Making the Technical Article Accessible

One of the more interesting challenges I have is writing for technical magazines, and creating content that breaks down the technical aspects for the readers in an engaging manner. I’ve learned over the years of writing for a variety of magazines and providing content for St. Louis websites that educates and informs does not have to be dry.

ushereistandAnother skill I’ve developed is researching and writing about a subject or event when you’re not able to be there in person. By a few short succulent interviews, and/or just good old fashion researching, I’m able to make the reader believe I’m right there at the event (and I take them with me).

This recent article on an Usher concert is a good example of both of these points. It was a fun piece to work on, and while a technical article, it tells a story, something I do for magazines and (increasingly) web content.

This ran in Projections Lights & Staging News recently, and you can see it here online.  But I also include it in this post because  … well it turned out fun.  And that’s what I’m about: fun.

Production Profile

Usher “UR Experience Tour”

A dynamic genre-bending artist. Hydraulics, custom trussing, split 7mm video screen, and a whole lot of spankin’ brand new gear. Usher is in the house.

The “UR Experience” tour, originally scheduled to support the singer’s eighth album, UR, just finished its first run in the States. The sold-out high-energy tour had many highlights. One of the new songs off his yet to be released album, “Good Kisser,” had Usher behind the drums. Another was his ballad, “Climax,” which had him riding a hydraulic lift to animated video. Then there was the “unplugged” segment, which proved to be another visually stunning moment in the show. The New York Times called the show one of “superhuman precision, control and stamina,” and the same can be said of the behind the scenes design team that put together the lighting, staging, video and pyro. Usher’s music demands flexibility. “In terms of the variety of styles he’s covered, the whole production look couldn’t be specific to just one [genre],” Baz Halpin says. “You have these sexy ballads, you have these big James Brown-like numbers. The look of the show can never be mechanical — there has to be subtle moments.”

Built to Suit

Designer/show director Halpin supported a number of top-tier artists in 2014, including Katy Perry, Tim McGraw, Taylor Swift, Cher and, on the way to 2015, Usher. On working with Usher, Halpin says that the artist is “very structured — a workaholic — yet one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet. Prior to rehearsals, the decision was reached to not pre-plan what the show would look like. So the creative team simply brought a “box of paint” — gags, gizmos, video, special effects, etc. — and let the show evolve during rehearsal.” Baz admits that he’s never quite worked on a level that was so spontaneous. They created the show in about two and a half weeks.

The Set and Video Elements

Usher 2014 UR Experience tour photo by Steve Jennings“We first designed a stage that would give us enough flexibility to create beautiful scenes. With Chris Keating and I working on a 60-foot by 40-foot stage that we then cocked off center 40 degrees to give it a pointy look,” he laughs. “I dug it, but the crew didn’t care for it, because it was difficult to set up … but so be it!”

For flexibility with video, Halpin used 770 Video Blades distributed by VER and built them into the scenery all over the stage. Then there were two 16-by-24-foot LED walls. But the next phase was how to create all the content necessary while still being flexible. He brought in multi-media company Geodezik and Control Freak Systems. The video screen was Screenworks’ new X-7 HD 7mm LED product, which Halpin calls “stunning.” They split it in half and put it on two tracks. “The tricky part was, it wasn’t a straight truss, but a hinged truss, and it was almost a flat ‘Z.’ That was difficult to pull off, but Tait Towers created some widgets for it. In the end, the hinged screen itself is seamless and beautiful.”

Control Freak Systems controlled video with PRG MBox media servers, and Wade says the graphics were visually stunning. Their impact was amplified by being precisely linked to the music, with single sounds or a full audio mix triggering video imagery.

Among the special effects on stage, Halpin made room for some 8-by-8-foot hydraulic lifts, as well as another one that brings the drum kit up at one high point. Pyro included flame cannons built into the stage and a dragonhead prop that spews fireballs. Pyrotek looked after the pyro effects on tour. The video blades seem to move around the stage as the set evolves. At times, it seemed as though just some blades were illuminated, giving the stage a distinctively different shape.

For Halpin, a favorite part of the show is a bit of a camera trick: As Usher sings downstage, there’s an image on the screen behind of a scantily clad woman in a chair, and at a climatic moment in the song, he appears to lift her out of it. “That’s one of those ideas you come up with at 2 in the morning!” It was just one of the sleight-of-hand visual tricks used during the show.

New Gear, Trusted Sources

Texas-based lighting designer Eric Wade has built up an impressive resume in his 30-plus years in the business, supporting artists including Whitney Houston, Eric Clapton, Alicia Keys, Barbra Streisand, and many others. His visual work with Usher goes way back, spanning close to 14 years.

“Baz left some space for lights in the center, but for this part I wanted something unique, different from regular trussing.” Wade says. He would design a set of four square pods positioned in a way that makes them diamond-shaped. “I wanted something different but could still go up quick,” he says. He and the team designed a pod-like structure and had it built from scratch. In addition to looking cool and being capable of maneuvering on stage, the pods were designed so they could break down into sea containers efficiently. VER supplied the lighting gear for the tour.

