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[PODCAST EP09] A Holistic Approach to Managing the Stage with Jon Allen

JAllen
JAllen

In this episode of The Production Channel, Stephen Bowles and Clem Harrod discuss deep thoughts and live event philosophy with stage manager, technical director, and owner of Technical Designs, Jon Allen. Jon is a 39-year veteran of the live show industry with a varied background in theater, concert touring and corporate shows. Jon has longtime experience being both onstage and backstage. He started off in show business as a 10-year-old community theater actor, and as the years progressed, he also found interest in technical roles including stage lighting, rigging, and camera work.

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As a show caller, leading a production crew has its challenges, and Jon says taking the time to connect with people makes a big difference, especially in their response to you as a leader. He says, “You affect people in many, many more ways than just what we’re dealing with to get that cue done…you get more than you ever give if you sit and talk with people, and it took me a really long time to learn that.” Jon said he’s wired to adopt best practices, and “because of the best practices philosophy, I’m always listening to people who do stuff better than I do…if it’s slightly more effective, if it’s slightly better, if it’s slightly kinder, whatever it is. You can figure out a way that’s slightly better, and that’s best practices, man.”

Stop to listen in as Jon Allen tells Stephen and Clem about his holistic views on production life, the importance of downtime for his hobbies and his teenage daughter, and how the satisfaction of teaching his craft to new production professionals contributes to having the best job in the world.

Full Podcast Transcript

Stephen Bowles:
Hey everybody. Welcome again to the Production Channel. This is the place where we get to talk with everyone in the industry. Lighting, audio, video, show callers, and everything. Just really excited about today, but before I get into that, Clem, welcome. My boy.

Clem Harrod:
Yo yo yo. Greetings, man.

Stephen Bowles:
How you doing, dude? You’ve been shouting a lot? What you been doing?

Clem Harrod:
Man, I’ve just been … I just came from a show. Home for a while. That work-life balance. I’ve been home for about a week,
week and a half.

Stephen Bowles:
Nice.

Clem Harrod:
Just getting back into daddy mode, preparing for another show, and just go back out to AV camp, and do it all over again.

Stephen Bowles:
That’s cool, man. Again, I’m really excited about today. It’s all about show callers, but real quick, before we get into that, Clem, for anyone who’s new to the Production Channel, or who’s going, “What in the world is this?” Give our friends a background on what it is we’re doing here.

Clem Harrod:
Hopefully they’ve been listening.

Stephen Bowles:
That’s right.

Clem Harrod:
We’ve [inaudible 00:01:08] episodes out. For all the new listeners, Production Channel is an opportunity for us as technicians, as people in the industry … Maybe [inaudible 00:01:19]. Even somebody outside of the industry. Maybe a spouse, a friend, a partner, who just wants to understand more about our lifestyles on the road with our road family, our friends. The experiences that we had. How we got into this business. Where we want to go with our careers. Where we want the industry to go. All those are types of things that we’re going to just dive into with this series, this podcast series of the Production Channel.

Stephen Bowles:
That’s it, man. Honestly, we try to frame and format this thing in a way where it’s something you can listen to on a travel day, right?

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Stephen Bowles:
When you’re sitting there on your Delta flight, with your status, and you got your upgrade. You’re super excited, you’re
three Jack and Cokes in.

Clem Harrod:
You’re delayed at an airport.

Stephen Bowles:
[inaudible 00:02:02]. You’re delayed, or literally the most worst opposites of that, yes. Either way, there’s a place for Production Channel. Cool. Let’s get into today. Today, I’m joined by Jon Allen. Welcome, Jon.

Jon Allen:
Morning, gents. Good morning.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Stephen Bowles:
A little background on Jon, Jon is really a professional show director and caller. Also technical director, owner of Technical Designs. The cool thing about Jon is his background is really ranges from theater to concerts, and really now is a leader in the corporate events and show directing space. Anyways, that said, I just want to say again, welcome Jon. Jon’s a good friend of Shoflos. We’ve even been working with him over the last couple months in here, just in figuring out the best way to bring change into the industry. Just after experiencing some time with Jon, knowing that’s a real passion for him, that just really made sense to get him on today’s call. Again, welcome Jon. I guess to kick us off, dude, as we like to ask everybody, how in the heck did you get to where you are? You’re at the front of house calling massive, massive shows and stadiums and in massive ballrooms. How in the world did you get there? Where did you get started?

Jon Allen:
Yeah, this podcast is such good timing because just yesterday, the director of the little community theater … I was 10 years old in northern California when I started acting, and I kept in touch with this cat, Cliff [Byer 00:03:40], and he came over yesterday to my house, and met my kid. He’s 70 years old now and it really gave us a chance to talk about how
theater and that beginning has run like a thread through our lives for sure. Yeah, I started acting when I was a little kid and then started doing lighting. Man, building little [inaudible 00:04:04] and stuff, and doing-

Stephen Bowles:
That’s cool.

