Shani Hamilton Greenlaw has been managing large-scale events for almost eight years now, from NHL outdoor hockey games such as the Winter Classic to the 2020 NFL Super Bowl LIV Opening Night in Miami. It’s no exaggeration to say that Shani has played the field of North American sports event management. She warmly recalls a 2016 baseball game she worked on in North Carolina as one of her favourite events.
The day of the event, she watched as clouds rolled in and the rain began. Seeing lightning on the horizon, she knew that the field’s temporary metal bleachers could turn into an excellent lightning rod if the storm continued. “There were some tense moments during those first hours,” Shani says. “It was pretty nerve-wracking.”
Shani was project & operations supervisor for a huge project – building a regulation baseball diamond, with stands and clubhouses, on an active military base for a one-off regular season Major League Baseball (MLB) game.
“I was supervising everything from the catering, to every stick of furniture including the trainer’s massage tables, managing local labour, and ensuring proper waste management.”
The company Shani works for, BaAM Productions, got the contract to organize the creation of this unique park. MLB wanted to hold a game at Fort Bragg in North Carolina on the July 4th, 2016 weekend to celebrate the American military. It was a first. It was more than ten months in the making. That storm was threatening it all.
“But we just held out a lot of hope,” she says. “The rain ended at a perfect time.”
And the ballgame went ahead. The Miami Marlins defeated the Atlanta Braves 5-2. After almost a month of preparation, Shani and the BaAM team began the work of dismantling the whole park—almost. The field itself was left over as a gift to the service members.
Shani’s experience at Fort Bragg is part of why she loves her job: she gets to connect with people from across the continent.
“Getting to work with a community for over a month is enlightening and eye-opening,” she says. “On that event I was engaging with people from backgrounds that I was not familiar with – the US military in particular. It makes you look at what ideas or biases you may have coming into a team, and learn to navigate working seamlessly alongside folks whose politics may be different but whose goal is the same.”
Although she has found her place in organizing large-scale sporting events, Shani’s roots are in theatre. While it might seem like an unlikely combination, it’s perfectly natural for Shani, who grew up with one foot in theatre and the other in sports. She credits part of her appreciation of sports and theatre to her parents: her father coached basketball at King’s for many years and her mother Sylvia Hamilton is an artist and public historian.
“I grew up in an interesting balance between both of those worlds, doing sports and theatre,” she laughs. “The audiences may be different but the concepts are the same: they’re both teams and you’re trying to get to a common goal whether it is winning or performing.”
While at King’s studying theatre, Shani got involved in the King’s Theatrical Society (KTS), where she learned over the course of 13 different productions that she “wanted to make make-believe for a living”. After graduating, she learned the ropes as a stage manager by working for Canadian theatrical productions.
“I found my home backstage and just stayed there… a stage manager is the primary communication point for the actors, director, all of the designers and the technicians. The stage manager knows what’s going on with all those groups and communicates with them throughout the whole process.”
And when the play opens the director leaves and the stage manager is in charge.
“I like being part of the magic backstage, knowing all the inner workings of how it’s happening and the audience not knowing how we did it.”
The difference these days is the size of the productions. Shani says: “In a theatre production you might have an audience of 400. Now I am working in football stadiums and baseball stadiums that can hold between 40 and 100 thousand people.”
And while that is, no doubt at all, more complicated, more stressful, it still fits Shani like a glove.
“For those of us who like challenges, getting your adrenaline pumping, managing everything as it’s coming, making everything work—a lot of joy that comes from that. I like creating a well-oiled machine that just works.”
Posted: November 2020