Each pod has 16 MagicPanel R LED matrix fixtures from French lighting manufacturer Ayrton. These fixtures come fitted with 25 15W LED RGBW sources and toss out an overall brightness of 115,000 lumens and a center beam intensity of 1,350,000 candela. The unit can do continuous double rotation on pan and tilt axes, and each pod’s 5-by-5 matrix of these fixtures allows for a lot of possibilities. The brand-new unit had just become available in the U.S., Wade says, noting that he got the first batch that came over.

Along with the MagicPanels, each pod is equipped with four Martin MAC Viper AirFX fixtures and four Solaris Flares. Wade says the combination allows him to do different things — and he takes full advantage of the setup with every song. “I can move the pods into position, and then out, for completely different looks,” he says. While playing with it during rehearsal, in one of the early songs, Wade wanted the pods directly over Usher’s head for the dance break, to great effect. Inspiration for that came from a rare couch-potato moment: “My sons and I like watching the television show ‘Falling Skies,’ and on it they have this spaceship called a ‘beamer.’ When I moved the pods into that position, I laughed, because it looked just like [the ship]!” Back on stage, during this bit Usher throws his hands in the air, and seems to push the pods, “forcing” the “ship” to leave.

Usher 2014 UR Experience tour photo by Steve Jennings

Many of the 200+ GLP Impression X4S fixtures that were used on this tour, along with nearly 100 Solaris LED Mozart Pixels, were hung on a dozen vertical ladder trusses. “Baz had a twin wall acrylic that covered the fixtures,” Wade notes, “but it’s removable,” and halfway through the show, the covers come off. “Before they are removed, they create a nice flare for the beginning of the show and almost look like big windows upstage. Then, for the acoustic set, they are dropped and it’s a new visual component for the audience.” Tait’s Navigator system controlled movements for eight of the 12 ladders, which moved laterally as well as up and down. The Navigator also controlled movement for the lighting pods.

Other new fixtures joining Usher’s “UR Experience” tour included Solaris Flares, distributed by TMB, and Elation Professional’s Sniper 2R fixture. “Of course, the Flares are an exceptional fixture, but I’m glad [Elation’s] Eric Loader talked us into using the brand new Sniper for this tour too. The light beam has fast scanning abilities and acts as a laser instrument. It is absolutely fantastic,” Wade says.

While some have noted that, for such a high-stakes tour, the Creative team seem to have taken a chance with so many new fixtures filling out the rig. Wade agrees, but adds that all were from manufacturers known for making reliable products. “I’m very particular about whose new gear I use, and all these lighting components are from companies that are top notch,” says Wade. “Like the Mozart — I don’t think I’ve replaced one in the 12 weeks of touring.”

“Mark Ravenhill of GLP is the type of company rep that if I ever had a problem with a light, he’s all over it. His company has more than 200 fixtures out here. It’s the same thing with Eric [Loader] and the Snipers. At first, with the Sniper product, we had a problem, but [Elation’s] John Dunn came to a show with a software solution and got it where it needed to be.” Wade went on to praise Elation in general, particularly Loader. “Some companies are lacking that old-fashioned customer service and support, and if you can’t rely on that, you don’t take out one of their new fixtures.”

Keeping It Interesting

Usher 2014 UR Experience tour photo by Steve Jennings

On the road, there were further tweaks, mostly artist-driven. “Usher is notorious for changing the show as it goes,” Wade says. He’ll change a song by cutting two verses and adding a hook, for example, and when there are 700 time code cues, that sends the crew scrambling to adjust and write new cues. It keeps it all interesting and makes for a show that is continually evolving. “That’s why it’s ‘UR Experience’ — because everything is a little different.” People will see the show in Dallas and then in L.A. and notice differences as Usher continually strives to make the show better. “It’s fun!” Wade says.

“My absolute favorite part is the acoustic section,” Wade continues. “For two songs, we change the entire look of the stage, including bringing the pods into a smaller area and bring it all down. It’s a nice change and something we’ve never done before, and it turned out beautifully.”


Production Designer: Baz Halpin

Lighting Designer: Eric Wade

Lighting Programmer: Eric Marchwinski

Production Manager: Harold Jones

Control Freak System Operator: Steve Foster

Content Creator: Olivier Goulet w/ Geodezik

Video Director: Chris Keating

Video Engineer: Rick Popham

LED Technician: Angelo Bartolome

LED Technician/Camera Operator: Tyler Hubbell

Projectionist/Camera Operator: Chris Small

Blade Specialist: Paul Bange

Blade/Camera Operator: Tom Evans



2 grandMA2 consoles

216 GLP X4S fixtures

90 TMB Solaris LED Mozarts

43 TMB Solaris LED Flares

64 Aryton MagicPanel-R LED matrix fixtures

25 Aryton Magic Blades

56 Martin MAC Viper AirFX fixtures

55 Martin MAC 2000 XB Wash fixtures

15 Martin Quantum Wash fixtures

7 Martin MAC 700’s

16 Clay Paky Sharpys

10 Clay Paky Sharpy Wash fixtures

12 Elation Sniper 2Rs

1 Xbox One gaming system with NHL 2015

1 LG 48-inch monitor to play Xbox on.


1 PRG MBox media server

1 Screenworks X-7HD 7mm LED 19’.8” high x 24’.5” wide that splits

770 Blades 1260s w/processing

4 Christie 18k HD Projectors, (w/ spare), Lenses TBD

2 18’x32’ RP Screens w/frames

Camera Setup: (using Sony HXC-100s) HD flight pack w/ multi-viewer

2 FOH Cameras w/ 72x Long Lens

1 Handheld camera

1 Handheld in the Pit with 40’ of Dolly track

2 BRC 700s Robo Cameras w/ controller

1 DVD Record or KiPros for record

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Is Your Freelance Writer a Good Communicator?