Jon Allen:
Punk bands around the Bay Area, and doing the high school theater scene. I was still performing and doing lights. Doing all of the technical stuff. Then I went away to college thinking I was going to step away and doing other things. I was going to teach actually, but I ended up connecting back with Arden Fingerhut, who’s an old school lighting designer. Broadway, that some people will remember. She was amazing. She showed me everything that I didn’t know and started putting me on a path towards a more holistic way of thinking about design. Then I started doing rock and roll and rigging. I was a climber growing up. Rigging seemed like a great way to make good money, not work too hard, and see the world. I toured doing that. Then slid into corporate, man. I wish I could even tell you how that happened. I don’t know.

Stephen Bowles:
I don’t know how you go from punk to corporate. That one’s a pretty good jump.

Jon Allen:
Only in America. Only in America.

Stephen Bowles:
That’s right. Did you have long hair when you were in the punk rock scene?

Jon Allen:
Man, after high school, yeah. I had hair down to my waist. It was crazy. Not so much-

Stephen Bowles:
[crosstalk 00:05:23].

Jon Allen:
I will send those pictures around for good money. Yeah. Clem and Stephen know me. Right now, there’s no hair.

Clem Harrod:
No hair.

Stephen Bowles:
No. Yeah.

Jon Allen:
Yeah. That was the thing, man. Corporate makes a lot of sense for people. Especially for freelancers. Like Clem mentioned a thing which really resonated with me. Coming back and getting off the road, and switching over to daddy time, I do the same thing. Single dad. I’ve got a 15-year-old daughter. That flexibility that we have with our schedule, on the surface of it, a lot of people look at us and think that you travel all the time and it must be really hard, and it is. It is, but there’s also upsides to it because when you’re home, you’re home 24/7, 100% attention on your kids. It can make a … It’s a different style of parenting, but it can make for a really sweet experience too I think. I don’t think it’s something to shy away from. I know guys that hit our income level in the so-called real world, and they see their kids after seven o’clock at night after dinner for an hour, hour and a half.

Stephen Bowles:
Right.

Jon Allen:
They might see them for one day on the weekend. It’s all really rush, rush, rush. They’re always distracted because their job is encroaching constantly. For me, personally, whether I was wired this way to begin with or whether being in the business for, shoot … Dude, it’s 39 years now.

Stephen Bowles:
Wow.

Clem Harrod:
Wow.

Jon Allen:
Pushed me this way. I don’t know which came first, but for me, even with all the self doubts that you have as a parent, it works pretty well.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. I know one thing, one of the struggles that I’ve had, coming out of college and finding my way into sports broadcasting, I was a camera operator for the Magic, Orlando Magic, for 15 seasons.

Stephen Bowles:
Orlando Magic.

Clem Harrod:
Yes.

Stephen Bowles:
I was here last night, watched them.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. Then found my way into this industry and that grind and that run and go chase that dollar, and all that, and it consumed me. It finally took my wife and the family’s dynamic and all of that for me to realize that you’re focusing on the wrong things. You’re missing what’s important out of life, chasing that dollar or chasing the mindset of “I have to work now because I don’t know if I’m going to have … When the next gig is going to come in.” I’ve been fortunate enough and blessed to have those gigs always come in, but I’m still chasing.

Jon Allen:
Absolutely, man.

Clem Harrod:
I know you-

Jon Allen:
[crosstalk 00:08:07], right?

Clem Harrod:
Yeah, it doesn’t. It doesn’t, but I’m trying to change my mindset, and what made me think about all of that is how you were talking about the family time, but then you also talking about somebody that taught you the holistic point of view. The
holistic point of view of lighting, but what about the holistic point of view of the industry?

Jon Allen:
No, I agree man. It’s funny because I think Stephen has seen this, but I had this list going of … I don’t know, it’s probably 25 ways to be a better show caller, right? I’ve used when I’m talking to people getting into the business and I’ve passed it around amongst friends. There’s some funny stuff in there, but there’s some … I kicked it to a producer last week on a gig, and what he wrote back was “Wow, that’s a really holistic view of what we do.” Right. I hadn’t really thought about it that way before, but it’s true. You affect people in many, many more ways than just what we’re dealing with to get that cue done.
As we’ve seen in the last month, I know of two cats in our industry who unfortunately decided to take their lives. There’s probably more out there that I haven’t heard of, but two people that I knew. It happens in our business and I think it’s worth taking a second and just remembering that even if you’re just touching somebody on a headset, just seeing them on a show, just seeing them backstage for a second, maybe you get to catch a meal, although that’s pretty rare for me to be able to do, but maybe you can sit and talk. I like to get deep fast with people.

