Top Tips From A Production Manager
Guest Feature: Margaret Callanan
Back of House guest posts feature some of our favorite people from across the industry sharing their expertise. If you would like to be featured in a future issue or know someone who would let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This week we’re giving you a deep dive into the career of Margaret Callanan, the Production Manager at The Midland, who we had the pleasure of talking to in our first BOH Q&A.
Morning Margaret! Thanks so much for taking the time to catch up with BOH. Let’s jump right into it - tell us a little bit about yourself.
I grew up in Mount Clemens, Michigan (about 30 minutes northeast of Detroit) and attended college in Kalamazoo, Michigan where I was a radio DJ. While I was a radio DJ, I also volunteered during our fundraiser weeks as a stagehand, security, and at the merch table for the bands that were featured. That experience, along with attending a lot of concerts, sparked my interest in this industry. After college I started interning for a woman in Detroit as a Promoter Rep, and now I’m based in Lawrence, Kansas after a couple year stint in Chicago.
Flashback - what was your first job and what did you want to be when you grew up?
My first "off the books" job was as a filer at a law firm my mom worked for when I was younger. My first "on the books" job was at a music store (vinyl, tapes, CD's style, not backline) when I was in high school. At that point in my life, I wanted to either manage businesses (I was still working out the specifics on what kind of business) or work as a journalist.
What was your first role in the live events industry and what are you doing now? Are there any defining moments that got you to where you are?
My first paid position in the industry was as a merch seller while I interned at the Empty Bottle. That internship led to being a stagehand at Congress Theater (both venues are in Chicago). I’m currently furloughed, but I’m normally the Production Manager for The Midland in Kansas City, which is an AEG venue. Each step in my career has been defining. A lot of the steps can be attributed to being at the right place at the right time, and some steps were achieved by being a hard worker and not burning bridges. Giving advice in this industry is tricky, since so many departments are different and require different skill sets, but I always suggest to anyone in any position, that they try being a stagehand for at least a summer festival season. And always assume that you're going to get less sleep than you anticipated and always have backup snacks like granola bars and dried fruit in your bag, just in case catering sucks.
What is your biggest failure or really tough moment you experienced? What happened?
Weather was always a big part in any gig I've done that didn't go as planned. I did an event in Times Square years ago and even though there was a lot of planning in advance, the weather beat down on us and made it a pretty miserable experience.
And as they say, the show must go on. Was there anything about that event that made it notably different from others?
It was a weird gig. I was asked to handle the production specifically, which was only a 12' x 12' deck stage with like four ground stacked boxes a side. I was also only supposed to have two acts (a magician and a well known a cappella group), but a few weeks before the event the clients added a few speakers and a video presentation, which is normally fine, but our schedule was already incredibly tight because everything had to be run through about 15 different government agencies to approve any amendments (because it was in Times Square). The art department on the event was not able to pre-build the set pieces they were hoping to, so when we (the production team) arrived around 3 am to load-in at 4 am, they were about five hours behind. Then it started raining.
The weather was so bad at times that we had to do a full work stop, and that pushed the schedule even more. At the end of the night, before the actual morning event, we were able to sound check the a cappella group before our very strict curfew, but not the speakers or the magician. For corporate events like this, it is INCREDIBLY crucial to do a full run of the show at least twice. We weren't able to do it once. We tried to rush a run through in the morning before the event, but several other departments were still scrambling to get their sections done, and we had to wait several times for them. I want to say with 100% certainty that it was not one department's fault at all. It was just a comedy of errors that led to a domino effect that affected everyone.
Flip roles for a second - you're headlining the biggest festival in the States, what goes on your rider?
Jugs of still water (NEVER BOTTLES), Hope hummus, veggie tray, cheese tray, pita bread, rotisserie chicken, Garden Herb Triscuits, sugar free Red Bull, Titos, Hibiscus LaCroix.
What's the most used item in your fanny pack or one item you can't live without during an event?
Pelican: Band-Aids, Neosporin, Clartin, a small lock/key that fits on most porta-potty rings, blank paper, plastic sheets, at least one roll of black 2" gaff and a bright spike tape, durable pens, Sharpies, c-wrench, Leatherman, zip-ties and snips. Chrome (backpack): computer, several different types of chargers, notebook, baby wipes, Advil, hair ties, and my Nalgene carabiner-ed to my bag.
How about a dream gig?
My dream gig would include all of my favorite people to work with. I don't think the location or the type of gig even matters.
When you walk into catering and they have this item, you get so excited you could cry!
What makes it all worth it to you? Why do we do what we do?
This industry is like no other. You will never know everything there is to know, which I personally love. With some of the tougher events we produce, it's almost like you've gone into battle with the folks you worked with and that leads to a bond that I cannot even describe. I have been with Riot Fest pretty much consistently since the second to last show at Congress Theater and the friendships I've made through those gigs will last a lifetime.
Do you have an industry idol? How about a mentor? What's the most memorable thing you've learned from them?
In terms of idols, I would have to say Jeff Kicklighter out of Chicago. His demeanor and experience level with all types of events makes him an excellent person to bounce ideas off of and work for. Watching him interact with people (vendors, hands, etc.), he's always calm and and at times incredibly funny, which makes him a leader you want to have trust in (in my opinion). Depending on the event I'm seeking advice for, I have several people that I call: Justin Wilcox, Morgan DiBona, Drew Curtis and Anne Hack, among many others.
If you could have learned one skill earlier on in your career, what would it be?
What are you doing during the pandemic? Work-wise – How do you stay up to date with what's going on industry-wide? Personally, what are you doing that you normally wouldn't have time for in the middle of the summer?
As for general news on our industry as a whole, I am still part of BobNet, I receive Dr. Stu's emails and of course this BOH newsletter! Personally, my fiancé and I have been able to get quite a few things done around the house and I've actually been able to start gardening! Oh! And I've been trying to learn Arabic too!
What advice would you give to someone who is beginning a career similar to your own?
Learn to read a room if you haven't already, and always get both sides of a story before passing judgement on anyone.
What's your favorite post-event meal?
Pizza. In bed. Always.