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[PODCAST EP14] The Importance of a Support System in the Live Event Industry with Kirk Garreans

kirk garreans feature 1
kirk garreans feature 1
Author: Leizl Bala

It wasn’t long ago that Kirk Garreans, owner of ALP Design & Production, spent up to 300 days on the road working corporate shows in the live event production industry. However, one day in the Fall of 2015, results of medical tests changed his whole life. Kirk was diagnosed with stage four cancer affecting his bladder, and in the past 18 months, the cancer spread to his prostate and surrounding regions. Kirk was forced to drop all his shows and concentrate on fighting the aggressive disease. In Episode 14 of The Production Channel, Clem Harrod shares a special interview with Kirk Garreans, who, despite the odds, manages to keep a positive point of view on his health, his future, and the event industry that made him who he is today.

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Kirk is a child of Christian missionaries and spent much of his upbringing living abroad in exotic locations. During a stay in Quito, Ecuador, Kirk was asked to do voice work on a radio drama series. Because of that experience, he was hooked on working in a studio and wanted to pursue a career in radio and television. In his college years, he was recruited to tour with live bands and learned the craft of lighting. He worked with great mentors that exposed him to different kinds of event equipment, which ultimately led him to working with audio/visual companies in the Chicago area. From there, he entered the corporate event world and became a trainer for the AV companies, and this further contributed to his expertise in video. When working events, he has adopted the Boy Scout motto. He says, “…Always be prepared. You’re ready for anything that could possibly happen. You prepare for the worst, and when it doesn’t happen, then you’re happy.”

Kirk wants to thank all the people that have helped his family get through the hardship of cancer in the past year and a half. The disease changed how he views his life, and he’s thankful for the numerous blessings. He says he’s had such an amazing support system with friends, family and donations. He states, “It’s been a wonderful thing. I don’t even know how to say thank you to those people, because it’s been great. They’re such a help.” Kirk and his family still depend on monetary donations due to his lack of work. He says any amount is welcomed.

Join Clem in this episode as he delves into Kirk’s story about his unique childhood as a Christian missionary, his well-rounded experience through the years working live events, and his family’s continuous journey on the road to healing.

Click here to donate to Kirk’s battle with cancer!

Full Podcast Transcript

Clem Harrod:
Get it going there. Yeah. We’re just having this great conversation offline here, but I’m joined with Kirk Garreans, right?

Kirk Garreans:
Garreans.

Clem Harrod:
No, Garreans, Garreans.

Kirk Garreans:
See, I told you nobody gets it right.

Clem Harrod:
I know. That’s what you said. Nobody gets it right, and we just went over it. Once again, I just got it wrong, and I tried to write it out phonetically.

Kirk Garreans:
I’m so used to it. It doesn’t matter to me anymore.

Clem Harrod:
Right, right. Kirk Garrean is a … Is there an S?

Kirk Garreans:
There is an S, yes.

Clem Harrod:
There is an S, there we go, Kirk Garreans is a [high-res 00:00:44] switcher working in the industry for how long, Kirk?

Kirk Garreans:
I’ve been working professionally since 1985, so 32 years now.

Clem Harrod:
1985, wow. 1985, you’ve put some time in.

Kirk Garreans:
Oh, yeah. I really feel …

Clem Harrod:
Seeing a lot change in 32 years, man.

Kirk Garreans:
True.

Clem Harrod:
How did you find the industry of live event production?

Kirk Garreans:
Live event production. I started out really wanting to work in radio. When I was a little kid, my parents were missionaries down in South America and I think between fourth and fifth grade, playing out on the playground at our mission school in Quito, was right nextdoor to a very large mission radio organization called HCJB. A friend of mine and I were out playing in the playground, and his dad came over one day. His dad worked at the radio station and said, “Look, we need some kids’ voices for this program we’re doing and just come help us.” I said okay, whatever. Went over and we did a whole series of radio drama sort of thing that needed kids’ voices and I was hooked from that point on working in the studio.
It wasn’t really live events at that point, but at that point from then on I really wanted to work in radio and television. Went to college for it and during college is when I really got involved with the live event side of things because my parents are missionaries, couldn’t afford to go to any of the school concerts, bands would come into town and play at the college. I would volunteer to help the load in for free, but I also got to go to the concert for free.
The very first show I did, I went to a private Christian college, it was a Christian band named White Heart. They came to town for opening weekend for the first weekend of college, essentially, to welcome the new students. I volunteered, helped to unload the trucks and push the gear on to the stage and help crank the genie list and all that kind of stuff.

Clem Harrod:
Load in and out.

Kirk Garreans:
Oh, yeah. The stage manager or the tour manager, I guess, came up to me and he said, “Look, one of our guys had to leave the road. I think his wife was in labor or something and we could use your help during the show. Do you want to help run the smoke machine?” Like, “Yeah, sure. Where do you want me?” “Well, here’s how to use the machine. You’ll put on headsets and when I tell you smoke go, you push the button down. When I say smoke stop, you let off the button.” Like, cool. All right, so where am I at? He says, “Under the drum riser.” I did the whole show under the drum riser.

Clem Harrod:
Oh my gosh. How long was the show?

Kirk Garreans:
Hour and a half or so.

Clem Harrod:
Oh man. Just laying there. Now, did you have a hammock because I know a lot of guys use hammocks now?

Kirk Garreans:
Oh, no. I couldn’t even sit up under the drum riser. I had to lay down. It was only probably about two foot or two and a half foot tall drum riser. I was stuck under there for … I could see feet and that was about it, but that was hey, showbiz, baby.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. Yeah. You do what you do to get where you want to go, right?

