Partner, Four Wall Entertainment
Editor's Note: As LDI (Las Vegas, October 18-20) approaches, we're taking a look at some of the top industry people in town.
Arkansas native Bill Lairamore is a partner (with Michael Cannon) in Four Wall Entertainment, a multifaceted lighting company in Las Vegas that handles everything from systems integration to lighting rentals and selling used gear on the web at www.usedlighting.com. Four Wall is a three-year-old company that combines Lairamore's love for the theatre with his interest in business. He considers systems integration as selling the products of more than one manufacturer and creating the best possible lighting system for the client (“something Production Arts did excellently for years before we actually called ourselves systems integrators,” he says). As an interesting sideline, Lairamore produced a CD, Coolin' Soup, for actor and sometime singer Michael Parks (www.michaelparks.com), whose latest movie is Big Bad Love, in which he appears with Debra Winger and Angie Dickinson. Lairamore reports that there is so much interest in Parks' old albums, he might get the rights to re-release them, increasing his music producing career. Ellen Lampert-Gréaux queries Lairamore on his role in the lighting industry.
Ellen Lampert-Gréaux: How did you first get interested in the industry?
Bill Lairamore: In 1970, I moved to Branson, MO, to go to college and worked my way through by working at the Beacon Hill Theatre. In the first four hours there, I worked my way up from cutting weeds to cutting gels. I already had an interest in television and technical theatre, but there weren't many opportunities in television in the middle of Missouri, so I gravitated to theatre.
ELG: What was your first job?
BL: After graduate school in Springfield, MO, I worked as the technical director for the Springfield Little Theatre. It was more than a full-time job where I did everything, including sound and lighting. We had all volunteer labor and worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day, and that was a good week.
ELG: What was your best project to date?
BL: Not in terms of technical excellence or size, but the most interesting was a weather simulation room for the Kansas City Museum back in 1996. I got to create the content, mix the music, and do the lighting, which included the early use of robotic fixtures as rear-projection devices which called for some pretty tricky engineering using mirrors and enlarging devices, as we only had 4' of clearance to show full-size images. It ran for six years.
ELG: What was your least favorite project?
BL: I'd have to say the Motown Café at New York, New York. It was my first job in Las Vegas and we had to make some design compromises based on budget cuts. Then they changed the concept the night before it opened and we could never program it properly. Also, I was using brand-new models of some lighting fixtures that still had bugs in them, and had to be replaced. One thing I learned is not to beta-test in the real world. By the time we finally got it all right, it closed.
ELG: Where were you in 1988, the year LDI was founded?
BL: That was my second year in business as a distributor. My company was called F.E.C.T. in Kansas City. I had taken a few years off from theatre and taken a job as a printing estimator to see how the real world worked. I learned how to do computer programming and found the experience quite useful.
ELG: When did you first attend LDI?
BL: The first one I remember is Dallas in 1992. My friend, Ken Carter, from Silver Dollar City in Branson, wanted to go so I drove down and picked him up and we went on to LDI.
ELG: What makes Vegas a special place to work?
BL: The size of the budgets. They have the financing to do large projects, and do them properly, more than anyplace else in the world. In the Midwest, for example, a project might average three to four dimmer racks. Here, I just finished one with 24 racks (The Jubilee! Theatre at Bally's). Just like the huge signage that the tourists see, the lighting systems here are bigger as well, and totally cutting-edge.
ELG: What do you like best about Four Wall Entertainment?
BL: What I love about it is that we have a truly outstanding team of people working for us. It's a really great team. Some of the best in the business, and we get to pick them.
ELG: What haven't you done that you want to?
BL: I have done some, but would like to do more in terms of creating content for lighting design. We design a lot of systems, but I like the lighting design side as well.
ELG: What's the next great trend in Vegas?
BL: Over the past years, the machine has become more and more a part of the performance. In the old days, there were stars like Elvis Presley or Frank Sinatra, and they were the show. I hear that Elvis used just 12 followspots in his show, as he was the central attraction. Now there are huge production values in shows where the technology can overtake the performers. Maybe when Celine Dion opens her new theatre, shows will become more personalized again. I'd like to see a marriage of the two, the human and the machine.