Napa native Barbie Shearer said that even as a child, she wanted to find herself a place backstage, which is exactly what she’s done as the new owner of Napa’s Upstage Productions.
“I am the new majority shareholder in Upstage Productions,” she said. “Strangely, I'm doing something I've always wanted to do. Lighting, staging, and sound.”
The 46-year-old said that even as she grew up in Napa, in the house in which she still lives, she didn’t aspire to one day become a ballerina or a nurse, as many children do. Shearer had different goals.
“I didn't want to grow up and be an astronaut, or a teacher, I wanted to do three things in life — be a secretary, a bartender, or one of those people," who work behind the scenes in entertainment, she said. “Do you remember those commercials in the 80s/90s that glamorized being a rigger and a stagehand — the one where they show them setting up a huge rock concert? That’s something I've always wanted to do. I can't play an instrument; can't sing well — so, it seemed to me the best way to get backstage.”
Shearer achieved that bucket list item three years ago, when she bought the 20-year-old business from its founder Stuart Atkinson, who has stayed on as vice president and consultant.
“I started as a Marine World stage announcer from 1990-97, then I was a mobile DJ for seven years,” Atkinson said. But the 58-year-old remarried father of two said he got tired of doing weddings and pivoted into staging sound and lighting.
“It’s still in the business, and I saw people making money doing it, and it seemed like a good way to make a living,” he said. Atkinson set Upstage Productions apart by offering a combination of all three elements, instead of clients having to hire several companies, he said.
“Most companies specialize — doing stage, and sound and sometimes also lighting,” he said. “We’re one of the few who do all of it. We don’t do lots of events on a single weekend. We focus on a few to serve them to the best of our abilities.”
Atkinson said the company keeps prices reasonable, and, being a small firm, is able to “work with people, especially if it’s a cause that’s close to our hearts.”
Though he plans to retire, and “head off into the sunset years, as it were,” Atkinson is sticking around to help run “legacy events like Blues, Brews and BBQs, for instance.”
Upstage Productions remains important to Atkinson, which is why he was careful in selecting its buyer, he said.
“I have a great deal of confidence in Barbie and the direction she’s taking things, expanding and adding the video mapping, she’s getting into,” he said
Video mapping is a projection technique used to turn objects into a display surface for video projection – in other words, Shearer said, it can “make a wedding cake dance.”
Shearer said she took a circuitous route to the place she now finds herself.
“I was a data entry person for the city of Vallejo — and that killed my secretary dreams,” she said. “I was a bartender for 20 years. That was a blast! I worked in a lot of prominent hotels in the Valley, and I loved it and hated it. It was hard work; mentally challenging, and a lot of fun.”
But, even that can’t compare to being involved with talent, she said.
“I remember concerts, real shows like Starship at Club 29, and Smashmouth at the county fair,” Shearer said. “I got Eddie Rabbit’s autograph with my mom. Those memories stayed with me.”
Some curveballs life threw at her in the past few years, also created the situation that allowed her to follow this dream.
“Tragedy struck starting in 2016. Before the pandemic. My sister lost her life to ALS (Lou Gehrig’s Disease) in 2019,” she said. “One of my closest friends left this earth, and then in July of that year, my father lost his battle with lung cancer.”
Despite the pandemic, last year was an improvement, she said.
“Twenty-twenty was actually a pretty good year, all things considered,” she said. “I met the man of my dreams. But, 2021 has had its ups and downs. My mother died, and I bought Upstage Productions from Stuart Atkinson, a veteran in the industry.”
Her plan is to grow the business, adding some new types of offerings to what the company already offers to clients, she said.
“You want color changing lights and surround sound for your next gathering? Call us. We'll come set it up. After, we come and pick it up. No muss no fuss,” she said. “Need a 20 square foot truss system with a canopy? That's us! Want to set a small stage or riser for your next business gathering? We got you!”
A self-described “avid music lover,” Shearer said she’s “excited to bring the big stage to Napa.”
“Since I took over, our main attraction has been (medical cannabis dispensary) Abide’s monthly customer appreciation party,” she said. “Live bands, vendors, deals. It’s a win win! We get to show off and Abide grows.”
Though the work can be difficult, complicated and stressful, it’s usually wrapped around a good time, Atkinson said.
“Every day when we go out and do a job, you’re working with people who are having a great time, often on the best day of their lives, and so the vibe is really good and we do our best to add to that,” he said.
“I enjoy it when you’re part of the team to make someone look good and sound good. We want to be the frame for the artwork. It’s all about having a good attitude – in business and in life. We’re blessed to have a chance to do what we do and we appreciate it. Being in the business rocks.”
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