In the middle of a dark night last year, Natalie George was wide awake and researching mannequins on her computer.
George, a lighting designer and event producer, was designing a pop-up shop for the online clothing retailer Boohoo. The UK-based company rented a space on the Drag (aka the stretch of Guadalupe St. adjacent to the UT campus) and hired George’s production company, Natalie George Productions (NGP), to create a beautiful space to display their wares and engage new audiences.
Using an Austin/music theme, George built colorful window displays and turned the empty space into a buzzing, hip showroom featuring performances and drop-ins from social media celebrities.
The project may have been her first foray into retail, but George has had a passion for creating striking events since she was a child growing up in Houston.
“This is all from my mother,” she joked.
George’s mother, who she described as “ferociously high-energy” would throw elaborate dinner parties and events, going all out with themes and details. She recalled once helping her mother repaint a wall in their house in the middle of the night so it would better match the theme of a party.
George loved performing from an early age and enrolled at St. Edward’s University in Austin to study acting. But during her sophomore year she climbed onto the grid to hang lights and immediately loved viewing the stage from that birds-eye perspective. She first enjoyed the physicality of hanging lights on the grid, but soon started to master the artistic elements of lighting design as well.
She embarked on a career as a freelance lighting designer and then went on to spend ten years as part of the artistic team at the Fusebox Festival, serving as a producing director from 2009 to 2014. While working at Fusebox, George became highly attuned to the audience experience and found she was drawn to productions that created an immersive environment. Discovering unusual nooks and crannies around Austin for site-specific projects and making them come alive brought her the most joy.
When starting Natalie George Productions she decided to combine her skills as a lighting designer with her experience producing events. NGP tackles diverse projects that fall into three categories: events (fundraisers, launch parties); experiences (parties, installations); and entertainment (dance and theatre productions, festivals).
One of her most ambitious projects was a 2017 partnership with choreographer Jennifer Sherburn on “11:11,” a series of 11 dances over 11 months taking place in 11 unique locations. That project allowed George to display her creativity in unusual places, including Live Oak Brewery, Carson Creek Ranch, and Impact Hub, a co-working space in North Austin.
Calling herself “a spreadsheet nerd,” George loves projects that challenge her organizational skills. Recently, she worked with an event planner on a wedding at Hotel Ella that featured three full days of events, including a cocktail reception, a wedding ceremony, and a poolside brunch. She and her team coordinated lighting, sound, and design, even lighting the Lucite dining tables from below so that the whole room glowed.
“Logistically we nerded out,” she said, “getting to create the space for the whole weekend.”
For George, any great event is part performance and instantly draws the audience in. “It’s something that is completely unique and completely encapsulated. When someone steps into a venue or courtyard or space, everything speaks to the event they’re in,” she said.
Currently, Natalie George Productions is producing a series of cabarets focused on old-fashioned lounge style singing.
“In the current world climate, I want people to experience some joy, have some fun, and leave their worries at the door,” George said. “For me the cabarets are a way to do the things I love. Find a site-specific place, make a themed evening, have a great performance, have some cocktails.”
Each cabaret will have a slightly different theme and take place in a unique space. They launched the series last April with a cabaret in a furniture store, KC Grey Home, while the most recent one in August was a “beach blanket cabaret” and took place at Ironwood Hall.
“We wanted to lean into summer and the heat and just live it up,” George said.
Producing events is a logistical challenge and requires a lot of organization and practicality. George thinks she excels in this realm partly because she’s not afraid to make decisions. She also has a team in place now at NGP that includes Sadie Langenkamp and Dallas Tate.
But the artist in her still needs a space to play. The cabaret series is a way for her to re-engage with her creative side, as is an upcoming art installation she’s planning for 2019 at the Museum of Human Achievement. After spending a lot of time on logistics, production, and business, George needed a project just for herself.
“It’s going to be a data-driven physical story of the first 40 years of my life,” she said.
“I’m really interested in how you quantify life experiences and in how you sum up a life to a certain point. I’m asking myself all kinds of questions, like ‘How many slices of pizza have I eaten in 40 years? How many toothbrushes have I used?’ I don’t even know if I need the answer. I’m just curious about the process. How do you tell the story of who you are?”
If her past track record is any indication, she’ll find a way to make the experience unique and to welcome the audience fully into her story.