of figuring out who I am and who I want to be as a human being. I am constantly changing — as are we all — but I always fall back to three ideals that guide me to become the person, friend, employee, and leader I want to be. These ideals have helped me through this unprecedented year and are perhaps worth sharing:

Compassion — Compassion is my North Star in life. Having empathy for others is everything. In the current situation we’re all facing, I’d like to highlight having compassion for the trickle effect. Just like with Olympians, even the “Michael Phelps’s” of the entertainment world are not void of the mental trials and tribulations of life. We put the A-listers on a pedestal, wrap a rope around their waist, and then play tug of war with their personal and professional lives. For every A-list celebrity, there is a line of amazingly talented up-and-coming performers who vulnerably put their talent out there for the world to judge. For every performer or personality on stage or screen, the entertainment industry is filled with millions of contractors, managers, sponsors, vendors, and companies that are directly affected by the success of that live event — be it a concert, a product launch, a PR stunt, or a sporting event.

There is not one industry in the world that doesn’t have a long line of ancillary companies and human beings that are affected by the overall success or failure of said industry — and those companies and individuals have all felt the deep effects of this pandemic. The trickle effect is real. I feel it most in my industry but acknowledge it fully in every industry, especially during this year of unprecedented uncertainty. I encourage you to do the same.

Gratitude — Gratitude is everything. It’s become a cliché and a sort of abstract concept, but gratitude has always been the quickest path to fixing a problem. It is undeniable that our country, our health, and our economy are in crisis, and as the old adage states — with crisis comes opportunity. Here at Fireplay, we pride ourselves in being fearlessly creative. Even before lockdown happened in mid-March and our industry lost 95% of our business, we anticipated the need to get ahead of the ramifications of the pandemic and harness our wild creativity. We immediately created an innovation team, assessed and analyzed trends, and relentlessly ideated on ways for us to stay true to ourselves, continue to keep our clients top of mind, and continue to come up with solutions to problems that keep the power of entertainment, the importance of safety, and above all, the importance of creativity, front and center.

It was by no means easy to stay so positive. We had layoffs. We all took salary cuts. We all had ebbs of hope followed by flows of hopelessness. Some of us dealt with loneliness during lockdown. Some of us dealt with balancing a houseful of spouses and children mixed with adjusting to working from home. Personally, I had the most important people in my life test positive for COVID-19, with one hospitalized for quite a while (they recovered fully and are amazing). On top of it, none of us at Fireplay were able to do what we loved professionally — go into an empty venue and bring it to life for others to enjoy.

Gratitude is challenging when life seems so surreal. Throughout this process, I have been so grateful to work for a team that immediately began innovating. We refused to stand still. We refused to “wait it out.” I am grateful that through this chaos came the ability for lanes to open up. The entire entertainment industry was looking for solutions and were willing to talk to anyone with interesting ideas. Because of our innovation, we created the Virtual Crowd concept, which allowed us to have conversations with some of the biggest players in the professional sports world, the tech world, the financial world, the gaming world, and the awards show world. We have also launched Dining With Fireplay, which is a way to safely redefine creative dinners. By combining our experience in creating immersive sets along with our proficiency producing theatrical culinary experiences with top chefs and artists, we are taking this global emergency as a way to flip the script on what a dinner, a product launch, or an influencer event could look like. These are avenues that would have been challenging to step into if it weren’t for a global crisis to help bring us together — and for that opportunity I am very grateful.




Relentless Passion — The last concept I encourage you to explore is the power of relentless passion. Many in our industry have been forced to take jobs they aren’t stoked about and pivot into industries they aren’t particularly interested in simply to make ends meet. For that, I have unbelievable compassion and empathy. I learned long ago through my wild journey of becoming a self-made event producer that we often have to do things that we don’t enjoy, but as long as we don’t lose sight of the passion that drives us, those moments are going to be temporary.

Over 11 years ago, I had just received my MBA. Feeling accomplished but kind of lost, I decided to put an art show together to showcase the artists and musicians in my hometown of Virginia Beach and to help a friend raise money for a playground for kids with special needs. Something happened while putting on that event. I realized I had a knack for planning events down to the last detail — but more importantly, I realized I had this unwavering passion to showcase creatives. I was passionate about highlighting passionate people, and I have been on a mission ever since to produce events that are not “cookie cutter,” to showcase artists, fabricators, brands, and messages that are filled with passion.