Kirk Garreans:
Exactly.

Clem Harrod:
Now, was that a paid position or?

Kirk Garreans:
No. Volunteer.

Clem Harrod:
That’s just still volunteer.

Kirk Garreans:
But I got to see the show from stage. How many people got to do that?

Clem Harrod:
Right. Right. I want to go back to the missionary thing a little bit.

Kirk Garreans:
Sure.

Clem Harrod:
What was that like, as a child?

Kirk Garreans:
Wow. When I was a kid, I didn’t like it. We moved literally, I think from kindergarten through my senior year of high school, I went to 13 different schools in 13 years. We moved at least 20 different times before I graduated from high school. I didn’t like it because I couldn’t ever make friends. You make friends for six months or a year and then you’d move. When we moved to Quito, we were actually there for four years and lived in two houses, but I went to the same school for four years. That was probably the longest I went anywhere to school. Then, high school was even worse. We lived in the jungle in Columbia. Little mission center, maybe 300 people, 300 families, I don’t remember. But we had 30 kids in high school, and so I was there. I moved there my sophomore year of high school, in the middle of the year. Most of the other kids have already grown up there. They’ve lived there their whole lives, and it’s hard to make new friends, but I did.
I had some very, very good close friends, and they’re like family to me. Even now, up to this day. We have family reunions. Just had one last summer. Then, it was difficult You couldn’t date. It was like dating your cousin or your sister or something, because you’re never [crosstalk 00:05:48]

Clem Harrod:
Right, because everybody’s so close.

Kirk Garreans:
Exactly. Social functions were awkward. We didn’t rally learn social … I didn’t learn how to act socially. You live in the jungle. We rode motorcycles instead of having cars, and we were barefoot most of the time. I got some of the coolest things that kids here in the states never got to do growing up. I worked on airplanes, we had an old world war 2 DC-3 as part of the mission group. One of my jobs was to go out and when the plane would come in, put fuel in it, wash the plane.

Clem Harrod:
Wow, so this is a functioning plane?

Kirk Garreans:
Oh yeah, absolutely. We would take cows, and chickens, and goats, and fly them out to the jungle, farther in the jungle for some of the mission groups and the tribes that needed them, or fill it up. We’d put 55-gallon drums in the plane and fill them up with [abgas 00:06:43], and fly them out to a remote jungle airstrip where we would then hand pump the fuel into a tank that was in the ground. Then, our small planes [crosstalk 00:06:51]

Clem Harrod:
Wow. What age is this?

Kirk Garreans:
Well, it was high school, so through 14 to 17, something like that. We also had a radio tower. I worked in the radio tower. Not really controlling the planes, but keeping track of where they were. We had three or four short take off and landing [heli 00:07:08] or couriers, the little short take off and landing planes that they fly out into the jungle. We’d track where they were. Keeping communication with the missionaries, the translators that were actually out in the tribes. Make sure that if there was an emergency, that they could call in and we could get a plane out to them. If somebody got sick or chopped their finger off with a machete or something. Did a lot of weird things that here in the states, you wouldn’t ever think of doing.

Clem Harrod:
No, no. Right, right. I mean, that’s very interesting. You were getting experience as an air traffic controller. You were getting that [radio 00:07:45] experience. You were getting pilot … Did you fly at all, too? Were you flying?

Kirk Garreans:
Officially, no. But, they would say, “Hey, Kirk. Here, have a seat.” I got a chance to get hands on a couple times, and I loved that. I’ve always been a fan of aviation. It was a joy for me. It was one of those things that even back then, the other kids may have wanted to do it, but most of them weren’t willing to jump in and do what it took. Washing the planes was a lot of work, especially in the jungle. Emptying the toilet when the plane came in. That was something I had to do, but it was part of being able to be involved with that ministry. That being able to work on the airplane, but I wanted to do it bad enough that I was willing to go in and do whatever it took to do what I wanted to do. Same applied same thing with working laying under the drum riser.

Clem Harrod:
That’s exactly where I was going. That was the perfect segue.

Kirk Garreans:
If you do what it takes in order to be involved with show business, because that’s what I wanted to do. That’s kind of been my … I guess I’ve never been afraid to jump in and do something even though it wasn’t necessarily the most kosher or accepted way of doing something, to get into an industry, or to get into doing something that I really wanted to do because I was interested in it.

Clem Harrod:
Right. Coming from underneath the kick drum, what was your next step into your goal?

Kirk Garreans:
I worked in radio. Again, it wasn’t really live event, but live radio. I worked as a news reporter my freshman year. The college didn’t allow students on the air until they were juniors. I got a job at a station in town. I had already interned between my senior year in high school and my freshman year at college. I lived with my uncle in Southern California, and I worked for an all-comedy radio station just as an intern, unpaid, but it was an AM station and they played all comedy radio. Bill Cosby all the way to Bobcat Goldthwait, to you name it. Old time radio shows and all that. My job there at a comedy station was to do the traffic reports. I would actually listen to another radio station, write down their traffic report, and then go on the air and give it live.

Clem Harrod:
Did you have to spruce it out with any comedic …

Kirk Garreans:
[Helicopter 00:10:25] sounds.

Clem Harrod:
The tones … Yeah, yeah, yeah.

