“People are Hungry for Live Shows”

It’s almost a year to the day since Ben Brooks (Brilliant Stages) and Nicole Massey (Production Manager, Billie Eilish) last saw each other. Over a Zoom call across the pond, Ben finds out more about Nicole’s approach to life on the road, as she reflects on the industry she loves and the turbulent year that’s kept her in one place – for the first time in nearly 20 years.

Ben: How have you found the last few months at home?

Nicole: I’m not gonna lie, in the early stages of quarantine I realised how much I needed that rest. I’ve never slept so much! 8 to 9 hours a night, I just kept thinking – is this what people do all the time? I was able to really enjoy time with family. Not that I didn’t appreciate those things before… but I didn’t have constant emails and a never-ending to-do list on my mind. I fell in love with cooking again, which is something I never had the energy
for, even if I was home on a two-week break.

Ben: We’ve met on multiple shows over the last few years, but I’m not familiar with how you got started in this unique world of concert touring?

Nicole: Every person has a different path – I grew up performing, I was a professional dancer, did musical theatre and all sorts of shows. My first tour was with Bette Midler, and I did wardrobe as well as being a dancer. Once I got on that tour, I never wanted to not be on tour. I love what I do – I see the world and get paid to do it! The best part is being around so many people. Everybody has their part to play and is just important as each other. The truck driver is just as important as the people on stage.

Ben: Production Managers, I think, must be some of the most underappreciated people – when you consider the size of the role. They are custodians of hundreds of people, in charge of getting them around the world. They’re ultimately responsible for a show with revenues of hundreds of millions. It’s a military operation.

Nicole: Oh my gosh, that is so nice.

Ben: There’s a good vibe on one of your tours too, people advocate for one another, there’s camaraderie and a definite family feel.

Nicole: I like the banter, I love winding people up and I will call people out when they do something stupid. But if I turn into that old road hag (that we’ve all seen), then I am done. The minute I stop loving it, I won’t be here. Because we should be celebrating! We’re putting on a rock show!

Ben: What do you think the future of the industry will be like? A lot of artists have been putting on virtual experiences, including Billie Eilish. Is this a future option for gigs?

Nicole: For me, Billie’s live stream was probably the most stressful project I’ve ever done. With XR and AR elements, it relied so heavily on technology. It turned out great, but a virtual thing is not the energy we all need. What we need is people. Truthfully I don’t think we can go back to the way we were doing it. But eventually, shows will come back – people are hungry for live shows, and that’s a good thing – but we’ll need to re-evaluate almost every aspect of our industry.

Ben: It’s not going to come back in the same way it ended, is it?

Nicole: No, we want to go back to what we love doing, but we won’t be able to do huge capacity events, at least not straight away. Production managers, designers, agents, artists – we’ll need to look at things differently if we want to work. We have to be open to testing every other day, the lead times will be longer – you’ll need to start thinking about things so much further in advance.

Ben: How much of Billie’s tour will change do you think?

Nicole: We might keep some elements, but I don’t see us doing the exact same tour. She’s already in a different place. We all are, we have a different mindset. It’s great, because she knows what she does and doesn’t like. She’s really involved in everything, right through to the catering. She’s vegan, so all of the crew’s food was too.

Ben: Billie’s family are quite involved in making sure the tour is as
sustainable as it can be, aren’t they?

Nicole: Yes, we have Reverb on board, so there’s more recycling,
water dispensers, reusable bottles. Working with people like Billie and her family makes you notice more. They’re so passionate about climate change and it makes you want to follow their lead.

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