Kristen Klehr is a name I’ve seen related to so, so many concerts in LA, but never onstage. We became friends over a shared “I run into you at everything, what are you doing here?” sense of curiosity. The short answer is that she produces events and helps run ensembles. We cover a lot of performers and composers on New Classic LA, and thought it would be interesting to talk to the people who put those performers and composers onstage. So we’re starting that with Kristen, who recently founded her own production company, BEAR, and is collaborating to put on the MARS Festival, which starts tonight. Here we go:
When we met you had just moved to LA, and had most recently been producing the nief-norf festival in Greenville, SC. What brought you out here?
Ha! Honestly, it was on a whim! I had finished with Cabrillo Fest up in Santa Cruz, actually was expecting to wind up in SF, but I thought, “well, I don’t need to go back to New York or Cleveland yet, and I finished my master’s, so I’m not heading back to Florida, hmm, might as well go explore?!” …and so I road-tripped down the 1 with a violinist friend that had a session in LA after Cabrillo, crashed on a friend’s couch – as the typical LA transplant does apparently – and let life unfold!
As I understand it you did some work for Kaleidoscope to their next stage, and then founded BEAR to run your own productions. Since then I’ve seen the name on a few collaborations, like the ones with Kensington Presents at the Viaduct. Your next one is with the MARS Festival, starting on April 14. Tell me about the festival.
Oh, it is super exciting – a ten-day long music, arts, and technology festival in the Arts District – partnered with Art Share LA and Angel City Brewery – featuring some truly killer artists and innovators – totally rad talent – I mean, what could be better?!
I don’t mean for this question to come off as confrontational, more like curious. I had heard rumblings about the festival before you were attached. What does BEAR bring to the groups you collaborate with?
I think BEAR has a unique advantage, the musician/performer perspective in combination with a production focus. Being able to think about creative solutions for projects and innovative concert designs is what sparks me, and I LOVE when organizations get to thrive from a slightly more streamlined experience. Funny enough, I’ve found my hands in a good amount of organizations that are either in their inaugural year or looking to take growing steps forward; I didn’t set out to purposefully help young non-profits launch or grow, but I do like to think about how I can help strengthen their missions, encourage new connections or exposures within their communities, and honestly ease some of the workload off of them – that is a producer’s job after all, to dial in focused productivity while not letting anything slip through the cracks. Easier said than done of course, but it’s my hope that BEAR brings to the table an ability for the founders or directors to focus on the artistic direction and design (while I love doing that as well in my own projects), and to have to worry less about the delegation. When I see all the gears turning smoothly like a well oiled machine, I feel like I did my job.
There’s no shortage of great musicians and composers in town, but being able to produce an event is something special. What would you like to see improve, on average, about the ways groups present themselves? Phrased another way: what advice do you have for concert producers?
Hmm, well – what I’d like to see is a bit different than probably the advice I’d give for concert producers haha. Advice I’d give to other producers is a simple thought, but is so so important: that everything you have, do, and list in a line item budget or schedule, realistically has a body behind it. A physical person must be there – as simple a cue on a headset as, “lights to half, audio stand by, house out, and go: conductor” quite literally means: “there is a physical person that has to be cued to switch the lights to half, there is a team of people that did the stage lighting design prep and programming the week prior, there is a physical person that not only is standing by to turn the audio live but also another backstage prepping and handing the mic to the conductor, there might be a third audio engineer standing by to hit record or go live for radio broadcast (in communication with another human at the station!), and then not only is the conductor a physical person but there also was person that placed his/her music on the stand prior to the house even opening, etc. etc.” …or in a budget sense, “music rental” does not just mean that the music is magically there at rehearsal at X-amount of dollars, but that some BODY picked it up from the shipment, a different person probably wrote in bowing or cuts, another human submitted and paid for the ASCAP/BMI, an administrator organized and distributed the music to the correct musicians in instrumentation, and there are human beings playing said music of course. The point being, they’re all human. Treat people with respect, and account for things with an understanding that it requires a person to complete the task. I think things fall through the cracks when multiple people know that things have to happen, but they all think that someone else is handling it. And then it becomes a “he-said-she-said” scenario…which is never ideal! Staying clear about job responsibilities and communication is key, as well as treating people with kindness and gratitude – stressful times happen, but try to keep it in check as you work through it, and keep your eye on the prize – which is creating an awesome concert experience!
You’re also a percussionist. How does that figure in what you do as a producer? Do you ever feel internal conflict of interest?
Well, funny enough, a few friends have joked that because I have a percussionist’s brain, logistics have always been in the forefront of my planning and coordination, which is super helpful for a producer of live concerts! Internal conflict with that topic doesn’t really happen too much anymore, other than that there are only 24 hours in a day, I think I’ve come to terms with the fact that I enjoy doing both! I feel that if I was only a producer/entrepreneur or only a performing musician, I would feel a bit unsatisfied – both sides keep me balanced and moving me forward. More to the point, I can’t imagine not playing, or not dreaming up new creative endeavors, or producing cool shows – or working out haha – it’s just a part of what makes me, me – and I think if I cut out one side completely, the other side would suffer in quality.
Now that you’ve been in LA for a couple years, how does it measure up to your expectations?
Well, I’m not sure I had crazy high expectations, however I do feel that I’ve done a lot of random things in my life since moving here – things I never thought I’d get to experience. Like film sets, fitness adventures, new media-tech conventions, photo shoots, truly incredible live gigs, amazing recording sessions, meeting so many remarkable people that are also all about the hustle…and I’m so grateful for that! When I first arrived, my expectations were more centered on a pretty narrow mindset of an orchestral admin career path to be honest, and well, that has certainly taken a new turn for sure! But I see it as being all interconnected, so it’s not a bad thing. I will say, I think I’ve eaten more burritos since moving to LA than I have the entire history of my life prior! Taco stands here definitely exceeded my expectations hands down! So good.
What else in town are you excited about?
Anything else you’d like to add?
I’m thrilled that you’re taking the time to ask me these questions! I think that as entrepreneurial initiatives keep emerging with musicians after they graduate from great music schools, even with great new programs or tracks with this focus branching out in conservatories, there’s still a bit of a haze in, “okay, but now what…and what if I want to do this?…but it’s not quite been done before…but I have this gut feeling I think I could do it…but what does that actually take?…what does that look like realistically?…” and I know for me it was so valuable to hear other people’s stories as to how they got to where they are now, as well as perspective/lessons learned along the way. I’m a huge advocate for strong arts admin tracks as well as “entrepreneurship for musicians” type classes to be growing at universities, because those people behind the scenes making it happen so that the musicians on the stage can perform great concerts are not two different people. They are often two sides of the same person, and it’s important to make resources available to them on both sides. Thanks!!