Clem Harrod:
I get that.

Jon Allen:
It’s worthwhile, man. You get more than you ever give if you sit and talk with people, and it took me a really long time to learn that, man. I was an awkward, shy kid growing up, and when I got in the business, I was hyperfocused in what I was doing because I wanted to be really good at it. It probably delayed my development as a person. Moved my development in the business, but it delayed my development as a whole person longer than it should’ve. That’s part of what I try to teach people that are coming up. They don’t have to focus, like you were saying. You don’t have to focus so much on chasing a dollar.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
We’re fortunate though. We’re fortunate because-

Clem Harrod:
Right.

Jon Allen:
We got the opportunities and we’re making money, and that’s not true for a lot of people.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. We’ve put our time in and we’ve allowed ourselves to … I feel like if you’re true to yourself, if you’re a good person, that will shine out. If you care about what you want to do and be good at what you want to do, then the
opportunities, the work will come. The opportunities will come. Now from a show point of view, as a caller, as a stage manager, how do … Obviously you know they get stressful. The environment get stressful. The producers-

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah.

Clem Harrod:
Maybe not the producers, but sometimes yeah. Producers too. They get on edge. The client, they get on edge. How do you stop that stress from coming down to the rest of the people on headset?

Jon Allen:
Yeah. That’s important to me. I think of it like an hourglass, right?

Clem Harrod:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon Allen:
I’m the neck of the hourglass. All sorts of craziness can be happening upstream of me. My job is to make sure that it doesn’t affect the crew’s functioning. Not only their personal reactions, but also selfishly I want the show to go well. I want a guy to execute. I want 100%, 110% effort from everybody. The right way to get that isn’t by berating people. It’s not by overreacting. It’s not by passing along stress. It’s by making sure the crew knows that you’ve got their back and that you’re going to set them up for success. You’re going to give them the information they need. They’re never going to wonder what they’re about to do. When the situations get crazy and stuff fails, then you have a path out. Right? You are not looking to them to solve this for you. That’s really important to me. I don’t have these clients anymore, but I’ve had clients who prefer a different style of management. Who don’t feel like a stage manager’s doing their job unless they’re yelling at the crew constantly. That they’ve got to squeeze the crew. The creative director’s like that.
There’s a big creative director, I won’t mention his name. Stephen’s heard me complain about him before. He’s known
far and wide as a stereotypical horrible, throw stuff, berate people, [inaudible 00:13:00] kind of a guy, and he and I have had conversations about this management style, and I just … Not only do I not believe it’s effective. I also cannot live in that world. I won’t contribute to that world. Yeah, I use a lot of humor. I tend to swear a lot on headset.

Stephen Bowles:
You do. You’re doing very good right now, Jon. You’re doing very good.

Jon Allen:
Thank you. I’m really trying hard.

Stephen Bowles:
Get a cookie. You get a BFC.

Jon Allen:
Yeah. We try to keep it casual until it’s not, right?

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
As long as things are flowing, I don’t require a sterile intercom environment. It’s certainly not crazy, but who are we to pretend that this isn’t our lives, right.

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
We’re on headset. That’s it. It’s 12 hours a day.

Stephen Bowles:
I think Jon was … The interesting thing with your role and your responsibility, particularly … Again folks, [inaudible 00:13:57] show caller, but we’re all … Actually, even as a technical director, but still keeping on show caller, you are the bottleneck between the chaos above production and your show crew, and the crew in terms of when we’re on headset and we’re in rehearsals, we’re all listening to you. You are the beat, right. The drum beat, right there for the entire thing. If you respond to that pressure above you, and let it affect you, we feel that.

Jon Allen:
Yeah.

Stephen Bowles:

We hear that, because literally we’ve got you in our ears. I don’t think that a lot of people outside of our industry even really understand that. I find it … It’s a cool thing when I walk into even an arena … Maybe it’s a big show, it’s a big conference, whatever it is, and maybe you’re in walk-in, and I’m sitting there thinking what I hear right now as a member in the audience or whatever, is one thing, but there’s this second universe of conversation going on, right? It’s almost like you could play off of the spiritual [inaudible 00:15:04].

Jon Allen:
Right.

Stephen Bowles:
There’s this entire other public channel of conversation going on that someone is either working out logistics or they’re bashing somebody on the stand, or whatever it is-

Clem Harrod:
I want to be on it. I want to know what’s going on.

Stephen Bowles:
Right.

Jon Allen:
Yeah, I’m a horrible [inaudible 00:15:21], man.