Good communicatorWhen I’m asked (and I’m asked often) what makes for a successful freelance writer in St. Louis, I find myself a bit surprised at the first thing I say. Yes I’ll tell you I’m witty, engaging, hard working, deadline-driven, and turn in stories that resonate, but the first thing I say is, “I communicate.”

And I mean with the client. Be it the magazine editor, the hot new company developing content for their website, the company that needs a compelling voice for their social media work, I am in touch.  I sit at my home here in beautiful Webster Groves and work mostly offsite, but I make sure whoever I’m working knows the status of the project I’ve been hired to complete.

Especially with magazine editors, I will shoot a quick email saying something like, “He had to cancel twice because of scheduling conflicts, but I wanted to let you know I was able to sit down with the mayor today. He was remarkably forthcoming — I’m on track and you’ll get that article on Tuesday.” They really appreciate those updates.

And they appreciate these: “The interview subject had a death in the family and had to go out of town.  She was really apologetic, and as delicate as the issue is, I’m still going to stay on top of it.  I am going to keep you posted.”

Every client, especially social media ones, like, “as I worked on what we last discussed, I had an idea of a slightly different direction that I think will be more compelling and I want to run it by you….”

If you’ve hired a freelance writer in St. Louis or any place else for anything else, and you’re not pretty sure exactly the status of the project 100 percent of the time, perhaps your communicator is communicating with who is most important: You.

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Passionate People, Passionate Writing

Mary Kay Price QuiltAs I still here at my desk in St. Louis, I never know where I’m going to get my next freelance assignment. So I was pleased to get a call from Quilters Newsletter, a Denver-based publication that celebrates the art of quilting. I got to write for them a few years ago, and this time I was asked to profile Mary Kay Price, an award-winning artist who has created some really remarkable work. (It’s featured in the 2014 Feb/March issue.)

Her journey to the top of the quilting world is fascinating, and her work inspiring (here is just one piece, called “Portlandia,” and please google more of her work). But her passion for her work is what I most admired about her — in fact it was infectious.

Whether I’m doing an article for a quilting magazine, or a technical magazine, or even a consumer magazine, I always find the passion. It’s with that passion I tell the story that needs to be told. It’s in capturing that vibrancy of an interesting life that makes an article come to life, and one I’m able to do, even if I’m not an expert in the subject at hand. Because in the end, it’s always just about telling the story, and telling it in a manner that sticks with the reader long after the final sentence has been read.

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Obit for a Friend


Patrick Stansfield: took care of the rock stars, the popes, and everyone in between.

My first professional writing gig was writing obituaries for the Kansas City Star. I was still in college, and I had started out as clerk in the newsroom and then got promoted. And it was a promotion … see back in them days, obituaries were treated as news stories — very sacred news stories. From college kids training to be journalist to hot shot reporters hired from other papers, everyone started on the obit desk.

Why? Well, you must not get anything wrong in an obit. I remember the ombudsman, John, coming over on my first day, towering over me, explaining that everything I write will be clipped out and put into the family bible forever and ever amen, so it must be perfect.

It was good training, and I’ve got some pretty funny stories from those days, but it will cost you a beer to hear them ….

…. My spirit is always whisked back to those days when I’m put in a situation of writing an obituary for a friend, which I had to do this week.  It’s sad chore, but an honorable one.

Patrick Stansfield, Tour Manager, Founding Father of the Concert Touring Industry.

Patrick Stansfield, Tour Manager, Founding Father of the Concert Touring Industry.

This week we lost one Patrick Stansfield, tour manager for the Rolling Stones, Neil Diamond, and Barbra Streisand among many others, who was even called on to put on a couple of papal masses in ballparks.

I had the honor of working with him on the Parnelli Awards (the Grammy’s for live event  professionals).  He was co-founder and an amazing man, generous, funny, and made everybody he dealt with feel special.  I’m proud of this obituary, but when you are working with  material like this … read about his remarkable life here.

(And here’s the story:)

By Kevin M. Mitchell

BURBANK, CA – Patrick Stansfield, 70, tour manager for Neil Diamond, the Rolling Stones, Barbra Streisand, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, the Grateful Dead, Santana, Tina Turner and scores of others, died in the early morning hours on Oct. 28, 2014 from kidney failure. Along with his prominence in concert touring, Stansfield was the production mastermind behind the transformation of Dodgers and Yankee Stadiums for papal visits in 1987 and 2008 and was co-founder of the Parnelli Awards, named in memory of his good friend Rick “Parnelli” O’Brien. He was surrounded by family and friends at the Providence Saint Joseph Medical Center here in the days before his death.

“Patrick was a dear friend of mine for over 30 years,” says PLSN/FOH publisher Terry Lowe. “He was a great mentor to me. He touched the lives of so many people in a positive way. A part of our history passed away with him for he helped shape the history of our industry. Patrick may have passed out of this world but he will always be in the hearts and minds of the people who knew and loved him.”