Kirk Garreans:
No, but to me, the funniest thing was I also did the beach reports. I actually had to call all of the different surf stations, the lifeguard stations and find out how the surf was, and ow high the waves were, and the surfer dudes would listen and run out when the waves are good or whatever. But it was a good experience, because then when I got to college, although I was not allowed to go on the radio station at the college, I had done some “news,” and so the local top 40 station hired me to do their evening drive news. At four, five, and 6:00, top of the hour, I would go on and do the news and the weather, and basically rip and read. Rip the news off the AP wire, and edit what I thought would fit best to the audience in Northwest Arkansas listening to the radio.
From there, I actually, from a live event standpoint, went on. I worked another college concert show that the owner of the lighting company was the LD on tour for this band, and he offered me a job. He said, “If you ever want to go out on the road, or if you need a job in the summer, look me up.” Between freshman and sophomore year of college, I actually went back down to Columbia for a month, and then came back to the states and had no idea what I was going to do, so I called this guy up in Tyler, Texas, and went to work for Brad Barrier at Stage Lighting Products in Tyler, Texas. That was my first …

Clem Harrod:
What was his name?

Kirk Garreans:
His name was Brad Barrier. Still is Brad Barrier.

Clem Harrod:
Brad Barrier.

Kirk Garreans:
Yeah. He was actually my first mentor in this business. Small business owner, just a one-man band type thing. He would hire guys part-time or full time occasionally to go out with him, but if there was a tour, he was the LD on it and he owned the gear, and had a shop, and fixed the gear, and bought the gear, and sold gear. When I showed up, I said, “Look, I’ll do whatever you want.” He put me in the passenger seat of a Ryder truck and off we went on couple different Christian tours. By that fall, he had been offered a tour for nine months, a nine-month tour to go out with a Christian artist, and he wanted me to go out with him. I quit college, and said, “I’m going on tour.” Such was the beginning of my real life in live event production, as basically pulling feeder, and [sucker packs 00:13:06] and cranking [cheese 00:13:08].
It was fun. I got to do all sorts of things. Learning the business. Before the days of moving lights, learning how to run conventional lights, how to time things to music, how make a very small lighting system look really large, because we didn’t have a lot of budget, especially in the Christian tours. I learned a lot about design, and about dark spaces. The difference between light and dark. Brad was the most amazing mentor I could ever imagine having, because he was patient with me. A newbie kid with very little experience but a lot of heart. I learned so much from him, and eventually went on, became a concert lighting director. Vari-Lite, back in the 80’s and 90’s, was big. Probably the biggest lighting company, most well respected lighting company, at least, out there, invited me to come along and train with them.
I just got so much experience, but also so many opportunities came from that first job working at Stage Lighting Products.

Clem Harrod:
You’ve talked about audio.

Kirk Garreans:
Yeah.

Clem Harrod:
You’ve talked about lighting.

Kirk Garreans:
And lighting, yeah.

Clem Harrod:
Right. How do we get to video? Because one of your titles is a high-res video switcher, so how do we get to video from that?

Kirk Garreans:
Well, going to college for radio was not an option for just radio. It was radio and television production. We had a small TV studio. The college I went to was actually funded, at least the broadcast side of things was funded in part by Paul Harvey, the late great Paul Harvey had the show for years and years. The rest of the story and things like that. It was pretty well funded for a college station. We didn’t really have a real station. It was just a live to cable TV, but I had to learn radio and television, and I really enjoyed the video side of things. The more I worked in radio, the more I realized they were going closer and closer to automation. I could see it coming in the future, that it was getting more and more boring. There wasn’t going to be a lot of creativity, a lot of … Everything was going to be handed to you on a clock. Here, this is when this runs, and this is when this runs, and you’re going to push this button at this time.
I went into television, and actually, while I was working for Stage Lighting Products, that tour that we were promised, that nine-month tour fell apart the day that we were supposed to live, after I quit college. We ended up not doing that tour. I did a few smaller tours but it wasn’t anything full time. I actually went and got a job at the local TV station. Same thing, at that time, there was no way just to walk into the station and say, “Hey, I went to college for a year. I want a job working at your station.” They just wouldn’t even talk to you. Just like probably the same way that it is today.

Clem Harrod:
Mm-hmm (affirmative). Right.

Kirk Garreans:
I had to find a back door to get in. I saw my opportunity during the Jerry Lewis Telethon. I went in and I said, “Look, I want to volunteer.” They said, “What do you do?” I said, “Oh, I run camera, or I direct, or whatever.” They said, “Well, we’ve already got that handled. Don’t worry, we don’t need that, but if you have a still camera, we’d love to have somebody taking pictures behind the scenes that we can use for promotional purposes later.” I said, “Sure.” I sat through the Jerry Lewis Telethon weekend, Labor Day weekend, and about 15, 16 hours into it, the camera guys were getting tired, and I jumped in and said, “I’ll run camera for a while.” Kind of proved my worth just by being there and being able to help wherever I was needed.
By the end of the weekend, the station manager or assistant station manager came up and said, “Look, if you ever want a job, give me a call.” I said, “I want a job right now.” They hired me. Actually my first title in television was film director. We actually had 16-millimeter films. Some of the TV shows we were running, Mash, and some of the other shows at that time, this was in 1985, they were on 16-millimeter films. My job was to get the syndicated shows in before we needed them to air, and then sending them out on the chain, they called it, to the next station that needed it. They would just circulate throughout the country.
We had two-inch helical tape. Most of our stuff was on two-inch helical tape, which nobody uses anymore, but big two-inch video tape and monster [decks 00:18:03], the size of a Volkswagen that we would run these tapes on, and give me a break. Let’s see, what else, we had facts Of Life, maybe.

