• Toni McAllister

SINDY CROW - FREELANCE LIGHTING DESIGNER

If there is a person in our industry that understands the need for giving and receiving support, it’s Sindy Crow.

Sindy, a freelance lighting designer, has had a challenging journey, starting her career as her assigned gender of male and having over the last three years transitioned to her true female gender.


In an industry where it is all about who you know, re-making a name for yourself is no mean feat. But here is a woman who has come out the other side wanting to extend the support she has received to others.

She wants to be the glue that holds us all together. Her positivity and attitude is nothing short of inspirational.

How did you get your start in AV? When I was 15 my friend was doing audio with a church group and that’s how I got my start. Then when they needed someone to do lighting, I jumped on to that. After school, I found a job at a company called Magnum Entertainment.


I worked there for about nine months and met a guy who moved to Chameleon. He called me and offered me work. I started as a warehouse hand. I stayed with Chameleon all up around 10 years, mostly as a moving light tech.

Where did you learn your skills? Chameleon were very focused on training so I went to courses at Jands and Show Tech and learnt how to do repairs. I learnt how to use consoles when I was getting stuff ready for shows.


That’s where I got most of my hands-on experience to start with, hanging around, trying things out.

What was next for you? I started to do more onsite work for Chameleon but was still running the moving light department. It got a bit too much. I couldn’t give 100% to either of the two jobs. I needed a bit of a change. So, I did a brief stint at Staging Connections (now Encore Event Technologies).


I was there for about 18 months as a lighting tech and operator doing lots of corporate shows. From there I went to Bytecraft, which became PRG.


Again I was running their moving lights department. They had a really good cross-section of regular shows; fashion week in Sydney, Defqon music festival, School Spectacular in Newcastle and Wollongong, plus some rock ‘n’ roll tours.


I would do the occasional lighting design and operate for the support acts. This gave me more experience and got me more excited about moving from being a lampie to more of a console operator and designer.

How did you go about finding more of that kind of work? Back then you’d give your support act your business card. Ask around if anyone knew any work going. I’d email theatres looking for work.

Do you think that’s changed much? Possibly a little bit. In the console operating and design world it seems to be more who you know than what you know. I know because it’s happened to me in the TV world more recently.


Someone knew me and asked me if I wanted to do this one night in television and that just progressed onto more and more work. So I try to do the same thing for other people coming through. I put out on Facebook groups if I know of work coming up. I try to make those introductions.

You’re a big believer in paying it forward aren’t you? Absolutely. Whenever young people are coming through I try my best to help them. I’ve known Jess from The Tech Sisters for years now.


Recently I joined her group predominantly as a LGBT mentor and also as a lighting mentor. It’s a good community that I’m proud to be part of. I want to be able to give back to other women in the industry, to people in the LGBT community.


I’m not famous or anything. But people do know who I am. If I can help people get more work or their first job or support and empower them to go further – that’s really important to me.

Try to find that first person who is supportive, who you can talk to. That gives you an ally. They’ll help you follow your journey…

Have you been embraced by the AV community? On the whole, it feels like I have. It’s the other women in the industry that have been the most supportive.


Every female I’ve met in the industry since I came out has just accepted me instantly as a woman. I don’t know if I’d still be around in the industry if I hadn’t had that sort of support.

There’s not many of us. But I feel like the ones that we do have really try to stick together and look out for one another.

And how was the reaction from your employers after you transitioned? I felt they were supportive. One of the people in the management team where I was working has a relative who is trans. That really helped because they knew what was going on and could explain it to other people in management that might not understand.

I did find that there were some clients whose shows I didn’t end up being booked on anymore.

You’d made a name for yourself before transitioning, in an industry where it’s all about who you know. That must have been challenging. Sure. But at the same time I’d rather re-make a name for who I really am than pretend to be someone who I was not any more.


When I’d finally decided to come out it was sort of risking everything. I didn’t know how work, my colleagues, my family, and my partner at the time would react. It was a really big thing. But I got to that point in my life where I needed to be who I really am or there was no point in getting up in the morning.

Any advice for others making that transition? Try to find that first person who is supportive, who you can talk to. That gives you an ally. They’ll help you follow your journey.


Definitely go and seek out a counsellor or psychologist, someone independent. That’s a big help. Yes, it will be hard. People will slip up but I’ve found that if I correct them, a lot of people will respect that.