Stephen Bowles:
I know. I think that’s a cool thing and the idea that it’s likely 80%, if not more, one person’s voice in 36 people’s ears, or even more. If that role falls on you, it’s just not a small thing. If you didn’t realize that, you have a lot of pressure. Side note [inaudible 00:15:43]. Then I guess just more how much have you thought about that in terms of … For me, and I’m sure Clem can relate to this, as a video director, I can sense when you have control and when you don’t.

Jon Allen:
Yeah.

Clem Harrod:
Your focus if you’re not.

Stephen Bowles:
I can feel that and I hear that. Yeah.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.


Stephen Bowles:

I can also tell when you’re taking care of us and when you’re taking care of yourself.

Jon Allen:
That’s right. No, it’s=

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah, talk to us about that. What goes through your head on all that?

Jon Allen:
It’s a huge responsibility, man. I’m wired to think about best practices in everything that I do. All my weird hobbies and all the stuff in my normal life, and certainly at work, right? I think about best practices and I’m not going to say I’m 100% all the time. Of course not. I fail always, and you have to have compassion for yourself, number one, which also you have to have compassion for other people failing and knowing … You have to trust that everybody wants to do a good job. That’s the most important thing that I feel like. In those few times, right, we’ve all run into it, when you really run across somebody who is way in over their heads and won’t admit it, won’t ask for help, or is just massively … It’s just one of those personalities that is not going to be able to perform, then you have to have enough production chops to figure out when you’re going to let somebody go and replace them.

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
The number one thing is the show’s got to happen. Right? While you want to be as kind as possible in our processes, you can never let that take over. I was laughing, I have a good friend who’s a lighting designer, and used to tease me. He’s like, “Hey man, you’re like Jekyll and Hyde here. You’re really cool and then suddenly something snaps.” My kid is super funny. She’ll say to her friends, she’s like, “Yeah, my dad’s cool until he’s not.” Initially, the first time I heard it, I was bugged by it, but then I realized that that’s actually … I actually believe in that. I should be really cool in the production process, and then when someone isn’t giving me what I need, isn’t cool to me back, isn’t performing, I don’t understand why I should continue to be cool about it.

Stephen Bowles:
Right.

Jon Allen:
You should get what you give in this world. I want to always give the best I can, and I hope that other people can. I don’t necessarily always expect it, but I hope it happens. That feedback loop of reinforcement is just a really sweet thing, man, when it happens. The great thing about our business is it’s all in the service of telling a story, right. That’s how I talk about [call in 00:18:36] shows. We’re telling a story for the audience. That’s what’s so beautiful when we can craft a moment and it’s … Right, it’s me grasping at existential straws because let’s face it, for a lot of what we do, there’s not a lot of story there. There’s the client’s story that we’re telling, but we’re not crafting high art with what we do, but we can craft a moment within a long day of grind that we can all feel good about, right. When that-

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
When that music dies and the lights drop out, and when you just take this little moment where you feel that breath intake [inaudible 00:19:16], and then you drop into that opening video, and you feel that volume kick, and you watch the audience lean forward, that’s really the sweet moments that are still out there to be taken, if you’re willing to concentrate on the details.

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
That’s what’s [crosstalk 00:19:34].

Clem Harrod:
I’ve got to say something. As you’re describing this, because you and I worked together on a Microsoft show at the Orlando Convention Center, Orange County Convention Center-

Jon Allen:

Yeah.

Clem Harrod:
We were in a round. The stage is in the middle and we were in the round, and then there was a screen, a perforated …

Jon Allen:
Yeah, a little drop down scrim.

Clem Harrod:
I really don’t want to call it a screen. Yeah, a scrim. There you go. There were people dancing inside, and Microsoft was telling the story of their history on the video in the middle, and then the screen … They used the round to support that. Now as a projectionist, and Stephen, you’ll understand this a little bit too, but as a projectionist, I give so much in trying to … I tell my story through the screens. Everybody sees the screens. I want my screens to be perfect. Converge perfectly, colors to match perfectly all the way across because I understand, this is what people are going to see. Now, I give so much into that, but then I have to go backstage and I miss the opening number. You’re describing that opening moment, right? Fortunately for that show, I didn’t have a true position during the show. I was actually able to see the opening number, and I saw how beautiful and impactful it was, but there’s so many times that people backstage don’t see that. They get lost … Not lost, but they don’t have the opportunity to feel what you just described. It’s different.