Clem Harrod:
Wow.

Kirk Garreans:
I’m trying to remember all the shows.

Clem Harrod:
All these [crosstalk 00:18:18]

Kirk Garreans:
Yeah. They were new at the time.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah, yeah, yeah, but they were on film. [crosstalk 00:18:22]

Kirk Garreans:
But they were either on film. The Mash stuff was all reruns, but actually, most of the stuff we ran was reruns. The live stuff came in via satellite. It was ABC affiliate, in Tyler, Texas. It was the only station in all of East Texas, and so we could run whatever we wanted. There was no competition. The GM did not like the ABC morning news program, so we ran NBC news at sunrise even though we ran ABC station. I learned unbelievable amounts of stuff there, because my job first thing in the morning, at quarter to five, was to sign the station on the air, and it was myself and one other guy that ran master control. He would run master control, switch cameras, run audio, all of that. I would run three quarter inch tapes, which had just come out, the Chyron, or it was actually a Chyron machine called a Vidifont I believe, and ran three cameras.
We had a morning farm and news report. Farm and ranch report with Horace McQueen. He would give information on the latest pork belly stocks and all that kind of stuff. I would run three cameras on the floor, and then run in and change the Vidifont to another lower thirds, and then roll a video tape, and then run back out and move a camera, or whatever. But I learned to do it …

Clem Harrod:
Also, in that experience. Right, exactly, so in that experience, you learned how everything functioned to create the end product, and to be viewed by the audience.

Kirk Garreans:
Right.

Clem Harrod:
Now we jump to the live events, and backstage, setting everything up. Going from the operational side to the engineering side, because when we’re on shows, we’re hooking everything up.
Kirk Garreans: Right. It’s a set up and tear it down, especially the type of corporate meetings that you and I do, you’re not walking into a venue that’s already setup every day. I started working for hotel AV company back in early 90’s. That was kind of my first introduction to the corporate AV side of things. I worked for a little company in Chicago, Illinois. We moved to Chicago after my wife and I got married. We met in college and then eventually ended up in Chicago. Worked for a company called Media Control, and they had a hotel AV division called Presentation Services. We had, at the time, about 12 hotels. Worked downtown. They had mostly, Stouffer, I think most of the Stouffer Hotel chain at the time, we were in-house there.

I worked at the Stouffer Riviere in downtown Chicago, right after the open, and it’s now the Renaissance Chicago.

Clem Harrod:
I was going to ask, is it still the name of it now.
Kirk Garreans: Oh yeah. The Renaissance Corporation eventually bought it, and they got bought by Marriot. It’s a big conglomeration eventually. Same thing happened with Presentation Services. It went from 12 hotels, by the time I left in ’96, officially I left there in ’96, we had about 120 hotels. We’ve grown about 10 fold.

Clem Harrod:
Wow.

Kirk Garreans:
Now, it’s known as PSAV, which is pretty much the biggest hotel AV company in the world. But back then, it was …

Clem Harrod:
Couple of [inaudible 00:21:46] options for you.

Kirk Garreans:
Yeah. I wish I would have gotten in. It was literally a sole proprietor type ownership. It was two guys actually, Bernie and Graham, that owned it originally, owned Media Control. Martin Kwitschau was one of the people that started up the presentation services and hospitality resources side of things, the AV side for hotels. I kind of went back and forth between PS and Media Control. I got the ability to do some of the bigger live shows that Media Control did, as well as doing the in-house AV. In part, because I had the live show experience already from doing lighting and some video. When it came down to things like projection, in those days, it was the Sony 1040s and 1270s, three gun CRT projectors, I had no idea what I was doing with those. I kind of sat down and taught myself. Learned a little bit from some of the other guys that were there, and learned a lot by just screwing it up over and over until I got it right.
Learned it from there and then went on eventually to teach in Presentation Services. One of my jobs, eventually, I left the hotel side of things and went for corporate, the corporate offices. I would go out to the hotels and actually train their guys on how to run switchers, or how to run, some of the times, it was just basic, basic stuff. They would hire a guy who is a suit salesman because he looked good in a suit, but he fit well in a hotel side of things, the hospitality. I would have to teach these guys from scratch. “This is gath-tape, and here’s how to tape a cable to the floor and tape it straight. Here’s a mono mixer for audio,” or, “Here’s a basic bang box for video switching.” It gave me teaching experience, which I really enjoyed, but it also stretched me from … If I’m teaching something, the first thing I got to do is learn it.
I found that I learned a lot more about whatever subject I taught because I needed to teach it to someone else. Even more so, as you teach someone, they ask questions and you have to then figure it out. You have to get answers to those questions. I learned a lot more about our industry by teaching than probably anything else, because it really pushed me to know the subject, but also to be able to answer these questions after the fact. People would ask questions, and I’d have to research it, and look it up, and learn it. It’s kind of the way we all learn things. By doing it, and doing it over and over until we get good at it.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. There’s definitely a repetitive nature to our industry with the traveling and setting up a show, specific switcher.How do you jump? In your time in switching, how do you jump from switcher to switcher when it’s never always the same piece of equipment?