Surround yourself with friends and supportive people as best you can.

Women in AV are always promoting the concept that you can’t be what you can’t see. What are your thoughts on this? It’s important to be as visible as you possibly can for other people. The difficulties that we have now won’t be as hard for the next generation. I was in the Mardi Gras this year and you’d see a young person off in the crowd with a Trans Pride flag and when they see the Trans Pride float this smile comes over them, they know that they’re not alone, that they can do whatever they want to do. It gives them hope. To be out there and visible for me is hopefully showing other women and LGBT people that we can do this job, this career and we can do it just as well as anyone else can.

Have you had a role model? When I started out my boss and friend Luke who now lives in the UK, he was my technical mentor. He always gave me a chance and taught me stuff.


He would encourage me to stay back after my shift and try things out. That’s something I would encourage younger people coming through to do. If you want to learn something, definitely ask, stay back and whatever it takes try to work it out.


Later on, a huge role model was Kerry Paff at PRG. She showed me how amazing, strong, talented and equal a woman could truly be in our industry.

The formal pathways into the AV industry are fairly limited. It’s primarily an industry where a lot of skills are learnt on the job. Do you see more value in either path? I think a bit of both. I think that the best training is on the job training. But I’m a bit old school like that.


In the industry that we’re in there is a lot of pressure to get stuff done on time every time. Doors are always at six. Whether you start at two in the morning or midday you’ve always got that deadline, which can be the best training for some people.


I can see that there needs to be more training and pathways into the industry.


Some people will do an entertainment course at high school, or they’ll go to NIDA or WAAPA and then come into different parts of the industry and they struggle a bit, like “what do you mean we have to unload the truck?”

Have you seen any notable changes in the industry over the years? From a lighting point of view the LED revolution has been massive. It’s the way of the future. From a TV lighting perspective, as that’s where my focus is at the moment.


How to operate a console is becoming more and more important because everything is now LED. The old guys that just get there and push up single dimmers, that’s on its way out.

Any advice for others wanting to keep up with these changes? You can download the programs for a lot of the lighting consoles for free. You need to buy some bits to make it output DMX. But you can download MA2 and MA3 and you can play on your computer at home, you can program the entire show.


You can visualise it and see what it should be doing. That’s a great easy way to practice. Download as many different consoles as you can.

For me it’s about building a team and a family – that’s the super power I want to have. To be that person that glues everything and brings everybody together.

What would you say has been the highlight of your career, your proudest moment? There have been so many shows…


As painful as they were to put in, a lot of the Defqon festivals would be the highlight. They looked fantastic, you walked away and were on a high. They were so painful… but they are the ones I am really proud of.


Also, the current season of Big Brother. We’ve just installed it, it hasn’t aired yet. Putting that in melted my brain, but when we walked away after that first day of shooting and we saw what everything looked like, it was “wow, this looks so good, this has been worth it”.

What is it that gives you a buzz working with lighting? I like seeing the end product. When something has been difficult and you’ve had to think and plan your way through it and you come out the other side and you think “we did that”. That’s what drives me.


Whether you were the designer, the operator, the dimmer tech, the lighting tech. Just to be able to go “look at what we did, that was worth all that heartache, sweat and stress”.

If you weren’t doing lighting what would you be doing? Sleeping. That’s something you don’t get in this industry! Coffee is your friend.

Some people will do an entertainment course at high school, or they’ll go to NIDA or WAAPA and then come into different parts of the industry and they struggle a bit, like “what do you mean we have to unload the truck?”

Do you have a super power? Trying to be that friendly and encouraging person. For me it’s about building a team and a family – that’s the super power I want to have. To be that person that glues everything and brings everybody together.


You work crazy hours and there is a lot of hard physical work and hard mental work. If you’re out there on your own it’s almost impossible. But if you have your family with you, you can do anything.


No matter what the chaos you always make doors at six because you and your family are there.

Any parting words? For me it’s important to be visible and open. You don’t have to be open if you’re not ready.


From an LGBT point of view, never let anybody force you to be out and open, if you’re not ready then you’re not ready and that’s fine. You just have to be happy and comfortable with yourself.


If you’re ready to let people know, then be out there, be visible, be proud.


First published in CX Magazine, April 2020