A visit by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 required the transformation of Yankee Stadium into a weather-proof outdoor cathedral of sorts in a scant 49-hour window.His final hours were filled with calls and visits from all those who had the pleasure of working with him over the years. Neil Diamond called to say hi, and members of his band came and visited, as Stansfield had spent many years on the road with them. Along with Lowe, Leo Bonamy, Stan Miller, Kent Black, John Brown and many others visited in those final hours. Longtime friend and former founder of TMB, Marshall Bissett, spent many hours at Stansfield’s bedside during his last days in the hospital. Serving as a reporter, he kept friends far and wide up on the ups and downs, sometimes offering hope. In one email he wrote of a grim prognosis, but pointed out that Stansfield had defied doctors predictions in the past. “He started to complain about the hospital service and demand he be moved,” he wrote two days ago. “His oldest friends take that as a positive sign. We all remember how easy it was to raise his blood pressure!”

“We were expecting the news, but wishing it wouldn’t come,” says Doug Pope, long time associate who worked on many events with Stansfield, including the papal visits. “Most of my quotes about him are unprintable … but he led a good life and always had that soft side to him, and that’s what we shall always remember.”

“Patrick was the best friend, mentor, and storyteller you could wish for,” Bissett says. “His love for the concert industry was consuming and infectious, and he fought hard to give his acts the best shows possible. He is irreplaceable, but his legacy will be safe in the hands of the new generation he trained.”

In addition to his hundreds of friends and associates, Stansfield leaves behind his wife, Claudia; his daughters Lucy, Mayme and Kathryn Schakel; a half-sister, Ann Remington;  two half-brothers, Joseph and John; and two granddaughters and a grandson. He is predeceased by his father, Richard Dickey; his mother, Janeann Dickey (nee Schwarber); his adoptive father, James E. Stansfield and half-brother James E. Stansfield Jr. He will be cremated, followed by a private family ceremonial. There are plans for a memorial service in Los Angeles for him in December and possibly one in Las Vegas in November right before the Parnelli Awards.

A Life in Touring

Stansfield was one of the founders of this industry, making and breaking rules long before the suits and bean counters got involved, and his work with Barbra Streisand, Neil Diamond, Bob Dylan, George Harrison, Grateful Dead, Santana, Tina Turner, and Neil Young, among scores of others, and orchestrating special events like the Pope’s visit to Yankee stadium in 2008, has yielded tales to be retold many times over by those who worked with him over the years. But perhaps his greatest legacy is the Parnelli Awards, which over drinks in a bar in 2000, has grown into an annual sell-out gala event and become the industry’s highest honor. Credit is giving to Stansfield for using the awards to honor Rick “Parnelli” O’Brien, a much beloved roadie-cum-production manager who while struck down tragically with cancer in 2000, had already achieved such a career that so many remember him fondly.

“Patrick Stansfield is something of a phenomenon,” says Brian Croft, formerly of VLPS and now retired, who started working with Stansfield in 1973. “He has the most remarkable memory. He can, when asked (and often without being asked), sing you songs, word perfect, from Broadway musicals. He knows by heart the lyrics of every Bob Dylan tune and can probably tell you off the top of his head what time the morning train departs Mönchengladbach bound for Bad Homburg on Tuesdays in winter months. He is also a great diplomat; smoothing out the ruffled feathers of British aristocrats, IATSE bosses, and uptight pop stars with equal skill.”

Born in Cleveland, Ohio, in 1943, Stansfield never got to know his biological father, Dick Dickey. The Marine was killed in one of the last battles of the war at Okinawa at the age of 23. His mother, Janeann, and her family raised Stansfield, until his mother met and married James Stansfield, who adopted him.

When a childhood friend got Stansfield backstage for a series of New York Metropolitan Operas, the die was cast. “There I was, at 13, standing backstage watching five or six nights of opera from the fly rail,” he said in a 2005 PLSN/FOH interview. “I was seeing how it all works.”

In 1959, he became an apprentice at MusiCarnival and worked there until 1961, when he went first to Ohio University in Athens, OH, and then transferred to Carnegie Mellon in Pittsburgh, PA. But it was also a struggle, as the school was expensive for the middle-class lad. He would be forced to drop out in 1964, and then started stage managing equity productions. In 1969, he would work with the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis, MN, where music and rock shows were put on at the Walker Art Center, also in Minneapolis, including the Grateful Dead and the first U.S. tours of John Denver, Cat Stevens, and Elton John.

Patrick Stansfield and Bill Graham during Bob Dylan's tour in 1973.“I consciously decided around then that theater was not where my future was,” Stansfield said. “I really didn’t think it was a growth industry at the time, so I followed the money, the production money.” And so he did, ending up in San Francisco, where he brazenly knocked on Bill Graham’s door. Graham wanted to provide complete services to large tours. “The challenge was, we had to invent it all,” he said. Groups like the Dead and Santana had their own sound companies, but then all the other services from arranging hotel bookings and transportation came into play.

In 1971, he went out with Santana as production manager, and they would play everything from “dirt poor agricultural halls, civic auditoriums to 7,000 to 8,000, and then suddenly you’re in Chicago trying to amplify the stockyards for 12,000.”

In 1972, he got on the Rolling Stones’ infamous “STP” tour, acting as stage manager at first for just a few dates, then aggressively went after the position for the rest of North American tour. Realizing it would be prestigious to be associated with this tour, he lobbied Chip Monck, who was production manager.