Kirk Garreans: Good question. I found, because I worked in lighting, lighting is still that way. Even video is today, but lighting even more so that were probably 30, 40 different lighting consoles out there that I had to learn. Especially in going to moving light side of things, they all literally spoke different languages. You had to learn how to operate them. Every time you’d step up to a new console, it was like learning a new language. When I went into video, video, when I first started doing video, switching was basic. It was camera one, camera two, playback, graphics, whatever. But you only had one output.
It wasn’t difficult to move from one switcher to another. You have a preview bus, and you have a program bus. You can either use the T handle to get from preview to program, or you can hit mix, or cut, or whatever, but they’re all pretty much the same. Once we started getting into early 2000’s, early 21st century, 2001 or so, when Folsom Research came out with their ScreenPro Plus system and Extron came out with their 408 switcher system, where we had to suddenly think not just what inputs, but what outputs. I’m not just taking camera one or graphics one to an output, but I may be taking camera one to the outward screens, and graphics to the center screen and prompter to the downstage monitors. You had to suddenly think in multiples of outputs. That’s where it really started getting complicated and complex.
It’s a big jump from a single output camera switcher to something like a ScreenPro Plus 1603 or 1604, where 16 inputs and three or four outputs, but it’s something that I had learned to adapt to fairly easily, and got pretty good at. We were one of the first companies, my wife and I started our company in ’94, and by 2001 we were producing shows for clients. We bought one of the very first ScreenPro Plus systems, and I’m glad we did. It’s given me so many opportunities not only equipment wise, but also with the relationships with the guys from Folsom, which eventually became [Barco 00:27:03]. Being able to keep up with the systems as they evolved from the ScreenPro Plus to the Encore. I was able to have input into the system when the Encore system came out and be a beta tester for them.
Then, now with the E-2 switching, that’s the current system out there. The changes from analog video to digital video, and from 1603 or 1604 input to the E-2 now can take in, even just on a single box, 20, 30-some inputs and can have eight or more outputs. 12 outputs in a simple E-2 system. It’s just keeping your mind wrapped around it.
Clem Harrod: It’s the most inputs that you … Right, right, right. Just thinking that as you’re describing that, what is the most inputs and outputs that you’ve had to manage on a show?
Kirk Garreans: Probably the largest output wise was a show for a company, one of my clients that did a lot of association work on an encore system. The encore can handle a maximum of 32 separate destinations, and I had 22 of them active at one time. Most of those we had decided, we were in a room that they had done projection all away around the room, so basically a giant blend all the way around the room. Most of that was being fed by media servers. Instead of just having the media servers go direct to the projectors, they wanted to have some sort of fail safe backup to be able to go to a logo, so we ran everything through my switcher and through image pros and gave me the ability to, if nothing else, dump to a logo.

Now, once I went to the logo, then it was up to media server guy to get back up and running again. That took a little bit of time to get back out of it. But at least I could get to a logo and the audience wouldn’t notice that anything happened, hopefully.

Clem Harrod:
Do you have a war story of something that might have, where you were able to save the show, or situation where it’s like, “All those [inaudible 00:29:14] logo,” like one of those?
Kirk Garreans: Oh man. Well, it happens a lot more than you would think. Even on our live show things, obviously computers are one of our weakest links probably in the system. Whether it be a cable that goes bad, or whatever, but I did a really largeshow out in San Francisco for a client that was on an encore system. They had gone to a full complete set of media server backups as well. We not only had a main media server across the entire front of the room, I think it was probably 14 projectors wide, maybe even larger. That many media servers feeding times two, because we had the backups. Right as the show was beginning, right as they were getting ready to roll the huge big opener that we had spent three days rehearsing, the main media server took a dump.

I saw it glitch, and part of what I’ve learned in running the switch system, is I don’t wait for something to happen before I act. I’m always ready. I had the backup in preview, waiting, just in case, and any good operator would do this, but I saw the glitch before I saw the thing actually take a dump, and went to the backup and yelled out over comm so the media server guys knew that I was going to the backup system. It flowed right through without any problems, but the people upfront never knew it. The only people that knew were those of us on comm who were yelling frantically as to what happened, what happened. Audio took a little bit longer to get over the backup, because they weren’t ready for it either, but it’s just the boy scout motto, always be prepared. You’re ready for anything that could possibly happen. You prepare for the worst, and when it doesn’t happen, then you’re happy. If it does happen, you’re ready to dump.
It may take a second to get over there. There may be a little glitch or a little hiccup, but the goal is to keep the audience from seeing it. It’s all smoke and mirrors when it comes down to it.

Clem Harrod:
Right, right. It is. It is. Now, thinking about boy scouts and all else fails, make it happen no matter what and systems go, let’s dive into NASA. You spent some time working with NASA.

Kirk Garreans:
Out at NASA, yeah. I didn’t work really for them.

Clem Harrod:
Out at NASA, yes, yes.

Kirk Garreans:
Kennedy Space Center.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah, Kennedy Space Center, what was some of the things that you’ve done there?

