There is no doubt that you have heard of Lizzo – the artist known for body positivity and female empowerment.
Lizzo’s 2019 Cuz I Love You Too tour was nothing short of spectacular. With skills that include belting out ballads, rapping, twerking, and playing the flute, there was a lot going on in terms of production.
Does what happens on tour, stay on tour? Not in this case.
Tour Lighting Director Danielle Edwards and Monitor Engineer Loreen Bohannon spoke during InfoComm 2020 Connected to give us the lowdown on some of the technical challenges they faced.
With just 48 hours of notice, Danielle Edwards joined the Lizzo crew two weeks into the Cuz I Love You tour. Danielle gave us a glimpse into what it was like joining the team, “The design changed a lot, even in rehearsals, and then three or four weeks into the tour, things were changing. It is an ever-changing process and adaptability and scalability are key. If you are building your rig, make sure it is scalable.”
What’s Danielle’s advice on managing the vision versus reality? “A lot of the time, creatives have a vision of what you want the show to look like but you need to keep in mind what works on tour, what staffing do you have, and think about the small details as well as the big picture because that will help you think about what it will look like in reality.”
It’s inevitable with live events that things will go wrong. Some of the challenges Danielle spoke about included running a glaciator on stage for 90 mins to create an ambience, “The glaciator created condensation and film, so we had dancers slipping and we had to figure out how to manage the condensation. There are always challenges of keeping the show’s integrity from venue to venue.”
Loreen was part of the Lizzo team from the very beginning and had an evolving role from front of house, then audio, to monitor engineer. “For me my role was to be a security blanket for Lizzo and provide consistency on stage and allow her to express herself freely ... and deal with the unique problems which come with miking up Lizzo.”
We asked Loreen to expand on some of those problems, “Lizzo sweats a lot and as the shows got bigger and longer, this became a challenge. When we got to the 75-minute shows, by the end of one rehearsal, she fully cooked my in-ear pack.”
And the creative solution to this problem? “I created my own bag system, by wrapping the packs in condoms, which I would have to craft every night to protect the bag from sweat.”
Loreen gave her view of how technology has changed in the last few years, “We are seeing digital scale and automation, which we haven’t seen before. We are starting to get into automation and 3D in audio. There has been a lot to keep up with in the last few years as a sound engineer. I am as much an IT engineer as I am a sound engineer.”
Danielle and Loreen both stressed the importance of supporting each other and communicating effectively when working on a live production.
Loreen said, “The biggest learning for me from the tour is how crucial a cohesive and communicative team is. The tour was brutal and if we didn’t have each other’s backs, then the tour wouldn’t have continued.”
Danielle added, “It is easy to get caught up in your own world and what is important to you but at the end of the day, we are all in it together. As much as I want to look out for lighting, I have to look out for what’s best for the artist and what’s going to give them the best show and sometimes that gets lost when you just want to do best for your department. We are working for a bigger picture and not our own individual purposes.”
Did having a majority-female crew make a difference? Loreen was delighted to be able to have the support from other females, “To be on tour with all women and for them to support you was cool. They were so empowering, they would raise you up and make you feel amazing. It was wonderful to be in that type of environment.”
Danielle enjoyed being on the road with other women: “There is definitely a place for men on the road, but a girl can empower you in a way that a man can’t. Seeing other women in roles of authority and power was nice to see as a woman.”
The audience asked about how to tackle sexism in the industry. Loreen replied, “One of the things I have started to tell people and that I have started to do myself is … talking to my male friends and allies. Speak up and hold each other accountable for actions.”
Danielle and Loreen also shared advice for new talent trying to get their foot into the live event production world.
Danielle advised, “If you know what you are doing, don’t let anyone – male or female – make you feel like you don’t know what you are doing. Walk in your confidence, do your job and do it well.”
Having been in the industry since she was 16 years old, Loreen has seen some challenges along the way. Her main advice was, “Don’t give up. Don’t take no for an answer. If someone says no, then go somewhere else. Man, woman, whoever you are, you are human and there is a certain way you should be treated, and anything less should not be accepted.”
Loreen also spoke about the industry dynamics changing after the pandemic, “We are seeing an age right now where there is a lot of change coming in our industry, so things are going to be a lot different. When things come back, access to jobs and what people are looking for are going to change and so now is the time to really be confident in yourself because that is what people will be looking for.”
Danielle suggested, “Put yourself in a position where you can learn and meet people, whether it’s at a theatre, house of worship, or a club. Be confident and take opportunities to learn. Educate yourself for sure and learn all that you can learn.”
Finally, Loreen said, “Don’t be afraid to take a risk. If it is uncomfortable you do something, it means that you are growing, so definitely do it.”
Watch the full session: Cuz I Love You Too Tour