Jon Allen:
Yeah, they don’t get the payoff.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
Yeah. No, because they’re all … The payoff only happens when everybody backstage is so focused on their piece of it. That’s what I … I grew up doing all those positions, right. I was graphics at TVL for god’s sake. I was camera, camera director, audio, lighting. I think that it makes me a much better show caller than I would ever be otherwise. I’m not saying it’s the only path towards being a good show director, but for me, it helps me to know … I can’t keep up obviously with all the latest technology, but it helps me to know what other people are going through so that I can guide the process more effectively. I feel like what you’re saying, everybody’s got to be focused on their thing, but the sweet spot for me, what I love about it is if I’ve got the right crew, I don’t have to worry about any of that. I literally say words and crazy shit happens. It’s the best job in the world. It’s-

Stephen Bowles:
How very genesis of you. He spoke and-

Clem Harrod:
I only did it in four days. [inaudible 00:22:21] did it in four days.

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah. Jon …

Jon Allen:
Man, can I tell you a really fast story about that? It’s-

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
I was doing a really heavy show and for some goofy reason, they put the translation booths on the same level as control. I was up about 15 feet. Right behind me, right. All these glass windows and they’re not far behind me. I’ve got maybe five feet of space. I have a really horrible tendency on big shows for big moments to stand and wave my arms around, right. I look really stupid, but I conduct [shit 00:22:56].

Stephen Bowles:
Nice.

Jon Allen:
These little ladies in the translation booth were coming out at the first break and they were laughing. We’re talking, and they’re like, “It’s so funny because you point at a screen and the screen changes. It’s amazing.” Then they start giving me a hard time because I dance a little bit as I’m calling the shows, right, when there’s heavy music going on. “Can you guys just not look up anymore? I don’t want to be a [inaudible 00:23:26] anymore.” It’s bad, bad news. Yeah, that’s how it feels.

Stephen Bowles:
That’s awesome.

Jon Allen:
Yeah.

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
It’s really cool.

Clem Harrod:
That sounds cool. It sounds beautiful. There’s been moments, there’s been opening numbers where I’ve been able to be a part of it. People who know me, I’m an emotional guy, okay. I have no problem admitting it. Yes-

Jon Allen:
Yeah.

Clem Harrod:
I’m 6’7″. I’m tall, I’m black. I’ve got the bald head, and yes, you may find me in the corner shedding a tear because it’s so beautiful.

Jon Allen:
That’s good stuff, brother. That’s good stuff.

Stephen Bowles:
You know it’s interesting is I think that being a live video director for particularly corporate events for so long, I’m always backstage. Honestly the bigger the show, even the further away I am from it, I mean the bigger the show, I’m either in the tunnel in the MGM Grand somewhere or whatever. Very far removed. I’ve thought about this and I’ve talked with people about this before, I think that there’s benefit. There’s a pro and a con to that. The pro is I have a clear disconnect from the actual largeness of what it feels like to be in the room during big moments. For example, I do these really, really big shows, which [inaudible 00:24:45] designed. I’ve been doing them for years. They do these IBM shows and it’s all about the big opener.
We’ll rehearse it for three days straight and it’s necessary because they’re beautiful openings, but at the end of the day for me,
the difference between a rehearsal and the show is very different in terms of personal pressure backstage because I’ve just been experiencing the entire thing through a four-inch virtual window video tile on a multiview that I’m looking at. My sense of that room being filled with 16,000 people this time versus last time, I don’t get it because I’m so removed from it.

Jon Allen:
I never thought about that. Yeah man. That-

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah. I think it plays to my advantage, but it also … Anyone who knows why I … One of the big reasons I even have chosen a different route with this industry moving into more of this vendor provider with Shoflo is because I got burnt out of it and it’s because I didn’t care. My passion wasn’t there. It’s not because I didn’t care. I loved what I did, but it was just more of I didn’t feel close to my work. It was an art, and people like Jon Allen and other show callers, you guys want live video directors, that way when you call, I nag. You don’t have to call-

Jon Allen:
Yeah.

Stephen Bowles:
Every individual cut inside of that call.

Jon Allen:
No.

Stephen Bowles:
You call, I nag, and what you’re really saying is “Stevie, do your thing.”

Jon Allen:
No, I’m … Yeah. I’m your assistant director. I’ll remind you-

Stephen Bowles:
Right.

Jon Allen:
Where people are coming from and what’s coming up, if you haven’t had a chance to make notes-

Stephen Bowles:
Right.

Jon Allen:
Yeah, I need you. Absolutely.

Stephen Bowles:
I think that I measured as an art for me, but I guess all that to say when I did … I did some touring with some bands and I got to go out with [Allen G.’s 00:26:33] tour with [inaudible 00:26:35] train. For those shows, I’m calling cameras and it’s all in shed
tour, right. It’s all amphitheaters. I’m on the stage.

Jon Allen:
Right.