Kirk Garreans:
I’ve always been intrigued with aviation and with aerospace from the time I’ve worked on the airplanes as a kid. I had the opportunity to go and, I actually met Miles O’Brien who did the space coverage for CNN. He was the space and science reporter for CNN for years and eventually became an anchor. He used to go out to Kennedy Space Center and actually cover these launches for CNN. At one point, I had met him, and he had invited my wife and I to just come out and see a launch. That was right before 9/11. Once 9/11 happened, all bets were off. NASA did not allow any guests out to the site, the press site or anything anymore. That was gone.
I always kept Miles’ contact on hand. When he left CNN, he went in and started doing live coverage for a company called Spaceflight Now. A web company that covered all of the launches, especially the space shuttle. They would go out three or four hours before the launch. They would actually start this webcast and they would talk about all of the details of the launch, and it was Miles and a guy named David Waters, who is a good friend of mine as well now, and an astronaut, Leroy Chiao. The three of them would do this live webcast. I contacted Miles, and Miles put me in touch with David Waters who was the coordinator for some of the production side of things. Ended up going out originally just to help run camera.
They had two little camcorders and set it up under a tent out of the press site. The first time I got to work out there, it was the most amazing thing. Driving towards the VAB in my own vehicle on Kennedy Space Center property, going, “I can’t believe I’m getting to do this.” I still feel that way, even today when I get to go out there. I’ve been doing this now for probably 10 years off and on. The feeling of being able to be on site there at Kennedy Space Center, be there at the press site where Walter Cronkite first covered the Apollo launches going to the moon. It’s just an amazing thing. But I got to go out and run camera, and help with the production side of things. Other friends, [Dylan Yacht 00:34:18] was the director, and Kate Tobin who was a CNN producer had come with Miles to produce the show, produce the webcast.
I got to be involved with a really great team of people. It didn’t pay much, if anything at all, but again it was one of those things that it was worth it for me to jump in and do what I wanted to do because I wanted to be involved with the space program. Our webcast were the least technical side of things of anything I’ve done. Two very simple camcorders going into a TriCaster. They would do some playback from the TriCaster as well, and we would take NASA TV feeds, from a technical standpoint, was not high tech at all. But what we were covering was just absolutely amazing. Being around all of the NASA facilities, the people, the engineers, going into the VAB and seeing you’re not allowed to wear a watch or glasses without having them taped to your head, literally. Because you don’t want something to fall onto the orbiter while you’re in the VAB.
Learning and seeing that level of backup, maybe over redundancy, if that’s a possibility, but they always had a backup to a backup, to a backup. If they didn’t, then they just didn’t go. Unlike our live shows where if we’re not ready, we’re going anyway. No matter what. The doors are opening, people are coming in, we’re going to make it happen. NASA is the opposite. Especially after the challenger disaster, and even in Columbia, they are over cautious, but obviously for a good reason because people’s lives are at stake. But it’s an amazing thing to see. The technology, and lack of technology. Some of the just absolutely antique things out there. The orbiter was designed in the 70’s, so when they retrofit them to put in glass cockpits, which are today, common in most airplanes, but they weren’t in the shuttles. Everything was analog, so they go to digital and things like that. That was a big deal for them.
We look at it and go, “Wow, that’s way behind, but they don’t put anything in those orbiter or in those rockets unless they’ve been tested over and over and over and over again, before they ever go out.

Clem Harrod:
They know for certain that it works, right?

Kirk Garreans:
Absolutely.

Clem Harrod:
Now, I know you’ve been taking some time off with …

Kirk Garreans:
Not by choice.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. Yeah. I didn’t know how to make that transition there.

Kirk Garreans:
Well, a year and a half ago … I’ll take it, because it is kind of an awkward thing to talk about, but a year and a half ago, even seven years before that, so let’s say nine years ago, as you get older, males especially, we have tests and things that are ran to check us for cancer. I had had some higher PSA tests, PSA levels, than are normal for my age. I had gone through a couple of different prostate biopsies. All negative. Nothing ever came out of it, but about a year and a half ago, I was having some issues. Much higher PSA numbers and some physical problems with urinating and things like that. It’s a real issue for us on show site. We only get bathroom breaks, as you know, every couple hours some times. Sometimes, they’re very short. You run to the bathroom, you’ve got five minutes to get from your desk to the bathroom, which is across the convention center, and back. I was having some issues with that.
Went to the doctor and he said, “This is normal,” and they went in with the scope to take a look, and spotted something that he did not like at all. He said, “Look, this looks to me like cancer and we need to take care of it.” At that point, I already had six weeks of shows lined up and getting towards the fall, the end of the year, and I just said, “Look, can I finish off these six weeks? It’ll make the rest of my year. I can then take the rest of the year off.” He said, “Yeah, usually bladder cancer is not fast and/or prostate cancer is not that fast moving.” I went out on the road and kept working.
Meanwhile, when I would come home for a day or so, they would run other tests. At one point, the doctor actually called my wife and said, “Get him off the road now. He needs to come in. We need to do a biopsy. This looks like it’s more serious than we thought.” In October of … Actually, early November, I guess. Late October, Early November of 2015, went in for a biopsy here at Orlando Regional Medical Center, and they found massive amounts of cancer in my bladder. At that point, started doing other scans, PET scan was the main thing. Found that it had spread quite a bit to stage four cancer. I have been battling that now for 18 months. When we first met with the oncologist, he was really reluctant to give us much information other than to say, “There is no cure. There is no cure for this stage four bladder cancer.” The best they can hope for is to keep me alive as long as possible.
At that point, he wouldn’t give me times, or dates, or prognosis other than that. I had to start looking online, and reading found that the prognosis is about 18 months. About a year and a half is what the average is for people that are diagnosed with stage four bladder cancer. I’m at that now. I just hit 18 months this month. I’ve gone through six rounds of chemo, which is 18 weeks. Had a little break, that didn’t work, so they put me on a drug trial. An immunotherapy drug trial, and that really worked well for a while. My tumors started shrinking. I have tumors in my lungs, and in my chest, as well as in my hips, and my lymph nodes and things. Some of those shrunk in half, but after about nine months or so of being on that trial, it stopped working. They actually started growing back.
The drug trial requirements are that if it starts growing past 20% of its regrowth size, they have to take you off the trial. I was taken off that trial about two or three months ago. Went in, I have stents, tubes essentially between my kidneys and my bladder to help them drain properly. When I went in last time to have the stents removed or changed, you have to have them changed every four to six months, the surgeon actually found more cancer, and that they found looks more like prostate cancer. It may be a combination of prostate and bladder cancer that I’m fighting, which makes it even more complex for the oncologist to figure out how do we treat this. But it also gives me more options.
At this point, three weeks ago, started a new FDA approved drug called Tecentriq. It works in about 20 to 25% of patients that take it, but that is actually a good number. If you’re playing the lottery and you have a 25% chance of winning, it’s better than …

Clem Harrod:
You’re playing that all day.

