A live events business adapts to the new normal
By Shanee Edwards
Growing up in Poland, Monica Lyons’s life revolved around music. Playing the flute and piano, she enjoyed giving concerts and earned a master’s degree in classical music and music theory. She was planning to get her Ph.D., too, and came to Los Angeles to do research.
Her plan was to stay in sunny SoCal for a year and then return to Poland to write her thesis. But the universe had a different plan for her.
“I came to do research but found a husband instead,” says Lyons with a laugh.
She was Introduced to the love of her life, Sean Lyons, by a mutual friend in Santa Monica. Sean was working as a soundman and lighting designer for live concerts, so they had a musical connection. She ditched her Ph.D. for love and never looked back. That was 10 years ago.
Now, Monica and Sean have their own company called Smoke and Mirrors, a full-service event company, often creating dynamic sound and visual experiences at live music festivals like Coachella.
“We work in live entertainment, anywhere you need video walls, PA systems, stage lighting or building a stage,” says Monica.
But things have changed dramatically with COVID-19. Her big client Coachella cancelled it’s popular music festival; as have all the others.
“We were out of work instantly in the beginning of March,” she says. Luckily, the Lyons have a warehouse in El Segundo where they built a soundstage. Now, they are doing socially distanced events, only they’ve added a new component: livestreaming.
The business model of holding live performances without a live audience is still in its infancy, but many TV shows like “America’s Got Talent” are making it work. Even baseball has come back without fans in the stadium, so the model is gaining in popularity.
“We can have fundraisers, concerts – we’ll have
theater later this month. We still follow all the guidelines: everyone’s wearing masks, there’s under 10 people. The whole warehouse is quite large, so the risk is really low. Everything is sanitized during the breaks so we’re doing okay,” she says.
Monica remains optimistic, “I think people are trying to play it safe – us too. When this first started we said, ‘We’re not leaving the house for five years if that’s what it takes.’ But slowly, things are opening up and people are more comfortable leaving the house.”
But looking too far into the future is a scary prospect for her. “We’d like to think that when a vaccine is available, everything will just go back to normal, but…” she takes a pause, “we don’t know if the companies we used to work for, be a vendor to, will be around. There is a lot of speculation and one of our biggest accounts let go of their entire staff.”
With so much up in the air, the Lyons are thinking of building an even bigger livestream soundstage, because “this could be the future of events,” she says.
No matter what the future holds for live performances, the company Smoke and Mirrors is not only adapting but is surprisingly aptly named for a time when everyone is trying to create the illusion of normalcy using very limited resources.
Even without the large crowds, Monica says she loves her work and feeds off every new situation. “It’s about the energy of the people, and it’s always a learning experience for me.”