Everyone’s Industry is Misunderstood
Updated: Sep 21, 2020
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
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.