Kirk Garreans:
Yeah. I’m grasping at anything I can. Very strong faith in God that he will, and he has taken care of us. But it’s been really hard not being able to work for a couple of reasons. The main one, no income. Obviously, without income that’s been the hardest thing on my family. Of course, on my wife just having me home all the time. She’s used to having me go out on the road, and so it’s like I’m sitting at home all day every day, and that can drive any wife, in our business, crazy, I think.
Anyway, she’s been great. She’s been my caretaker from day one. January, we celebrated 30 years of marriage, and it’s a blessing to be able to hit that milestone, if nothing else. She keeps me going every day, and so do my kids. It’s not easy. It’s not an easy thing to go through.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. I remember meeting your daughter. We attended an event for Evolve Media Academy, and that was the first time I met your daughter. It wasn’t until that meeting that I didn’t know anything about your cancer battle or anything. I didn’t even, honestly, I didn’t recognize you without the hair.

Kirk Garreans:
With no hair, exactly.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah, yeah. I wonder how many people out there, even with your situation, just other people’s situation how much we don’t know about what’s going on inpeople’s everyday lives, or ho to support them, or how to be there for them.

Kirk Garreans:
Well, it’s hard because we don’t see each other. You and I, we worked together quite a bit but we don’t see each other for six months at a time, and then suddenly we’ll do two or three shows together. You don’t think of it. You don’t think of the fact that, “Hey, I haven’t seen him for a while.” We do sometimes. I say “Oh man, I miss working with Clem,” but it’s just the nature of our business. We don’t see each other, and we don’t always stay in touch with each other. It’s why I love Facebook. I was really reluctant to get on Facebook for years and years, but I am so glad that I have been on it during this battle, because I can keep in touch with my friends and I can let them know what’s happening.
Even then, Facebook doesn’t always show you all of my posts unless you follow me specifically. You may not [hear 00:44:53] of what I’m going through, and I’ve got lots of friends and artists that I’ve toured with, and things, that they don’t check up on my page all the time and they’re surprised when they find out suddenly, “Wow, you’re going through this.” Like you said, it’s even more shocking for the people that saw me when I didn’t have any hair. It’s growing back now, now that I’m off that drug trial. I’m getting hair back again. It’s hard. It’s hard for us to take care of each other, because it’s not like we’re going into the office every day and say, “Hey, where’s Clem? I haven’t seen Clem today.” We either are on a show together or we’re not.
Especially the guys that do what I do. I don’t often see them at all, because I’m not on the same show, that another screen switcher isn’t going to be on the same show I’m on. Unless we happen to be in rooms next door to each other or something. It’s hard to take care of each other and to even know what’s going on in each other’s lives sometimes without something like the social media, Facebook, or Twitter, or all the other fun stuff that my kids are on.

Clem Harrod:
Right, right. The kids too, not just taking care of ourselves, but each other, but taking care of our families and being there for them with the road of life one and all.

Kirk Garreans:
Absolutely.

Clem Harrod:
Things like that.

Kirk Garreans:
It’s such a weird mix. I don’t know if it’s a blessing, but the fact that I’ve been home all the time for the past 18 months, I’ve been able to see my kids every day or almost every day. I don’t always feel well, and it’s really tough for me and my son especially. He misses that, and I miss out on being that father to him. Being able to go out and go fishing or fly a kite, or play football or whatever. I can’t do those things very often, but I have been able to be in their lives more than I was before. I’m blessed by that. Because when we’re on the road, it’s rough on them. It’s rough on us not being around them, not being able to see them other than through Skype or something. It’s not the same. I’ve enjoyed that part of it when I’m able to get up and be with them, and spend time with them.
I love that part of it, but it’s not a good reason for getting cancer, but it has changed how I live and how I view my life, and maybe where I go in the future if I ever get through this. I don’t know that I’ll go back out on the road like I was doing 200-300 days a year sometimes. I just can’t do that to my family or to myself anymore.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. I totally get that. I’ve been home for three weeks now. Almost three weeks now and it’s just like I’m dreading the thought of going back out because I’m establishing a routine here. The time, scheduling the day and being there every day, and just to think that going away when we’re immersed in our environment and on somebody else’s schedule, then coming back home, having to adapt to that can be, it’s difficult sometimes. It’s challenging.

Kirk Garreans:
Sure. It’s hard on our wives as too. My wife basically said when I’m on the road, she’s a single mom. She’s doing it all. She’s not just getting the kids up and ready for school in the morning, but she’s also the one that takes out the trash, and gets the cars repaired, and the sinks unclogged, and everything, because I’m not here. Now that I am here, I’m not able to do all those things, so now she says she has three kids. My son, my daughter, and me. But it’s one of those things. I think it’s got to be hardest on the spouse because they have to deal with everything while we’re gone.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. I want to send a big shout-out to all the spouses, all the partners, all the neighbors, every person who’s support system.