When it was time for the Australian leg of the Stones tour, Chip Monck was left behind in Hawaii due to an old minor pot conviction. (“[The Stones Organization] decided that they could take only one drug offender into the country, and for some reason, they chose Keith [Richards] over me,” Monck likes to joke.) Stansfield was handed the prized position, which he considered a “battlefield promotion.” When not with The Stones, he was with Santana, including a Central American tour that involved two audience members being killed at one show, a riot at another, and one in Nicaragua where “we did the show for the dictator Somoza, and did it practically at gunpoint.”

Stansfield was perfecting what would be his hallmark, insisting on his own airplane for the band, crew, and equipment. He was trying to control the environment under the most trying circumstances, and since it didn’t kill him, it certainly made him stronger. “In every case, we were making it up as we went along—solutions off the shelf did not exist.”

In 1974, he was production manager for the first real stadium mega-tour for Crosby, Still, Nash & Young. That was a historical high point for the industry, because it grossed $25 million in 23 venues. If there was any doubt that rock ‘n’ roll had matured and was ready to make a tremendous amount of money, it was dispelled then.

Encapsulate the Artist

In 1975, he severed his relationship with Graham and went to work for Peter Rudge and New York-based Sir Productions, which managed the Stones and others.  In addition to more Stones work, he also toured with the likes of Bob Dylan and George Harrison, among many others.

There was a personal price to all this success. He was on the road more than 300 days a year. A failed first marriage ensued, sadly typical of so many in this business, and by 1976 he had developed an expensive cocaine habit that he would eventually kick—but not before it tore through his wallet.

“I was making a lot of money, and spending a lot,” he confessed.

Yet in 1980, he was at the top of his game, in a position to mostly limit his touring clientele to one: Neil Diamond. He had started working with Diamond in 1975, and he’d eventually be put on permanent retainer, a relationship that lasted close to 25 years and spanned more than 1,000 shows before ending abruptly. Stansfield always regretted, sometimes understandably angrily, being “put off that bus.” (Like the professional he always was, he never spoke in detail of that breakup). Diamond would film a special video in his honor when he received the Parnelli Lifetime Achievement Award in 2005, which he graciously and humbly received.

But Stansfield remained immensely proud of his work with Diamond.

“The style of touring was the encapsulation of the artist,” Stansfield explained. “It’s standard now, but I would use private planes, private trains, build a support matrix for the artist—insulate him or her. This allows the artists to spend their whole life on the road and never burn out.”

Then came 1985 and Live Aid, which Stansfield refers to as “the day the music industry grew up.” The historic worldwide telecast, for which he served as stage coordinator at the Philadelphia location, brought together scores of acts for the first billion-plus audience. It also brought together two old friends.

“I got a call from Michael Ahern on Bill [Graham]’s behalf to work on it,” he says. “And it brought the industry from a teenager to an adult, because it embraced something more than just making money. That event, July 13, 1985… it changed the worldwide perception of the music business forever in one day.”

Other big shows through the 1990s included large successful tours by the likes of Elton John and Tina Turner, among others. Then there was the Woodstock Festival II, where Stansfield brought 1,800 artists and guests together at an extremely remote site by coach, helicopters, and river ferry, and solely coordinated internal transport and delivery of all talent to all three stages.

In 1994, Stansfield served as tour manager production supervisor for Barbra Streisand’s “The Concert” tour with Marvin Hamlisch. “Barbra, as I am fond of saying, is like a 747—she takes a full crew.”

“This tour brought Barbra and Marvin Hamlisch together, and they had not done anything like this in 15 years, and the industry had changed so much during that time, not only technologically, but theatrically,” Peter Morse, who was LD on that tour, recalled. “They were being rather defensive, and it was difficult to say things like, ‘You need video.’ They’d say, ‘Why?’ and Patrick, the king of diplomacy in all fashion, the statesman, would get them to understand.”

Stansfield started working decidedly non–rock and roll gigs, like Pope Saint John Paul II’s visits to Central Park in New York (1995) and Dodgers Stadium in Los Angeles (1987). It was an emotional moment when he got to take his stepfather, a lifelong Catholic, to the event where they met the Pope. In 1995 he also started doing events for Nissan, thus blazing into a successful corporate career. Again, he insists it’s all the same: “Same skills, just different head space in terms of corporate protocol and the decision making process.”

Michael Crawford, Sarah Brightman, and another Streisand tour in 1999 came under his command. “Barbra’s Timeless Concert Tour, the final show, was a record-breaking concert by the world’s ultimate diva. It was webcast live to millions.” Always paying attention to details, Stansfield pauses, then corrects himself: “But don’t say that was the ‘final’ tour, because I believe Barbra will tour again. Say it was… ‘climactic.’”

Under the category that you can take the artist out of the theater, but you can’t take the theater out of the artist, in 1996 Stansfield began a long involvement with Shakespeare Festival LA and has been featured on stage in several productions.

