By Manus Hopkins
At one point , Jonathan Stanners thought he had given up on music for good . The now co-owner – as well as lighting , video , and production designer and engineer – of Winnipeg ’ s Red Rover Entertainment spent one semester at music school before deciding it wasn ’ t the path for him , though that decision proved to be short-lived . After dropping out , he found himself drumming in a touring pop band for about six years , which led him to take up a side gig in the production field .
“ Like any musician , I needed a way to make money between tours and ended up becoming a stagehand at the arena ,” he recounts .“ From one venue to the next , then onto production companies , festivals , corporates — anything that needed a tech .”
Being an avid BMX rider as well – Stanners says he spent most of his high school years either behind a drum kit or at the skate park – he wanted cameras he could use to shoot biking videos , and realized he could also rent them out to corporate events . From there , a full career in stage design was spawned .
“ One camera turned into three , and eventually lighting gear was in the mix ,” he says .“ In 2015 , the band dream ended , and my friend offered me my first tour as an LD . I spent the first few tours trying to fit as much gear as possible into Canadian clubs and very few circuits . Since then , the venues have gotten bigger , the designs have become more intricate , and I ’ ve travelled to more places that I would have imagined .”
While at home during off-periods from touring , Stanners saw his company continuously grow , and he later joined forces with James Moore in Red Rover Entertainment . Aside from lighting design , programming , and operating , Red Rover today offers everything from full production management and labour to livestream packages for many festivals and events around Winnipeg .
“ We ’ ve recently created a pre-vis suite where we train new techs for the onslaught of post-pandemic tours and festivals and give them lots of opportunities in the local venues where we supply house technicians ,” Stanners says .
Without naming any specific concerts or festivals , Stanners says his favourite career achievements of his have been seeing his designs from beginning to end . Aside from his prolific local work , he has handled lighting design for artists like Jessie Reyez , Faouzia , and AFI and manned the lighting console on tour with Marianas Trench , Glorious Sons , and Classified .
“ I wouldn ’ t have dreamed that I would one day be able to draw something ridiculous , show up to a different country , and find it built in a warehouse for me ,” he says .“ Seeing a render come to life , regardless of its size , will always be something that makes me smile . I can draw massive stadium shows if I want , but running my own show , on a rig I ’ ve designed , in some weird place in the world , will always beat some big , unachievable render .”
Though Stanners is proud of his work , he admits he finds social media has introduced a certain feel of competition in his industry and created a space where everyone compares their work to that of others in the field .
“ One challenge I ’ ve faced is having to remind myself that everyone online is only posting their best moments ,” he says .“ Without this , it ’ s easy to get lost in a world where you think you ’ re falling behind — where you think everyone else is succeeding and you ’ re not . I think a lot of people face this challenge , and we need to be reminded that we ’ re all going
at our own pace , and there ’ s no reason to compare and compete with everyone else .”
Despite challenges like these , Stanners enjoys working in the stage lighting industry , his favourite part being the people he works with and the sense of community he feels as a part of his industry .
“ I love the community of LDs we have ,” he says . “ Because it ’ s such a niche market , there are very few techs who don ’ t know each other , especially in Canada . Being able to reach out to others for help about programming , designs , etc ., without having to worry about someone trying to steal the gig , is a huge asset and one that other parts of the industry don ’ t even have .”
It ’ s no surprise that Stanners has busy days ahead of him with work , but it ’ s important to also make time for his family — his son , James , just turned two , and Stanners and his wife , Kristen , are expecting another this summer — and hobbies like mountain biking , photography , and drumming , but he says these hobbies have had to take a backseat for the time being .
Though he has little free time , Stanners is optimistic about the opportunities that lie ahead of him . The opportunities he has been picking up lately make him wonder what kind of work requests he ’ ll be getting in the next year or so , and he ’ s been able to hire some of his friends recently , who he is excited to see get out on tours and work local events .
“ Everyone is trying to get back on the road as soon as possible ,” Stanners says . “ The gear is in short supply and so is the labour , so I find myself adding a festival or future tour to the calendar daily . Thankfully , our staff is growing and we ’ ll be ready for everything thrown at us !”
Manus Hopkins is the Assistant Editor for Professional Lighting & Production .
Summer 2022 | 35