Elisha L Griego: Interview With TactMan Producer
Elisha L Griego is a producer with TactMan who creates large scale lighting design and video art. Elisha has held production manager and designer roles as well as creating lighting design with notable companies including The Colorado Ballet, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, Ballet Repertory Theatre and South Coast Repertory Theatre. She has also worked as the associate designer for a number of concert tours with Marc Brickman, and is also passionate about her role as a university lecturer.
Hi Elisha, thanks for speaking with us at TheatreArtLife! How would you describe your role as producer at TactMan – what does that entail?
I like to say that our company is comprised of the characters from Peter Pan. My role in the story is that of Wendy – I try to make Peter, the Lost Boys and Tinkerbell behave themselves! In all seriousness, my role as TactMan’s producer really depends on the project. I do most of the client interface and coordination and more business oriented things such as writing proposals, reviewing and creating contracts, and invoicing, and tons of logistics and coordination including equipment rental, travel, project scheduling.
Since I have a design background, I also have some input on the creative for projects. Occasionally I draft light plots, and I do some architectural lighting design. I am also a translator – our team is comprised of highly talented, intelligent and artistic people and I help convey their ideas to clients in a somewhat more “corporate way”. Producer is really a catch-all title.
How did you find yourself here, and what was your background? How did you get your ‘start’ in the industry?
I’ve always known I wanted to be in the live events world. When my childhood ambitions to be a trapeze artist/ballerina/opera singer didn’t pan out, I knew I still wanted to be involved somehow. My high school had a class called “technical theatre”, and I signed up in my sophomore year, partly because I liked the idea of doing something in theatre, and partly because the boys had long hair and wore all black and I thought they were cute!
Luckily for me, I fell in love with technical theatre right away. We had a great high school theatre program, and I did some of everything. A lot of stage management, some lighting design, set painting and construction, running sound for band concerts. Whatever they would let me do! My senior year I was president of our Thespian troupe.
I decided to major in theatre in college, and attended the University of Colorado, Boulder. That is absolutely where I learned how to be an Arts professional. I did set, lighting, and sound design, and I stage-managed a lot. I also worked in the scene shop and as an electrician every semester I was in school. CU is affiliated with the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the summer after my Freshman year, I worked at CSF as a technical apprentice. I did 10 total seasons with CSF over 12 years, and worked my way up from the lowest apprentice position to being the lighting designer for two of the four shows in my last season.
CSF and my mentors and colleagues there are a huge reason that I am as successful as I am!
What has been your career highlight or most memorable moment so far?
There have been a few that really stand out. Doing my first designs at the Colorado Shakespeare Festival and the Colorado Ballet, as I started as an apprentice or assistant at each company. Associate designing on several concert tours for artists like Keith Urban and John Mayer.
And then of course, being on Broadway! Marc Brickman and Steven Van Zandt co-directed a show that featured the band The Rascals, who reunited for the show. I was involved in absolutely every aspect of that show, from working on the shoots for the film sequences, to purchasing of vintage instruments, to staffing, to scheduling rehearsals, to supervising with Marc on all of the design elements. Everything!
For the out-of-town try-out at the Capitol Theatre in Port Chester, NY I was credited as a producer. When the show moved to Broadway, I was the production manager. And then when it went on tour, I moved over into company management. Looking out at the dark house at the Richard Rodgers Theatre the afternoon before we opened, I was absolutely in awe. I had ACTUALLY made it to Broadway! I will never forget that feeling.
And on the other side, what’s been your biggest learning curve?
Keeping up with technology! TactMan includes a couple of amazing technologists/programmers/coders and they have been slowly bringing me in to the 21st century. I have learned a ton on the conceptual level about what they do, and how technology is absolutely and fundamentally changing live event design and experiences.
What’s your favourite thing about working at TactMan?
That the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. We are a small collective, and everyone has their own area of expertise. As individuals, we all create really great art. Together, we create things that are absolutely mind-blowing. We are all really different personalities, and that can be challenging, but what we create together is nothing short of extraordinary.
What can you tell us about your teaching work and what you do with that side of your career?
I also love teaching. After the Rascals tour ended, I was burned out. I took a year off, and when I was ready to go back to work, I found out that California State University Long Beach’s Dance Department was looking for an interim technical director. I do NOT consider myself to be a TD, but the position was a 6 month emergency hire, and I figured that I could do it for that long.
At the end of 6 months, they offered me a full time position as the TD and Production manager. I also designed all of the department’s shows. After a year, they asked me to teach the lighting design class, and I absolutely LOVED doing that. When I made the difficult decision to leave my full-time position at the University to work with TactMan again, CSULB was very supportive and they still bring me in to teach and design from time to time!
What advice would you give to anyone wanting to follow in your footsteps in the industry?
Just do it. Don’t let your fear of failure hold you back. Say yes. You might have had your eyes set on one career path, or one particular position, but if that doesn’t pan out immediately, then try doing something peripheral.
Right out of grad school, I desperately wanted to design for regional theatre, and my dream job at that time was to design for Cirque du Soleil. Obviously, those are difficult ambitions to achieve, and I needed a job. I posted my resume online and got a call from a small architectural lighting firm, Fox+Fox Design. I ended up working for them for four years, while I simultaneously hustled and did as much freelance lighting design as I could. I didn’t have much interest in architectural design at the time, but it was good work, with really wonderful people, and I learned a new skillset.
In 2009 I was laid off from the architectural lighting position due to the recession. But just at that moment, my former professor Lonnie Alcaraz, whom I had been assisting a lot, got a call from a friend. They were looking for a design assistant and draftsperson for a Cirque du Soleil show.
The designer for that show ended up being Marc Brickman, and the rest is history!
And in 2012 when Marc received the call that the Empire State Building wanted him to design the lighting for the building, my architectural lighting background was super valuable. I have worked with TactMan on and off for almost twelve years.
What are you currently working on and what can we look forward to next?
Given the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on live events in the US and globally, our industry is really at a crossroads. The whole team at TactMan feels strongly that live events professionals need to really be innovative in this moment. We are working on lots of interesting things, including live-event centered gaming and apps, XR experiences, content creation, etc. It’s all new territory, but these kinds of elements will definitely be part of the live events landscape moving forward. And of course, TactMan always has exciting events in the works with the Empire State Building.
As part of the Robin Hood Foundation's "Rise Up New York" coronavirus benefit, Tactical Manoeuvre created a light-to-music show at the Empire State Building to accompany Billy Joel's performance. The event raised over $115 million dollars for New Yorkers in need.
Posted by Tactical Manoeuvre, Inc. on Thursday, May 21, 2020
Elisha’s Website: https://www.elishagriego.com/
TactMan Website: https://www.tactman.com/
TactMan Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/tacticalmanoeuvre/