By now, you've probably heard that Vari-Lite's manufacturing arm has been sold to Genlyte Thomas, the architectural lighting company that last year purchased the company Entertainment Technology. This is big: Vari-Lite is where automated lighting began — the release of the company's original product, the VL1, was the beginning of the industry as we know it today. For Vari-Lite to be broken up — the distribution arm, VLPS, will stay independent — feels like the end of an era.
Nevertheless, this is a deal that, I am sure, many companies are studying closely. As Vari-Lite founder Rusty Brutsché has pointed out, Genlyte's investment will give Vari-Lite a much-needed chance to grow. In fact, its problems are the problems of the industry: how to make it to the next level without losing one's identity. Our little world is filled with brilliant-but-quirky creative types who don't thrive when the suits take over. On the other hand, many businesspeople can't take our industry's feast-or-famine mentality, in which huge profits one year are replaced by nothing the next.
That's what makes the Vari-Lite/Genlyte deal so interesting. Genlyte is a big company, but it maintains a number of independently managed brands. Furthermore, Entertainment Technology seems to be thriving under the Genlyte control. Is this a new business model? Wait and see.
On another note, I got an extraordinary letter from theatre LD Chris Parry (who also teaches at UCSD), regarding LDI: “Please ask the booth staffs not to be so sexist, and not to ‘talk down’ to younger people/visitors who they assume don't know anything. My female students reported being almost ignored, and treated like dumb blondes on first contact, regularly. (Yes, they are 23-28 and a couple happen to be blonde, too.) Only when they proved in conversation that they knew what they were talking about was a better attitude encountered.”
Okay, people; you can do better than that. I'm going to assume that this isn't so much about sexism as about age. Surely no exhibitor in his (or her) right mind would ignore female customers — not in an industry populated by Natasha Katz, Peggy Eisenhauer, Dawn Hollingsworth, Anne Militello, Heather Carson, and Pat Collins, to name a few. Therefore, it must be a kind of reverse ageism. I'm only going to say this once: If you patronize or ignore young people, you are trading away your futures. Next time a young person wanders into your booth, show a little flexibility — she or he may turn out to be someone important, sooner than you realize.
Finally, an amplification: In August, Sharon Stancavage reported on the Usher tour. One thing we didn't mention was the pyro, provided by Le Maitre. He's out again, touring Australia, and Le Maitre is again supplying the pyro effects.