Stephen Bowles:
With my video switching console or whatever. For me, right there, I just looked to my right and I see 16,000 people. As you got more into the night and the lights are going on. There are these moments where if I took a live shot of the audience, I could turn to the right and feel the audience light up with energy and excitement. Then as I take it away, I could see them long for more.

Jon Allen:
Right.

Stephen Bowles:
There’s something to be said about your role there, Jon, being out in the driver seat that is a special thing that I don’t think most people get to see honestly. It’s usually just the show caller, the producer, the A1 and the LD. You guys are the only ones-

Jon Allen:
No man.

Stephen Bowles:
Experience that.

Jon Allen:
You just gave me another reason to be grateful. Thanks, dude. Appreciate it.

Clem Harrod:
Now speaking of being grateful, art and shining light on something, and lighting joy, what outside of work gives you that? What do you look forward to going home to?

Jon Allen:
Shit man. Me? Honestly, it’s my kid. She’s rad.

Stephen Bowles:
That’s cool.

Jon Allen:
You ever end up on headset, people have to suffer through … I try to be cool about it because I know how boring it can get to listen to people talk about their kid, but yeah. My kid … It’s just been she and I for the most part, with some other personalities thrown in over the years, but I’ve been divorced from her mom for a long time. My kid and I are close. I always … She’s 15 and I always figure this [inaudible 00:28:26] before bedtime, this will be the last time. I’m always grateful for the next one, but yeah. I get to hang with a pretty cool … She’s a classical violinist, she writes and performs slam poetry.

Clem Harrod:
Nice.

Jon Allen:
Dye her hair a different color every month. Just teaching her how to drive right now an old manual Land Rover.

Clem Harrod:
Nice.

Jon Allen:
Yeah. She’s cool. The other thing is you can’t focus … Your kid has to have room, right? Your kid has to have room to breathe.

Clem Harrod:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Stephen Bowles:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon Allen:
I come home and I’ve been a pilot for a long, long time. I try to get out flying-

Stephen Bowles:
I love that. That’s so cool-

Clem Harrod:
Wait, a pilot. You said a pilot?

Jon Allen:
Yeah man.

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah.

Clem Harrod:
Wow.

Jon Allen:
Yeah. I’ve been a pilot for 20 years, but I just started gliding too, which you guys actually down there has this amazing glider port about 30 minutes away from Orlando.
Stephen Bowles: Wow.

Jon Allen:
That I’m going to check out this winter. I went and looked on that Microsoft show when we had that early day. I went and checked it out, and it was pretty cool. There’s a lot of … I have a lot of weird hobbies like that. I work on vehicles. I’ve got an old motorcycle. I just started learning how to fly fish. I keep my days pretty busy.

Clem Harrod:
That’s pretty cool.

Stephen Bowles:
Wow.

Jon Allen:
Yeah, but I also work … My shift in the last two years has been to really work half time when I do work. Do a week on week off when I can arrange it that way, and I take the summers off, and I do one show a month in the summers when Liz is out of school. Then I tend to take most of December off. It’s pretty easy because their business is a little bit slow. I might have rehearsals for CES or something, or for something in January. That’s the [inaudible 00:30:27] and I keep my hand in doing other stuff, and still TD-ing, and drawing shows because I like to be able to make a little change when I’m not on the road.

Clem Harrod:
Right.

Jon Allen:
It’s going to be nice. Yeah.

Clem Harrod:
Now you mentioned something before we started recording about an opportunity that you had to teach.

Jon Allen:
Yeah.

Clem Harrod:
How do you take that passion that you have and place it on somebody else’s heart?

Jon Allen:
That’s a load, brother.

Clem Harrod:
Hey man, you said you like to get deep, man. Come on.

Stephen Bowles:
[crosstalk 00:31:02] deep.

Jon Allen:
That’s right.

Clem Harrod:
I’m about to let it flow right here, man.

Jon Allen:
I tell you, I’ve always taught one way or the other. Whether it was an activity, a sport, climbing, or sailing. I’ve always taught here and there, and because of the best practices philosophy, I’m always listening to people who do stuff better than I do, or do stuff differently than I do, and making sure that I integrate that into what I’m doing, right, because-

Clem Harrod:
Explain the best practices for people who don’t know. Explain that.

Jon Allen:
In any given situation, people often say, “There’s a …” I don’t like to say that skin the cat thing because that’s cruel, but there’s 100 ways to do something, you know what I mean? People say that, and while I believe in everybody’s right to do everything the way they want to do it, and everybody’s got a different style, I think that there’s a … Certainly for production, and this is true of my flying, true in sailing to a certain extent, there’s a … Once you know a lot about something and can consider everything, once you have data, you can figure out the best path … I wish you guys could see me right now because my hands are going crazy. You can figure out the right way, a way that’s … Even if it’s slightly more effective, if it’s slightly better, if it’s slightly kinder, whatever it is. You can figure out a way that’s slightly better and that’s best practices, man. You can do things in a way, once you think about it. You don’t have to give into the way you’ve always done something or the way you’ve always heard it be done.
For instance, really stupid things with show calling, when I do warnings, when I do setups for something, I always end on an up note, right. [inaudible 00:33:08] 121, audio two, and switch 13. I wait there, I sit there.

