Selective Memory

crewcall-lg-1015As some of you will know, a few years ago I moved home to Connecticut, the state that I was born in. However, I moved to the southern part of the state, about 75 miles from the town that I was raised in. And it wasn’t until recently that I made the trip to drive around the neighborhood where I grew up. I hadn’t felt that I needed to, as I remembered it all so very clearly… my house, the park next door, my elementary school on the other side of the park.

I had completely forgotten about the blocks in between them. In fact, the street that I grew up on had been shortened in my memory to include only the houses of my friends, forgetting the houses in between.

This is known as selective memory.

In many ways, the life of a stager works the same way. We remember the great events, the incredible concerts, the important product launches that changed people’s lives, and the times that we saved the show with nothing but a Leatherman, gaffer tape and ingenuity. The memory of a stager is among those most selective, judging by the stories that we tell. (At this point, our editor Sara Abrons, who is one of the most literate people I know, is thinking of adding the words “ad nauseum” to the end of that last sentence.)

But, as they say, that which does not kill us makes us stronger. So I think it is important to sometimes reflect on those occasions that we try to block out of our memory, those performances that we will kindly describe as “less than stellar.” I have, over the past couple of decades, had more than a few of these. I place them into several categories:

Be Careful What You Wish For

When I first got into this business in the mid-’80s, I had been recruited from the hotel business to become the first full-time salesperson in the brand-new rentals group of Dayton Ohio’s hometown AV company. I was anxious to make an immediate impact, as the rentals group was new and being run by a good friend who had taken a chance on me. So when I came upon the opportunity to do the annual general meeting for one of the world’s largest distributors of heavy equipment, I “went to town.” I studied other “big city” general meetings, and went after them with a series of suggestions. I spent two weeks up-selling the job, until it was our first rental invoice over $10,000, which in 1985 was a lot of money for an AV rental. I sold them a full stage set, and the first flown lighting rig that venue had ever seen. On the day of the event, I was there, sharply creased, hovering around the ballroom because I knew that my boss would come down to take a look at the event. The house lights went down, the stage lights came up on cue, and the president stepped to the podium just as my boss entered the room. It was only then that I found out that the meeting was to tell their stockholders about their impending bankruptcy.

That Sudden Stop at the End

Some years later, I was approached by a publicist to do a presentation for a best-selling British author, David Icke. Much of the advance material that was sent out on his book had to do with a worldwide conspiracy to rig oil prices between the U.S. government, the British government, the British royal family, and the Saudis. Being interested in politics, I was fascinated by the subject, and even found a worldwide conspiracy such as this plausible. So I put a lot of effort into the event, and was there on the day of the show, along with a couple of other customers from a local university that I had invited to see it as an example of our work. I sat at the control table, listening intently to the presentation and wondering about the way that these revelations would affect the world. I was following it pretty well until he explained that this worldwide conspiracy came about because all of the important officials involved were secretly lizard people from another planet.

That Sinking Feeling

Have you ever had a client (the kind we dream of) who loved big meetings and AV, and who had incredibly deep pockets? One who thought so much of public hoopla that you could speak directly to their CEO, always knowing that you could sell them the latest and greatest simply because it was the latest and greatest? I did. Over a period of several years, their shows got larger and larger and their fame grew, until people in my company literally started banking on their revenue. Unfortunately, that CEO was named Ken Lay, and the client was Enron.

What were your “less than stellar” events? Have you deliberately forgotten the time that you locked all the tapes in the truck just before the show? Or the time that you were telling the crew the really funny story about the producer that you didn’t know was standing behind you? Share them with the rest of us (even anonymously) in the comments below.