St. Louis native thrives backstage in the entertainment industry

Joshua Levin

Benjamin Collinger

Joshua Levin thrives backstage in the entertainment industry. From start to finish, he is entirely responsible for the lighting, video and automation of performances.  

According to Levin, through a “haphazardly non-linear” career path, he has spent the better part of 15 years in a profession seldom explained, or understood. Levin is a “roadie,” most recently part of Pink’s “The Truth About Love” tour.

Raised in St. Louis, Levin attended Parkway North and Fern Ridge high schools. Active in theater technology, he shaped his passion through school and summer camp.  He always wanted to be backstage.  

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After high school, he attended Webster University for a year.  But he found the traditional paradigm of learning simply didn’t fit.  For him, learning tends to occur at an experiential level, which is often lost in the classroom.

After leaving Webster, he joined the crew of Circus Flora, a one-ring circus based in St. Louis, where he worked for four years. Then he worked a series of jobs, including at the Chicago House of Blues before beginning his touring career in 2002. 

While few pay any mind to the people responsible for a show’s production, what happens backstage is often as important as what is taking place front and center.

The process is complex but “we all know our jobs, our pieces of the pie,” Levin says.  It’s all about “being an independent self-starter who understands that the most important thing is getting the show done.”

Every tour hires him for specific jobs based on his work history. With Pink, he’s a computer programmer and department head in multiple parts of the tour.  Levin estimates there are only 12 people in the world who have the skill set that he does. 

When beginning a tour, Levin first needs to see what systems and exist and what he needs to configure to make it successful. “I’m told I need to make it work,” he says, explaining that the music industry has migrated from analog to digital technology, and adaptation is essential. 

 “I’m a guy who takes things apart before I put them back together,” says Levin, whose ability to change has been integral to his career.  He says the industry is going through a period of maturation while becoming “introspective, and from the outside, a trade profession.” With more complexity, there is an increase concern for safety, he adds.

For example, his tour with Pink requires 17 trucks carrying equipment, the first of which arrives at the venue at 8 a.m. the day of a show.  Levin’s truck arrives around 10 a.m., at which point the loading phase of each component starts.  

Each tour ordinarily employs 60 people, and then hires 80 to 120 extra stage hands in each city.

“It’s all run to the precision of the clock so that everybody can stay at the same point to the second,” he says.

This phase ends around 2:30 p.m., at which point sound, light and video checks begin.   Subsequently, final preparations with the band and official sound checks happen until the opening act comes onto stage at 8:15 p.m.  When the opening act finishes around 8:40 p.m., Levin then prepares for the main event’s effects.  

Finally, the show begins at 9, lasting for two hours.  After the show, the equipment is broken down, loaded into the trucks, and the crew drives off to the next city.  Then, the process repeats itself because “every day is Groundhog Day,” which ensures lasting success throughout the tour. 

A touring job requires a passion for travel, which Levin says he has. “Being Jewish directly led to my passion for traveling,” he says, explaining that his first trip to Israel instilled this value within him. He tells how over the years he has prayed with a rabbi in Moscow and attended a Passover Seder in Colombia. The importance of being a good global citizen and contributing to repairing of the world, tikkun olam, was engrained in him as a child, he says.  “I take my Jewish neck, and my connection with history that spans the world,” adds Levin. 

Concert touring provides the greatest enjoyment and satisfaction for him because he can see the finished product every day.  Succeed or fail, the responsibility is all on him.  He’s completely autonomous, there is no clocking in.

Despite the prospects of uncertain employment, irregular flows of income, and a schedule with only 8-10 weeks off per year, Levin says he loves what he does.  Young adults are often set on a course by others, but Levin’s story proves that there is no prescribed path to achieve one’s goals, no one size fits all.