Always a World Class Act

“I’ve never before (or ever again) done advances of venues where we routinely had fully catered gourmet meals in the building board rooms,” said longtime associate and soundman Bruce Jackson (who himself passed away too soon in a plane accident in 2011). Stansfield’s love of good food and good restaurants is legendary, although Jackson makes clear that that is certainly a reason to work with him: “Patrick would always stand up for his department heads. I remember specifying once that we carpet all venues, such as Madison Square Garden and London’s Wembley, and Patrick would make it happen—invisibly. When one venue laid carpet that must have come straight from a dog show, he had it replaced that night. He was always on our side.”

“I’m a political guy,” Stansfield shrugged at the end of that 2005 interview. “Technology has changed tremendously during my career, but it’s still always the same people skills that are involved. My theater background has helped a lot. Others can afford to have a big ego [laughs]…, I try to get along with people.”

Patrick Stansfield, who was himself honored with a Lifetime Achievement award in 2005, played a key role in the development of the Parnelli Awards gala honoring the artistic vision and technological achievements of those who work backstage. The awards were named in memory of his good friend Rick “Parnelli” O’Brien.In addition to another Papal visit in 2008, which required the transformation of Yankee Stadium into a weather-proof outdoor cathedral of sorts in a scant 49-hour window for Pope Benedict XVI, Stansfield kept busy on many auto industry-related events for PRG and other extravaganzas including the touring Star Wars in Concert production of 2012 that paired live symphonic and choral performances with HD footage from the movies. He also increasingly put his heart and soul into the Parnelli Awards. (He received the Lifetime Achievement honor himself in 2005). His presence at all the meetings was critical, as was the way he stayed on the floor during the galas themselves, quick to iron out any wrinkle. Fourteen years strong, and continuing to grow, it will be one of his lasting legacies.

Remembrances are pouring in, and if you have one send to Meanwhile, there’s this from PLSN/FOH managing editor, Frank Hammel: “It’s a bad day for us, but a good day for Rick O’Brien and all his other friends, as I’m sure they’re giving him quite a welcome up there.”

He would not fault this writer for ending on a quote from Shakespeare’s Hamlet:

He was a man, take him for all in all.
I shall not look upon his like again.


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Unusual Social Media Assignments

It’s an honor to be the creative that others come to when they don’t know who else to turn to. Because of that reputation, I’ve done some unusual fun social media/content projects for Disney over the years, and this is one of them.

DonaldThey wanted to do a fun, irreverent “Meme” featuring some of the beloved characters in Mickey Mouse’s world. As we worked on it, though, the team realized that we couldn’t be “too” irreverent, so we went with fun/warm instead.

The idea is for anyone, including kids, to create their own memes to send to their friends and family. They turned out cute.

I really enjoyed working on this project with this team which included Busy Bee Studios. Did we end up going through a lot of my copy, a lot of rewrites? Absolutely. But in the end the client’s goal was met, and that’s what it is all about. After all, it’s not about me, but always for the greater good. I thrive on that kind of teamwork.

And this is not the first time I’ve gotten to work for Disney. Many of my projects for them over the years have purposely had a short shelf life and not stuck around too long online, but it’s always been a rewarding experience that has stretched me creatively in different ways. And how much fun is it to work with “the” mouse?

So this is just one example of the many original, fun, different web-based projects I’ve worked on over the years for many others. This kind of interactive “game” does a lot to engage the customer, and I believe it’s going to be more of what marketing is about for all of us.

So check out this site and send someone a Mickey Meme today!


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Your Website, in Your Voice

In creating content for websites big and small, I’ve always believed that the personality of the company needs to shine through. My years as a journalist, and as a playwright, has enabled me to capture a business’s personality and put it on the screen.

A great example is the work I did for the website of a St. Louis photographer, Nancy Stevens. She could have just copied and pasted generic “marketing/I’m great!” samples from others, but she knew it would be to her advantage to not just market her skills, but herself too. She knew she wanted prospective clients to get to know the type of person she is.

That’s where I come in.Website Searching

My approach to content projects like this is to interview the owner/head of the company as if I’m going to write a long article on them. In this case, I asked her what her background was, why she loves her work, and what she makes her good (among many other questions).

In addition to carefully gathering facts, I listened. Her mannerism, the way she described things, her voice. Then I was able to craft compelling copy that told her story in her way.  Looking through her pages, you really get a sense of who she is in addition to how talented she is. I instantly felt that Nancy was someone that people would enjoy working with, and that is what was needed to come across through the language of her site.

When creating content for businesses, I know that while the customer is looking for value, he or she also wants that personal relationship. I believe that the best part of us is the aspect that make us unique, human. At the end of the day, we all want positive interactions with other good people.

And I love making that happen for any business — big or small and everything in between.

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The Choices We Make

I’ve been working with BigWideSky because their mantra, “we make brands human,” really rings true.  They are also creative, even soulful, about messaging, public relations, rightly rejecting the outdated “top-down” narrative brands have engaged in for interaction in a more intimate, personal way.

I’ve been invited to write articles for their Be Human Project, which I’ve really enjoyed.  They have a great assortment of forward-thinking professionals contributing, and it’s always a great thought-provoking read.

This is my third contribution to it.

Dishonest 2The Choices We Make

“Marketing used to be what you say … now, marketing is what you do. What you make. How you act. The choices you make when you are sure no one is looking.” This is a quote from author, entrepreneur, marketer, and public speaker, Seth Godin.

I’d never even heard of Seth before this quote showed up on my Facebook page, posted by a friend and peer in the musical instrument business. But, I became an instant fan because he so succinctly summed up what I wish so many in the communications field would more nakedly embrace.

