Building a career in events from the ground up
December 16, 2021
Perched 90 feet in the air, looking down at a race track that she was helping to transform into the biggest music festival in North America, Genevieve Poppe was soaring to new heights in her career – one she had only stumbled into by chance.
Halfway through a language degree in her native United States, Gen (pictured above) had been having a hard time finding a part-time job.
“University in the States is expensive, but nobody was hiring, and I had a convoluted class schedule so I couldn’t do full shifts during normal business hours,” Gen says.
“I popped into the theatre box office simply because it was open late. They were having an information session for backstage jobs which they sent me to.”
The theatre was keen to hire her and it was the only position that worked with her hectic timetable. Before she knew it, not only was she working with the university theatre supporting touring concerts and plays, but she was also getting regular work at venues back in her hometown when she went home for holidays.
Gen was having so much fun that she considered switching her major to theatre. In the end she completed her French degree, but switched lanes from her original plan to become a French teacher. Instead, she spent several years travelling around the States building music festival stages, climbing and rigging, and constructing arena shows for top artists.
“You walk into an arena, and it’s this blank slate, and you turn it into something completely different. I think it’s that transformation that I really enjoy - creating something amazing out of nothing.”
Gen notes that the events industry in America was very male-dominated.
“For instance, at some of those music festivals, I would be at the top of a structure 90 feet in the air, and I’m the only girl up there at the top with 20 or 30 guys. And not only did I have to keep up, but I needed to be better than average, in order to prove myself.
“As women, there were so few us in the industry that we really bonded together. When I got the chance, it was great to show other women what the industry was really like, and that girls could do it.
“I got my roommate doing some shifts, and then she actually came home with me for a whole summer and we worked in one of the local venues.”
Gen loved her work in the US, but says that when she arrived in New Zealand seven years ago, it was a pleasant surprise to find an industry that had a lot more women in it, working and being treated as equals.
“It’s been really nice to just be welcomed and accepted, and to see more women in the industry - whether it’s corporate AV or theatre or what have you. The United States may well have come a long way since I left and maybe there are more women now. But in 2012 we were a small group in the crews I worked with.”
Over the past seven years Gen has immersed herself in the entertainment technology sector in New Zealand, and on top of working in industry, she is also the Administrator of the industry association, Entertainment Technology New Zealand.
Despite her many years of practical experience in the field, Gen decided to enrol in the Level 4 apprenticeship in Entertainment and Event Technology through Skills Active Aotearoa, which her colleagues at ETNZ had worked jointly to develop.
“I never did make that transfer over to a theatre degree,” she laughs.
“So this was a qualification, something physical on paper, to show what I’ve done in my career. There were also pilot scholarships at the time because the apprenticeship had just been launched, and I was able to obtain one of those.”
Of the seven strands in the apprenticeship, Gen chose rigging and lighting. She flew through her rigging strand, but lighting took longer. The company she was working at didn’t have a big lighting department, and it took a long time to arrange all of the observed events she needed for her assessments.
“I don’t enjoy operating lighting as much as I used to,” Gen explains. “I’ve developed a bit of an anxiety around operating anything for a show after a whole lot of big corporate events where there is a lot of pressure, and corporate clients expecting everything to be perfect with no rehearsal time.”
She persisted nonetheless, and found smaller dance and theatre pieces with lighting jobs that would count towards her qualification requirements. She also hosted study sessions at her place with friends who were doing the apprenticeship or the Level 3 certificate.
Bouncing ideas with friends and colleagues, and getting support and advice from her assessor, all helped her get across the line and complete the apprenticeship, Gen says.
Now she is moving on to the next chapter in her career, having taken on a part-time role as a production manager with Footnote New Zealand Dance.
“So I’m really excited to do that, and learn more about what a production manager does - piecing all the pieces together before the event. I am looking forward to expanding into a little bit more of the responsibility, without being the person behind the operating desk in the show.”
Media contact for Skills Active: Esther McLaren | email@example.com | 021 195 5127
Skills Active Aotearoa is the transitional industry training organisation for recreation, exercise, sport and performing arts. We are a non-profit organisation, 50% owned by Māori shareholders, and funded by government to support Aotearoa businesses, organisations, iwi and community enterprises to get their staff and volunteers trained and qualified.
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