Kirk Garreans:
Absolutely.

Clem Harrod:
Support system for those of us who travel. We couldn’t do it without you.

Kirk Garreans:
The church.

Clem Harrod:
The churches, everybody.

Kirk Garreans:
Absolutely. That’s what’s kept us going even now. I’ve had such a great support system. I don’t have family that lives here in Central Florida where we live, so my mom has come to visit and stayed with us for months at a time, occasionally, and that’s been a wonderful blessing when she’s able to come. She lives in Dallas, and so she can’t be here all the time. But our church has been great. The people from the industry. You mentioned the guys from Evolve, Tyler Mayne and Bob Huskey, and those guys. Just even the moral support, and your messages, and guys from all over the industry that do know what’s happening with me, just to get a note and say, “Hey, I’m thinking of you,” or “Hope you’re feeling better,” or whatever really helps me get through a day.
Then, we’ve had guys … I have a client out of Pittsburgh that they came to town, and we’re doing a show that I had worked on every year with them for, and couldn’t do it obviously this last year, but they took time in the middle of winter on their day off. They had a day off here in Orlando, and they’re from up north, and instead of going out and sitting by the pool or going to a theme park or doing something fun, the whole crew came over to our house and they cleaned our gutters, and they repaired our screen door, and painted. They did all sorts of stuff. That kind of stuff. I don’t know if you know Mike Gorenflo. A good friend of mine that’s a camera op here in the area. Guys like that, that will come over and take time on their day off, and instead of spending it with their families, they’re coming over and helping us mow the lawn.
I hate to mention people because there’s so many people that have done this, but we are a small tight-knit community when it comes down to it. The guys have been willing to help wherever they can. Financially, has been great. I’m on disability now, so I get a little bit of money every month, but it’s not enough to pay the bills. We have people that come and they help us wherever they can. It is our community. We, sometimes, look at each other on show site after being out for 10 days at a time or whatever, and go,”I don’t want to see that guy again for a while.” It just happens.
I am blessed by every one of the people that’s come out here, that sent me messages, that sent notes, or e-mails, or phone calls, or whatever. It’s been a wonderful thing. I don’t even know how to say thank you to those people, because it’s been great. They’re such a help.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. Amen to that. Amen to that. I’m looking at your website here, Almpdesign.net.

Kirk Garreans:
Correct. Or .com, either way.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah, or .com, okay, okay. I also see a place on here where you can donate to the Garreans family, help out in any way possible. People are interested in trying to assist with the … You said you weren’t working, so whatever.

Kirk Garreans:
Right, yeah. We have that donation page. It allows people to either donate through Paypal or through a GoFundMe page that my sister set up. There’s another way that we’ve been able to receive a lot of help, and if I might, our industry, people that work in the meetings industry, especially, a lot of guys don’t know about this but there’s an organization called The Meetings Industry Fund. It helps people like me, in exactly my position, people that have gotten sick or hurt, or whatever, that have worked in the meetings industry, and need a little extra assistance. There’s a fund setup, and they have helped us immensely with being able to pay.
They’ve paid our mortgage a couple of times. They’ve helped us pay health insurance, things like that. They can’t provide full time pay for me, but they’ve been a big help. If anybody in our industry needs help, or if they’re able to help, they’re a great fund to give to. There’s another group called Behind The Scenes that helps people like us that work behind the scenes in the industry of showbiz. They are another organization that we’ve gotten some help from. The Meetings Industry Fund specifically, if you donate to them in my name or give it with my name associated with it, they will make sure that those funds get to me, and it will also be tax-deductible, which is for some people really important.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. Yeah. Cool. Thank you so much, Kirk. It’s been great chatting with you and learning your story, man, from the mission to space.

Kirk Garreans:
I’m writing a book, actually. I’ve just gotten started, but I’ve been encouraged for years by people, saying, “Man, you’ve had such an unusual life. You should write a book.” I’ve done so many things. I worked as an actor in college, and I actually got to work on a couple of movies as an actor, just as an extra, or whatever, but so many things that I’ve done through my life, I’ve been so blessed to be able to do. Someday, I’ll have that book out. When I do, I’ll let the podcast … I’ll let you know and you can promote that. I can get back on, and we can talk about the book, but that’s going to be a while. I’m really slow at it.

Clem Harrod:
Yeah. Sounds great. Trust me, I understand, it’s a tough process.

Kirk Garreans:
Yup. Someday, hopefully I’ll be back out on the road. If I am, I’m looking towards moving to being maybe more of a motivational speaker. I’d love to get out, and I love being in front of audiences, and speaking in front of people, and telling my life story, obviously, I don’t shut up very often. To get up on stage and tell people, and encourage people to do things, to go for it in life. To do the things that they really want to do. Just to do it. Even if it means working for free, or doing the gross stuff, like cleaning the toilets in an airplane, but to get to be able to do what you want to do, it’s worth it. It’s worth the time and the effort. Maybe someday I’ll be out there and on stage, and see your projection behind me, I hope.

Clem Harrod:
There it is. There it is. I look forward to being in that position, [my friend 00:55:45]

Kirk Garreans:
I can’t wait.

Clem Harrod:
All right, buddy. It’s been great. Thank you.

Kirk Garreans:
Thank you, Clem. Take care, man.

Clem Harrod:
Bye-bye.

Kirk Garreans:
Bye.


Check out Kirk’s website at: ALP Design

Learn more about Kirk, his family, their battle with cancer and donate to him here!


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