Here’s the upshot: An interesting byproduct of today’s communication climate is that it will ultimately keep us all “more honest.” And, that’s a good thing. Now, I don’t say it’s a “good thing” from any high moral ground. As the always admirable Jean Kennedy points out in her recent article on this very site, apparently nobody tells the truth (or exactly the truth) 100 percent of the time, (or even 78.3 percent of the time). But, enjoy my 12.7 percent window here, as I’m telling the truth.

The truth is that we are all looking for the “real,” the “human” aspect. Those who show it will be rewarded.

Every month it seems another seemingly not unreasonable decision is made for the sake of the bottom line at the moment; but long term, the currency is credibility and the exchange rate is increasing.

The human element is being traded at a loss. “The choices you make when no one is looking,” are those choices that define us as people, and therefore define us as a business.

The reason you don’t click through the “one funny rule to get a flat belly” link is because you’re smarter than most. But see, everyone is smarter than most. This is liberating. You can be you. Your business can be human. Your messaging is your story, and your story is your marketing.

“If you tell the truth, you don’t have to remember anything,” said Mark Twain. Choose wisely, honestly, nakedly. Especially when no one is looking.

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Writing for an Audience of One

I’m extremely lucky to make a living writing for others — articles, books, media relations, and web/social media content — I love it all. But I know sometimes I need to write for myself.

When it’s just me at the end of the verbiage line, I take changes, I push boundaries, I experiment with voice and tone. Lately from time to time I’ve been writing about family members in an intimate way. (I wrote about my grandma here.)

All this contributes to what I write for you.

This is what I wrote on September 23rd, 2014:

Today is my Uncle Bob’s birthday. He would have been 84. I’m going to chat about him, but I’m not promising that I’ll address the rumor that he bailed me out of jail once when I was in college.

Uncle Bob was “rich” Uncle Bob. He was “Kansas City” Uncle Bob because he lived in Kansas City that, in the 70s, was an exotic locale to a 10-year-old.

Bob was born second to my Mom, Jean, on this day in 1930. His father, a Scotch-Irish cop, was kind of an asshole, minus the “kind of” part. When Bob was 15, he came in announced he had lied about his age and enlisted in the Marines, you know, in time for Korea. My grandfather said something to the effect of, “you’re not man enough” though much more colorful as in using a word that might bring to mind a kitten. My grandmother, Rose Thelma, was horrified. (It turned out part of Bob’s motivation was that, in his words, he “hung around” some kids who “might have been stealing cars” and the heat, the coppers, the paddys, were hot on his trail so getting out of town however might have been prudent.)

Bob and a buddy had found a courthouse in Arkansas that had burnt down, and claimed their birth certificates had fueled the fire. Nudge nudge, wink wink, and they were instantly Marines three years younger than they should have been. Off to war he went!

Funny thing about that. He finished basic, and was in line to be shipped out. Like standing in line to get on the boat destination the Korean “Police Action.” At the last minute, a sergeant yelled out, “Do any of you men have cooking experience?” Bob, the wiseass, muttered, “I had a job sweeping the floor of a bakery once.” The sergeant called him out. He was now in the kitchen at the base while his fellow recruits marched off to glorious battle.

He was pissed.

Bob CoweeThe war had expanded at the moment to China (New! Improved! 25 percent more war!). The weather was significantly colder, and they threw that group of young men, sans Bob, into battle. Their M1s froze up. All of them were killed. Gunned down like a ducks at a cheap county fair arcade game. Lives. Wasted.

Bob still regretted not being there.

He became a decent baker, and then a decent cook. Twice more he would eagerly be in line for battle, and twice more he would be pulled out of line, his rifle replaced with a spatula. He wanted to prove something to his father, and to himself, and of course being a man of the time, wanted to be in the fight. How did his military career end? As the cook for a General. In college (Kansas City Conservatory), I would sit on his couch, drink his scotch while he smoked his apple-scented tobacco in that really cool pipe and listen to these stories. He would laugh at this part. He worked three days a week. “Me and my buddy would get a car somehow” (hmmm…) and we’d drive down to LA from San Diego to sell these watches. We made a bunch of money on them and we had a really good time!”

My mother, his older sister, would insist on marrying my father on the unlikely date of December 28th because “that was the only day my baby brother could come to the wedding.” In addition to his marriage, December 28th marked the beginning of along resentment my father would have toward Uncle Bob, and Uncle Bob’s long held opinion that his sister could have done better.

After the war, Bob took advantage of the GI bill and got himself one of them college education that everyone was talking about in the 1950s. He went into banking, and he married Doris.

About Doris: Divorcee. Had kid! Fathered by a guy who got lost quicker than Even older than him! Bob did not give a shit about any of that, and fell in love with her anyway.

Bob did not give a shit. He fell in love with this single Mom in the 1950s when that was totally not cool. But she was different, she was funny, she had opinions. Sadly, she also had brain cancer in the early 1970s and in those primitive days, the surgery was dicey. She physically survived it, but was never quite the same, and a long fight with intense, immobilizing depression began (I remember the story being that when they had her “head open” on the operating table, one of the surgery accidentally “touched her brain” but then again I was 10).