Clem Harrod:
I heard that. Yes.

Jon Allen:
Everybody listens. Then you take that pause and nobody’s going to do anything else until you say go.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
Little tiny things, even with paperwork, I believe firmly that there is … That’s why I got so involved with Shoflo and Stephen and Brian and you guys, because I love the flexibility with your system because I can arrange it in a way that lets everybody make it be their best practices. Let’s them see their data in the right way for them, and that I think is really helpful because we live in such a data-dense production world. For me, best practices is about that. You were talking about the teaching thing. What was crazy last week is I ended up on a show where … You talk about big shows. I’m happy to do small shows. I don’t … I’m past that ego deal where you want to only do the biggest, best, blah blah blah. I’ve done most of that. Somebody wants to call me up to do the Olympics, maybe if it’s not in Rio, but somewhere else, [inaudible 00:34:20], of course.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
For most of what we do, big of small, I actually charge the same. It doesn’t really matter to me at the end of the day.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. Right.

Jon Allen:
It’s more fun to have some meat on the bone, I get it, but I don’t like being bored. I took this gig last week and in my head, it was this is a show that’s going in the college fund, right. Work is called work for a reason. Nobody’s going to pay me to stay at home. I’m going to take this gig. It was with a brand new crew of people that I really didn’t know many people on at all. I knew a few. I was doing a 4,000-person offshoot broadcast. We’d throw a back and forth. We had some hosts on our stage, but we were really not doing a ton. During the day when I was listening in remotely on the general session rehearsals, so I knew what was going to be happening for the next day, my room turned into a breakout room, right. We had another … One of my deck managers decided that she was cool calling the breakouts and all for it. She didn’t have a lot of experience.
What I got to do, which was so amazing, is two things happened last week that were beautiful. One is I got to listen to another person do what I do for a heavy show. I’m listening in to that caller, work with that crew. I’m on an [inaudible 00:35:43] them. We can bullshit around and talk about what’s happening, and make sure everything is cool between us, but I’m also hearing all of his stuff go down, with producer upstream and the crew downstream. I can feel him. It’s very rare that we get to do that-

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
In our business. I don’t often get to hang with other show callers. I’m not often on-

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
Shows with-

Stephen Bowles:
That’s right.

Jon Allen:
[crosstalk 00:36:03]. To be so intimate with them in a way that … He’s heard me call other shows in the past and I hear things he says that are exactly how I say it, and vice versa. You know what I mean?

Clem Harrod:
Mm-hmm (affirmative).

Jon Allen:
That’s a really nice synergy. That was really cool for me and I made sure to acknowledge it in the moment. To say something to him about it, and to say something to myself about being grateful because I went into the show thinking it’s going to be a crappy week.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
I’m in it for the money, but now, I get this thing. Then it helps reset you, right?

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
Then I have this woman who’s going to call the breakouts, and I’m able to guide her through making her cue [inaudible 00:36:50]. I’m able to listen to her call rehearsals and give her feedback about things that are not working, things that are working. Massage that process. Watch her take that input, watch her make changes and see her start to self-educate, right, which is what every-

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
That’s what you want with everybody. [inaudible 00:37:15] tools to self-educate. Then I watch her build on what we had talked about, and start to blossom in about two days in the A1 hit me up on iso after she had done a call, and then a quick VO, and then dumped us into the start of the show. It’s not a lot, but it’s a lot when you’ve never done it before. She had confided in me that the night before the first show, she had anxiety. Sweaty palms, was really nervous. Then we get two days later and this A1 lights me up, and he’s like, “Man, she has come a long way. Two days ago, that would not have happened. That sounded … That was perfect.” I’m like, “I know.” It’s rad to watch someone do that. It was amazing.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
We never get to … I have friends who teach stage management. There’s a lot of graduate level programs out there. My understanding is they mostly teach Broadway style theater stage management. Not really what we do, although they’ll do a seminar about what we do or a module on corporate show calling. I’m supposed to get in there and teach with her. This is at UC San Diego. I think you know Lisa Porter, Stephen.

Stephen Bowles:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
She’s awesome. She teaches a great program and she’s very holistic about all of this. I think a lot of those programs, we’re a minor … This genre of corporate stuff that we do is everything to us, but not all that other people know about it. They don’t get taught it, which is a bummer because in terms of bang for the buck, it’s definitely the best way to be a stage manager.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah.