So here I was, with a fresh master’s degree, and I was taking jobs working front desks, personal training, waiting tables — all to self-fund and produce events on my own for artists and charities. I humbly stumbled my way into the art world and the event production world, putting myself out there and taking crazy risks. I had so much passion for what I wanted to achieve that I kept my eyes on the prize and the next thing you know, I was contacting the companies I was determined to work for, convincing them to hire me, and creating jobs that didn’t previously exist. Even during this time, I had moments where I was working in events, but not necessarily in a position to showcase creatives, and I questioned if I was on the right path or if I had given up on my passion. Now, I feel confident in my role as an event producer who has had the amazing opportunity to showcase passionate brands, artists, and initiatives all over the country in wildly unique ways — even winning some awards along the way.




Even if we aren’t doing what we love at this very moment, if we have conviction for our passion and a whole lot of patience, we will get back there.

I encourage everyone who has experienced professional and personal setbacks in their lives due to the crazy year that is 2020 to continue to have passion and patience to do what you have to do to get through these tough times…but don’t lose faith in your mission. The entertainment industry needs you, your talent, and your passion when we resurrect.


Photo Credits: Donny Evans


Kim Sawyer

Equal parts creative and business, but with 100% style --  Kim Sawyer brings her event production and client relations experience to the Fireplay team as their new Account Manager. The adventurous Virginia Beach native has produced events from top to bottom for high profile clients including Nissan, New York City Wine & Food Festival, Spotify, RVCA,  Maxim, and so much more. Her productions recently won the 2019 BizBash Style Award for Best Product Launch and 2019 MarCom Platinum Award.  In addition to her vast corporate production experience, Kim is passionate about championing artists and has curated over 30 art projects throughout her career. Whether it is a complicated public mural project or an extensive hotel installation, Kim’s attention to detail and ability to manage logistics makes her an extremely valuable asset to Fireplay’s creative team.


Further Reading:


www.wemakeevents.org

Behind the Curtain of a Multi-Billion Dollar Industry That’s on Red Alert

The Limelight and Covid-19

Our Industry isn’t coming back like yours is

Please, please, help artists survive




Updated: 6 hours ago



Six months ago, I stood in the middle of Bridgestone Arena in Nashville surrounded by over 15,000 screaming fans, scores of country music artists, and record company executives for the opening night of Dan + Shay the Arena Tour. Little did I know it would be the last time I attended a concert in 2020…and likely the last time we got to create a show in the music industry as we knew it.


I’ve been obsessed with live music and theatre since I was a child. In my early teens, I made it onstage to perform in front of 5,000 people. It was an incredible achievement I had worked hard for, but as I stepped onto the stage, something amazing happened: the lighting, audio, and production staff that no one else saw took my performance and turned it into something magical. I had no idea these people existed, what the crazy, futuristic equipment they were using was, or how they did it. But at that moment, I knew that I needed to find out , and that was the moment I knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life.


In the late nineties, being a roadie wasn’t a considered a real job, let alone a career choice. There were no schools that taught it, and very few books about the trade. No one could offer any advice on how to get onto a tour. The job description was mysterious life of sex, drugs, rock and roll, and endless parties with rock stars. The reality was anything but glamourous. Getting started in this business is tough – a real “work your way up from the bottom” kind of job. I volunteered for years, lived in a haunted dressing room in an abandoned theatre, worked weeks at a time with no sleep for hardly enough money to eat. I searched for buried cables at festivals covered in mud and shit, wading though overflowing Porta Potties, climbed thin trusses high above venue floors to fix or re-color lights with nothing but a basic rock climbing harness. I took any and every roadie gig that came my way to learn and build up the specialized skills and knowledge I needed to move up the ladder.


In one of those right-time-right-place moments that are pretty much the only way to get a break in this industry, I met someone who saw my potential and was willing to teach me. He become my mentor. By 19, I was on a European tour as a lighting designer for the first time. (Technically, because it was only me, I was the truck unloader, rigger, stage hand, lighting tech, lighting operator, troubleshooter, and maintenance guy all in one.) It meant long grueling hours: a 6 a.m. truck tip, set up for sound check by 2 p.m., show at 8 p.m., with de-rig and load out finished by 2 a.m. I showered in disgusting dressing rooms and the band and crew all slept on one moving bus (with 16 bunks) as it drove overnight to the next venue where we would do it all over again the next day.