They had three kids at this point, though at seven years apart each, one was out of the house (the youngest was just a few months older than me and we’ve always been close, cut from the same cloth as it were). Dorie was always different, but always good to me.

When I got to Kansas City to the conservatory, I’d often go over and play Bob’s baby grand piano and drink from his well-stocked liquor cabinet. He was generous in spirit and full of advice and like my father, not crazy I was majoring in music. (“What’s your ‘plan b’?” he would ask.) But I loved to talk to him and hear his stories and I have many fond memories of sitting on his couch drinking his Scotch asking him what a bond salesman does, or something about the market, and generally anything financial because if I didn’t ask he’d start telling me anyway. (Besides, avoiding politics was a must.)

Besides banking, and woodworking, his passion was the Kansas City Scottish Rite. He was Robert Coweea purple proud 32 Degree Mason and loved everything about that secretive institution. As I got a little older (I did go to college for six years, having dropped out for two to play in an alt rock band in Tulsa), late in the evening he would start to talk to me into joining the Masons.

“Now your father will tell you we’re anti-Catholic, but that’s not true!” he said once. “We have several Catholic members now.”

I looked at him and said, “Great, Bob, how you doing with the Blacks? How many Black members in your lodge?”

He shook his head, admitting, “Well, you’re right, we have some ways to go on that ….”

I was always impressed with the way he carried himself, the way he was a gentleman, the old school good manners that he imbued. His generosity was unending, always letting me stay at his home if I was between mouse-invested apartments in college, and always giving me his hand-me-down sport coats, which classed up this scraggy college student more then I deserved. He was so kind to all my friends and all my wives.

And as my father was bald with a death-defying comb over when he was my age, perhaps most of all, I am most grateful for his great hair.

Happy birthday, Bob. Thanks for everything, especially being the kind of Uncle that if hypothetically speaking one needed to be bailed out of jail, one would do so and never tell Mom.

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Embracing the Change of Content

It’s been an exciting week because I was published in a brand new journal. It was brand new not only to me, but the world. As if that wasn’t thrilling enough, it was my first completely digital magazine — it exists only in cyberworld, and so no trees were harmed in the making of Line Up, the new magazine from the folks at the International Music Festival Conference.

I got to write about Summerfest, for sure the biggest and pretty much the best music festival in the country sez me. It takes place in wonderful Milwaukee, and it was inspiring to talk to the wonderful folks who put it together. The article was really fun to put together, and stretched my muscles a bit.  While I often write on the technical aspects for the live entertainment industry, I got to take a step back and enjoy writing about the bigger picture. It was also pleasing that the powers that be enjoyed my work enough to give me two assignments for the next issue — including one covering a film festival.

Summerfest in Milwaukee is always a blast.

Summerfest in Milwaukee is always a blast.

New assignments reinvigorate me, and I love that I can write about anything. I really enjoy talking to people who have passion in what they do, and I just let that passion spill over into highly engaging, educating, and entertaining copy.

All the many magazines I’ve written for over the years all pretty much have digital versions, but that Line Up is digital only is new to me.

It’s fun to look back. In the 1980s, I would get a job as a typesetter at a Kansas City publishing firm where I would code into what now seems like quite the archaic computer the font, size, layout, etc., of everything from ads to books (my claim to typesetting fame is I physically typed in every word of Roger Ebert‘s first “video movie companion” of compiled reviews).

Then dropped out of the conservatory to go to Tulsa to play in a punk band (that was a fun letter for my parents to receive). There I physically worked with old-fashioned lead type pretty much like my revolutionary era hero did.  (This was for a company that made checks for banks and apparently that was still the best way to do it.)

I would return to college and get my music degree, and start a career writing about music and the arts and continue playing music. I’m grateful that that continues to today.  Also grateful to get new opportunities to make editor’s job easier by giving them the copy they ask for in the manner they ask it and of course, on time.

I don’t know where “print” will be in 10 years — people yearn for quality content, and that will never change. How it is delivered will be different than it was when I was a kid, but my desire to create articles that tell engaging stories will never change.

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Part of the Process

I’ve had the honor of consulting and providing copy for an East Coast-based medical IT doctorsfirm for a couple of years now. They are wonderful clients, and it’s satisfying to help them with their creative. This is a bit of a departure for me as I have worked with a wide variety clients from Disney to music instrument distributors to photographers wanting to set up an engaging website. But I’ve enjoyed the opportunity of messaging for a B2B reaching out to medical professions.

They are a start up and so we’re developing their branding from a blank page, which I love.  I work to give them a definitive voice that’s consistent, exudes competence, and most of all, human. This has included everything from as big as their website copy to helping with a two-paragraph email!

Recently they needed help with signage to dress up their trade show booth. They gave me a list of products and services they wanted up on it, and I wrote the copy. They loved the copy, but as we went through the design process, and as I worked with the producer, the artist, and the client, we realized the copy needed whittling down.  I was happy to do it.  And then I did it again.  Then again… and in the end? Very little of my copy ended up on the final piece.

What do I think about this? I think it’s great. I think it’s great because the final poster worked. That’s all that matters. It doesn’t matter who has what idea, who does what, what gets left on the cutting room floor, or even if the process zigs and zags.

We had to go through the process we did to get to the success of effective messaging.  It’s a journey and a destination, and you can’t have one without the other.

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