As executive vice president of sales and marketing at Protech, Bob Watson keeps his ear to the ground and his eyes open wide. He needs to know where the next projects are on a global basis, and make the pitch to get Protech onto the job. Even if it means driving a LinkLift® demo trailer to Los Angeles and parking it on the street like a carnival show for a demonstration as part of a successful pitch for the Los Angeles Music Center, and again for the new Disney Concert Hall (“My favorite project at Protech,” he says). A native of Mt. Kisco, NY, Watson joined Protech in 1994 and has been part of the backstage Las Vegas scene ever since, overseeing such projects as the first automated rigging system on the Strip for the Théâtre des Arts at Paris Las Vegas (of which he is extremely proud). Currently underway are a series of LinkLifts for the extension of The Fashion Show Mall, and the world's largest fire curtain for the new 4,000-seat Celine Dion theatre, designed to resemble the Coliseum in Rome, at Caesar's Palace.

Ellen Lampert-Gréaux: How did you first get interested in the industry?

Bob Watson: My light bulb flickered when I was in middle school and they took us to the old Metropolitan Opera House, where they did the scene changes with the curtain open. But I was equally impressed with the open-cage elevators that took the patrons to the mezzanine. You got to see it all working. Then I was president of the stage crew at school and they brought in professional acts from The Ed Sullivan Show. We had to fill all the technical requests on their professional riders.

ELG: What was your first job?

BW: After graduating from Ashland College in Ohio with a degree in music and technical theatre, I went to Indiana University to apply for a master's degree. While I was there, I visited their opera house and was on the fly rail when the big light bulb went on. I realized for the first time that somebody has to make and manufacture all the rigging. That's when I discovered our industry. In this case, it was made by Tiffin Scenic Studios in Sandusky, OH, so I pounded on their door for 18 months until they finally hired me in 1975. In the meantime, I worked at a metal fabricating shop where we made the Alaska Pipeline pump stations, then at Cedar Point Amusement Park where I opened the IMAX theatre.

ELG: What was your favorite project to date?

BW: I'd have to say the Meyerson Symphony Hall in Dallas, TX. I was project manager for Hoffend at the time and enjoyed working with I.M. Pei's office on the architecture and Artec for the acoustics. They had very demanding technical criteria for the acoustical canopy. I also learned that the difference between muslin and real linen is about a zillion dollars a yard. Then there was a rare African wood veneer that we ran out of. The trees that I.M. Pei loved were actually choked by weeds that gnarled the wood. So I had to go to Indiana and look through hundreds of samples to pick the acceptable wood and fly back to Rochester with rolls of veneer — like bolts of fabric in large boxes — as baggage and install it on the canopy.

ELG: What was your least favorite project?

BW: I don't really have one. I enjoy them all, if they are a challenge or not.

ELG: Where were you in 1988, the year LDI was founded?

BW: At Hoffend, where we were working on the Meyerson project.

ELG: When was your first LDI?

BW: I think it was Orlando in 1990, when Hoffend was showing the Star Lift, which won the Widget of the Year Award.

ELG: What makes Vegas a special place to work?

BW: It's the entertainment capital of the world, isn't it? A true smorgasbord of venues from the simplest dead-hung theatre to the most complicated automated stages.

ELG: What do you like about working for Protech?

BW: The freedom of project selection, and the fact that we are a young company bringing innovative new products to the industry. Products that have won three or four Product of the Year Awards at LDI, of which we are very proud. I am also now a minor shareholder in the company and a member of the elected board of directors.

ELG: What haven't you done that you want to do?

BW: An opera house! I've done concert halls and showrooms but would really like to do the stage machinery and rigging in an opera house.

ELG: What's the next great trend in Vegas?

BW: Two things really: The first is multi-purpose ballrooms that I call “ball-itoriums.” These are revenue-generating facilities that the gaming industry is very keen on. The other thing is the mega-shows where the theatre is built for the show, such as “O” and now Celine Dion. These venues are very demanding technically and stretch the envelope for the technical industry. They go above and beyond to where it's never been done: It's never been that big, that fast, or that complicated before.