Once a week, we got to have a day off in a new and unique place. It was unbelievably hard work, but it was amazing. I loved it. We – the band and the crew – entertained thousands of people, brought smilies to their faces, and removed them from real life for just a few hours of pure immersive entertainment. It was my dream job.


Twenty-two years later, a lot has changed. As a creative, lighting designer, and producer, I have had the honor of creating some of the most memorable concerts experiences for the world best artists. I’m also now a CEO in what has evolved into the multi-billon dollar live music industry. When Napster, Apple, and then Spotify introduced streaming, overnight, we flipped from touring to promote album sales to those tours being the major source of income for all artists. Each tour is treated like the multi-million dollar corporation it is, often bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars in ticket sales, merchandise and concessions. Whereas album sales used to be the way artists built their wealth, the income produced from records sales and streaming now looks like a rounding error in their live touring business. Needless to say, it was a dramatic shift in the industry.


The extravagant productions we design to wow, invoke emotion, and deliver life-changing experiences to fans are all totally unique – custom-designed and manufactured by many talented people who all have similar stories to mine. Each event, big or small, has one thing in common – one thing that by the very design of what we do is hidden. It’s the magic, the secret sauce, if you like. It’s the people who support our vision: the touring road crew, creative teams, local stage hands, security, bus and truck drivers, caterers, riggers, electricians, engineers, seamstresses, runners, teamsters, the list goes on.. Without this dedicated, highly-skilled, professional workforce who nearly always have trained their entire life to execute their small part of any production flawlessly night after night, no event would be possible. It’s their job to be invisible, to hide in the shadows behind curtains or backstage. They don’t get to have sick days or to be late. They run on little to no sleep. Often, one mistake could endanger lives, and every little detail of their work has to be perfect night after night; there is no room for compromise. Without every single one of them working in unison, nothing you have come to expect from a live concert would be possible.


Then there are the vendors and manufacturers. They’re the massive to small companies who specialize in the design, R&D, manufacture, creation, and rental of the highly specialized equipment, staging, set, pyrotechnics and structures that are required not only to bring our dreams to life, but are also designed to be fast to set up and easy to tear down and transport each day. It’s more complicated than building the average 4-bedroom house, but we do it every day in 8 hours!


Let’s not forget the people the fans do get to see: the bands, dancers, cast, and talent onstage. Again, all have trained, practiced, suffered, practiced again, been squeezed into outrageous costumes, and forced to play in pitch black, night after night.





We haven’t even started to talk supply chain. An average arena tour’s entourage would spend millions on flights, book hundreds of hotel rooms each night, and drive tens of thousands of people into cities, spending their hard-earned cash on hotels, food, and drinks. Multiply that by the thousands of tours traveling the U.S. at any given time, and add in theatre, corporate events, trade shows, theme parks, and festivals and we get an even bigger number. Add in every single country in the world and we start to have a substantial global impact on multiple industries. Just in the U.S. alone, arts and culture accounts for $877 billion, 4.5% of the U.S. economy. Live concert touring is an estimated $35 billion of that, and it’s a similar story all around the world.


Six month ago, all live music stopped. We were the first industry to really fully shut down, and overnight, business evaporated for everyone. It’s estimated that 96%, or as many as 12 million people in the live events industry are currently unemployed, furloughed, or have lost up to 90% of their income. Meanwhile, the world’s largest concert promoters are reporting a 98% loss of revenue since the start of the pandemic. I know firsthand; heartbreakingly, I have had to make multiple rounds of cuts to the incredible staff we have built over the years, and everyone remaining has had wages slashed considerably.


Live events will be the last to return and it’s looking bleak. Current estimates predict anywhere from 6 to 12 months before we are able to fill an amphitheater or arena, sustaining increased financial losses in the tens of billions of dollars. Let that sink in: twelve million people with absolutely no way to earn a living doing something they trained their entire life to do, and thats just in the U.S. The live events industry across the entire world is in the same situation to the tune of over 30 million people in 25 countries.


The Justin Timberlake MOTW Touring Crew, Band & Dancers

We often talked about nothing effecting live entertainment. Live music has always had a place in society. Through the worst of times such as world wars and depressions, people always needed an escape – to be entertained to support their sanity and bring hope. I have flown into war zones with artists to entertain the troops and seen firsthand the difference it makes. This pandemic, however, shattered that belief. Perhaps if we would have returned to live shows in September or October this year, which were the initial estimates, we would have stood a chance of getting through it. But nothing till summer or fall 2021 - an entire year to year and a half without a single dollar of income – is simply not survivable by any person, company, or industry without help, no matter how well-prepared they are.


