While Broadway had been dominated in recent years by a handful of vendors getting the gigs, with PRG Lighting as the clear frontrunner, it seems a new era is dawning in which a few smaller players are making strides.
Scharff Weisberg, a company with an established track record of providing professional audio, systems integration, and AV services to Broadway and other shows prior to its more recent foray into the lighting industry as Scharff Weisberg Lighting LLC, has made its Broadway lighting debut as the supplier of not one, but three recent shows. LD Brian MacDevitt used Scharff Weisberg Lighting both for a revival of ‘night, Mother at the Royale Theatre and in collaboration with LD Jason Lyons for The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations at the Eugene O'Neill Theatre. LD Jane Cox turned to the lighting company for Barry Humphries's Dame Edna: Back With a Vengeance at the Music Box Theatre.
And in an unexpected move, LD Don Holder contracted well-known Hudson Scenic (credited as Hudson Sound & Light in Playbill), known primarily for its production design, custom scenic fabrication, and automation services (and not as a lighting vendor), to provide lighting for La Cage Aux Folles at the Marquis Theatre.
According to Ben Saltzman, general manager of Scharff Weisberg Lighting, the time was right for his company to get involved in a higher-stakes game, and the industry was ready for it. “From the day we started, we had people coming to us asking if we were interested in bidding on theatre projects, Broadway or otherwise,” says Saltzman.
“At that time, though, the price point and the amount of investment for a Broadway show, versus the return, made it not worth even looking at some of those projects. The way the pricing structure is in the lighting rental business still makes it very difficult to have a viable company, but our history as an established company in other areas had a lot to do with people starting to come to us. It just took a while for the planets to align, and the right producer, the right designer, and the right show to come along.”
But Saltzman adds that he doesn't think any newcomers are taking the business away from anyone else. “There's a lot of work out there, and there's plenty to go around,” he says. “There are certain designers, producers, electricians, etc., who want to work in a friendly and familiar environment, and they seem to want a supplier who is really a partner in getting the show to happen. And I think they've been looking for a place to go, and that's our goal. We have the gear and the level of service they're looking for.”
And it seems Saltzman's team is doing its job, according to Cox. “This is my first Broadway show,” she says. “A lot of things are new to me, and Scharff Weis-berg has been wonderful with their help and support. It's been the best experience!”
The company has no intention of relinquishing this newly established presence on the Great White Way. “We will be cautiously seeking other work along these lines,” notes Saltzman. “We started out saying we would dip our toe in the water and see how it feels, and we found ourselves in up to our shoulders with work. We thought we would do a tiny musical, and we ended up with a multi-million dollar musical instead. We're going to see how it all feels and go after other work, but we're really looking for the right mix of producer/designer combination we enjoy working with.”
The wrong mix, according to Saltzman, really depends on the market. “Because of the way the market has been over the last five to seven years, I think there are people out there who are just all about getting blood from a stone and beating vendors up as much as they can, which is obviously not where we want to be.” At this point, Salzman admits the company is more than willing to walk away if that right mix just isn't there, a strategy he feels will keep the team on a successful road. Hudson Scenic president and owner Neil A. Mazzella declined to comment on the company's involvement in Broadway lighting.