The Joy Of Sets! A Big Shout Out!

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I mentioned last week that the experience we all carry in the events industry is what makes us able to survive many adverse situations in our non working lives and also it has proven to be useful in the current climate. It got me thinking about our industry 30 odd years ago when I started out. Where did we get that experience we needed? Considering there were few training opportunities apart from Drama schools it was hard to come by, for those who knew nothing and had no connections.

I was lucky enough to know Geoff Kitto who taught at our drama school. Geoff had come from theatre and was looking to take students on get outs for corporate shows and would often be seen driving away with a group of students on a mission. He then went on to produce and took a team of people with him. He got all of the students on one huge get out for the Peugeot 405 launch at the NEC in 87, and I was hooked.

I started work in 1988 in the corporate world as a chippie and I also worked in theatre on tour, as an ASM/actor for Bill Kenwright from 89, my apprenticeship to the industry of production and shows was on the way. Theatre is definitely where the skill base started for me and familiar terminology as well as methods of working were used in the corporate world. As projects got bigger, rigging and engineering from other industries like rock and roll came to their fore so I was learning skills from jobs that I had no idea existed.

Our industry relied on people bringing in friends rather than official training programmes and as most creative people were in the theatre or rock and roll, the exodus to the corporate world began. Without friends helping most of us along, I would imagine most of us wouldn’t be in the industry.

I have worked with and met some inspiring people and I have learned good and bad habits from all of them. I learnt tenacity and stamina from Harvey White and Geoff Kitto, who tirelessly sought engineering methods to resolve corporate solutions on theatre budgets. The original team at Stage One in Shipley, Simon Whitaker, Simon Wood and legions of their chippies who despite my zero skills in carpentry when I started, recognised I could go all day and night and maintain positive vibes and humour. John Ship and Jon Swain, theatre company managers who trained me into a competent DSM which helped in corporate shows for working long stints at the NEC on car launches for operating revolves on shows etc. A massive shout out to Richard McCabe who I worked for, for two years, when I helped guide his business and he helped guide me at work with new tech skills and in life with support and lovely dinners. Corporate clients who maintained humour alongside hard work, like Charles Speakman, Steve Webb, Phil Watton, Jason Worsley, Olly Olsen, Paddy Mirams, Ashley Burns, Andrew Mossop, Nick Woodward Shaw, Adi Cooke Radmore and many others.

It’s always been the people and the fun I have had along the road that has kept me in the business. The rewards are high when you have plugged away long enough, but the friendships made, are the real legacy. I was fortunate to bump into Mick Knott, my soon to be business partner, on the huge Corsa launch in Barcelona, I was messing something up and he corrected me in the style I was soon to get used to, “What are you doing, dick?”. He is without doubt the best chippie I have ever come across and he taught me an enormous amount as we veered off to set up our first business and set company together.

I have a lot to thank many freelance chippies for who I worked alongside, who showed me which tools were what, when I turned up on my first get out with a yankee screwdriver and then saw my first 7.2v Makita and I saw what was expected of me. People like Pete and his late brother Dave Hackett, Simon Holley, the late Alan Parsons, Harry Hague, Craig Noble, Ritchie Rossette among many others, who all took me along and showed me the way.

People can come and go from companies but the legacy of meeting and working with these people stays. I think it’s that bond that has created all the industry specific supportive Facebook groups during Covid Lockdowns, that also got 280K plus signatures on a petition to government for the touring industry, that participates in sending best wishes to colleagues families who have died or colleagues that have rallied post Covid, to success, and that like or comment on LinkedIn, (hint, hint).

It’s of course friendship that gets us through many things in normal life, but bumping into someone on a job and imbibing a few too many in the evening, sharing a meal, talking about past mis-adventures on jobs over the 30 years of knowing them, that cements your relationship until the next time, three years down the road, when you bump into them again. Romanticised? maybe, but hey, it keeps me warm and fuzzy and right now a lot of us need that.

Event industry training courses are available now and some are based on practical experience but I wonder if they get the same overall experience of learning and making the mistakes on the job as many of us have. The upside, is that once trained they will be more use than many of us were when we started being taken along by a mate to help on a get out, without a clue as to what was going on.

So with the new training courses that are available and with individuals like Di Favell who teaches corporate show calling, I hope the industry will continue to evolve and bring on new talent. The challenge of last year of going virtual and at such speed, the new challenges of sustainable events and accountability for waste, shows that we are all capable of learning new tricks and if we all support each other as we do it, the industry will be in good shape post Covid.

If our Event experience has told us anything, we have effed up bigger opportunities than this before!!

Photo: Richard Penhaligon

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