To make matters worse, most of these crew members are freelance, self-employed independent contractors, so government benefits in multiple countries simply don’t cover them or are insufficient. Many haven’t claimed anything yet and have tried get through on their own because it’s not in their DNA to rely on handouts, and information circulating has been that we’ll be back soon. Because of this, a vast majority are not showing up in unemployment figures. In addition, it’s hard for them to get another job, as outside employers generally don’t understand the skills they have. Sadly, the reality is setting in; even the most hardened roadie is at a point where savings have dried up, bills are mounting, stress is rising, mental health is a real issue, money has run out, and there is no end in sight.


While some governments have recognized venues and are investigating funding to save venues, it’s imperative that this funding also extend to the lifeblood of the industry: the people. No matter how famous or cool a venue is, it’s just a building. It’s the people that make it work and bring it to life.


Just the crew that worked under, on or above the stage on Britney's Circus Tour, 100's backstage not pictured

So for everyone reading this who loves live music, misses concerts, festivals and tours: it’s time to bring these men and women of the entire backstage industry out from behind the curtain and to make enough noise to get them recognized and to get the support that they so desperately need. If action isn’t taken immediately, when your favorite venue opens back up again, there just might not be anyone left to put on a show.


On September 1st, the #wemakeevents effort lit up over 2,500 buildings red across the U.S. to raise awareness of our dire situation. Tonight (Sept 30th) We will do it again - this time worldwide. I encourage anyone who works in the industry or who loves events to get involved and share. Creating a spectacle is what we do best; let’s light up this country bigger and better than ever before. But thats not enough; we need you to write, petition, and call your government officials to let them know the live industry needs help. We don’t have lobbyists or inside officials like other big businesses. We need the fans who love what we do to get onboard to help. visit www.WeMakeEvents.org for more info.

Anyone reading this who has the budget to put on any kind of event, consider doing it now and spreading the work around outside your normal circles. Record companies with promo budgets for all those albums being written in lockdown – let’s spend them putting as many people back to work as possible. Anyone wanting to do a virtual event – let’s do it in style, as there is an endless supply of talent out there just waiting to work. Artists who have received support – let’s make sure it’s passed onto the crews who have supported you for years on the road. Please don’t ask us to work for free, that just not sustainable. Most importantly, everyone reach out to friends, co-workers and your crews to check in on them, if they need help or someone to talk to be there for them, if you can't direct them to the amazing team at The Roadie Clinic.


Finally wear a mask! We may be a vast industry, but we are a small, close family, and we’re in this together. It’s going to be tough, but we will get there.


Busses and truck's that transport JT's MOTW production and crew from venue to venue

Even if we are successfully getting the support we need when we do emerge from this pandemic, we are going to be facing a very different landscape. The very essence of music and live events will have changed considerably. Maybe that’s not a bad thing. With this complete shutdown, we have the opportunity to redefine and guide a new normal in the design, creation, and economics of these events which will define how live music as a whole is consumed in the future. The willingness of all fans to attend in person will take time to recover. Getting artists as close to as many fans as possible, capacities, chair spacing, and immersive VIP areas will all need to be revised, which will all have a ripple effect to the bottom line. Virtual and hybrid audiences, VR, AR, XR and gamification’s development and use during this time have opened doors on new ways to experience performance. In the future we may have smaller budgets to work with, but thats also not a bad thing. That pushes us to be better, more efficient, to rely more on talent than spectacle.


We so desperately need to succeed in saving all our incredible people. So as one big team, we can get to innovating, educating, creating, healing, and pushing ourselves now, so when we are able to bring back in-person events, we’ll do what we do best and bring with us a whole new era of live events – one which is even better, richer, and more inclusive for fans, artists, and crews alike.


Nick Whitehouse

Fireplay’s CEO, Nick Whitehouse, learned his craft from 20 years of designing and touring with artists such as Coldplay, Jay Z, Kylie, Beyonce, Rihanna, Carrie Underwood, Aerosmith and Britney. His bold style and innovation has won the admiration of music’s most prominent figures and a 15-year collaboration with Justin Timberlake. From Super Bowl performances and award shows to pivotal moments in popular culture, chances are you’ve seen Whitehouse’s work without even knowing it. The UK native created Fireplay to bring a unique and collaborative touch to the industry and to provide services that go beyond artists’ expectations to revolutionize production and design.


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