Operating the lights for 70 performances in eight days at SXSW 2022

Backstage Academy Live Events Production student operates the lighting on the British Music Embassy (BME) Stage at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2022, powered by the Production Park team, covering over 70 sets in eight days.

“It was definitely a daunting but equally exciting prospect,” Backstage Academy Live Events Production student, Bradley Nicholson modestly recalled, referring to his time operating the lights for 70 performances in eight days on the British Music Embassy (BME) Stage at South by Southwest (SXSW) 2022 in Austin, Texas, some 4,798 miles away from home.

“I didn’t feel like I had a lack of knowledge when I was out there, every challenge that was thrown at me was backed up by the skills taught to me at Backstage Academy,” he reminisced. “To overcome everything relatively unscathed was an unbelievable experience, especially having the added experience of being in another country without the home comforts of Backstage Academy – like being able to walk into the warehouse and pick up a cable that you’ve forgotten – was key in preparing me for SXSW.”

However, it was far from a walk in the park for Nicholson. “There were points where I questioned my abilities, but thankfully, I managed to get everything looking the way I wanted, and even if that meant doing it in a different order, it was a nice way for me to learn to adapt to the situation and come up with solutions,” he added. 

“Seeing everyone come together to achieve a collective goal of showcasing the next-generation of talent was amazing to see. Experiences like SXSW definitely help when it comes to career progression.”

British Music Embassy presents SXSW 2022

As the dust settled on the whirlwind eight day tirade of fader riding on an Avolites Tiger Touch II, Nicholson reflected on his journey thus far, particularly the quiet moments spent in lockdown amid the grounding of live events and remote learning.

“I used Avolites Titan simulator and four universes of WYSIWYG to make four full timecoded shows in lockdown. Having the time to sit and experiment with software, watch YouTube tutorials, and speaking to lecturers online, wasn’t exactly the university experience I was expecting but I was definitely able to use all of the resources available at that time to make the best out of a bad situation.”

At SXSW, Nicholson relished the opportunity to do something creative and ‘out of his comfort zone’, as opposed to sticking some lights on a truss. “I was limited with my DMX outputs on an Avolites Tiger Touch II, so figuring out how to control 70m of LED pixel strip on 10 universes of data, took me the best part of a day but I managed to get it working and it looked really cool. I even had to read through my Avolites training books to fix an issue we had with recreating the colour red on the LED pixel tape, which was a testament to everything I’ve learned at Backstage Academy.”

Production Manager, Ant Forbes added: “Bradley’s confidence levels changed throughout the week when it came to problem solving and overcoming any challenge or task required… nobody would have thought for a second that he was a Backstage Academy student, you’d have thought he was just a veteran road dog who had aged really well!”

Nicholson concluded: “This experience has given me an insight into a future in live touring, which isn’t something which I necessarily considered prior to SXSW. However, having jumped in at the deep end, it was pretty fun and ticked every single box – it’s given me a lot to think about when I consider my next steps. My advice to those looking to break into the sector is to jump at any experience offered and give it your all.”

This article originally appeared in issue #269 of TPi, which you can read here.