Jon Allen:
Other than high, high level television, which is more like camera directing. You’re not going to find a lot better income out there. You’re not going to make what we make calling theater, unfortunately. In my experience. Maybe I’m wrong. Somebody can call me up and tell me I’m wrong. I think that often you teach, but you don’t get to watch somebody do it at the same time. You teach, you say, “Okay, go do your thing, and then tell me how it felt afterwards.” To really be a part of that process in the moment was a huge gift too, man. Definitely.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. As you’re saying all of that, it makes me think so much about program as series of whatever that I’ve started where … I’m a projectionist and I’ve come up with a curriculum, if you will, of teaching projection.

Jon Allen:
Nice.

Clem Harrod:
It’s called Projection 101. Just down to the basics. We’re going all the way back. I don’t want any geometry in there. We’re just talking about … Excuse me. I don’t want any … I want to say geometry. Warping. I don’t want any warping in there.

Jon Allen:
Right.

Clem Harrod:
Just basic stuff. In that, before we even get to touching the projectors, the whole first part about it, of the seminar or the workshop is about the theory of projection, and changing that mindset from going from a stage hand or going from a projectionist assist into the projectionist mindset. Understanding taking ownership of what you’re doing. Understanding the art of it. Understanding that … One thing I like to say is every pixel matters.

Jon Allen:
Yeah.

Clem Harrod:
When you’re doing that overlap, every pixel matters. Now on the other side of that, it’s also talking about for me, when I say every pixel matters, you mentioned this before, that relationship that you established with people on the crew. If you think of each person on the crew as a pixel, every single pixel matters.

Jon Allen:
That’s right man.

Clem Harrod:
What are you doing to shape that pixel, to help that pixel, to mean something? To stand out and to last, to have that long-lasting career in this industry. If it’s not meant to last, how will they transition into something else, but always remember that moment that you had with them.

Jon Allen:
Yeah.

Clem Harrod:
It’s life projection for me. It’s so much more, man.

Jon Allen:
I want to just say it’s two ways. Right? Those guys are giving something back to me too. It’s not a top-down thing. A lot of people mistake show callers as … It can come across as a very arrogant position. I want people to … The people that know me, it’s important to me that they understand that I never think of it that way. I actually think of it as I’m in service, right. I’ve told people what the expectation is. I’ve given them the tools and the time, and the feedback from front of house, deciphering what the producer wants. The client wants. I’m telling their story. It’s not my story. I’m telling somebody else’s story and I’m getting everybody on the crew to get there, but I’m just … I’m the voice of timing out front. If I abdicate that and let people be … Take their own timing. Obviously, in moments for sure.
I always say, “You don’t have to do what I say, but I’m never going to get mad at you if you do. If you’re not going to do what I say, don’t be wrong. Just be right because I’m going to get distracted with the client. I’m going to screw up. I’m a human being. I’m going to fail, but cover me. I’ll thank you publicly.” It’s really important to publicly thank someone when they bail you out. I will buy you a beer that night, whatever. I don’t expect people to do my job for me because I think that’s wrong. I’m being paid good money to do a job. To sit there and let other people take cues on their own, they don’t really know, they’re backstage, they don’t know how they’re integrated with stuff. I think that’s me screwing up the whole process, man. That’s not me being a good person for that crew. I hope when I sit down and talk to guys, I’m not out there saying, “It’s my way or the highway. I’m the only person who knows what to do. You guys just punch buttons.” It’s never like that in my head.
I can understand if may be getting interpreted that way in the heat of the moment because things have to be said, right. It’s one show, one voice. I have to decide what’s going to happen and I take that responsibility. It’s never because I think that other people can’t do it. They just aren’t being paid to do it that day. I am. That’s my hit on that.

Stephen Bowles:
That’s awesome.

Clem Harrod:
Now let’s drop.

Stephen Bowles:
No man. Yeah. Seriously, that’s [inaudible 00:44:10] just the perspective that … That’s just an example of one of the perspectives that we’re trying to get together here on this podcast. Jon, thank you man. This is huge. I really appreciate you joining us.

Jon Allen:
Thank you guys, man. It’s a pleasure to always talk to you guys. Thanks for diving a little deep with me.

Stephen Bowles:
That’s awesome. All right. For everybody else, we’re going to wrap this episode, but again, stay tuned to keep tuning in. We’re going to keep putting in different people from the industry, whether it’s broadcast, sports, camera, video, lights, audio. We’re going to bring them and we’re going to interview them and bring them to you guys. With that, Clem, I appreciate you brother. Jon, I appreciate you. We’ll catch you guys next week on Production Channel.


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