Anybody involved in theatre design as of the '70s or '80s remembers Theatre Crafts, and anyone who remembers Theatre Crafts certainly remembers Pat MacKay, a true maverick in terms of the trade publications that defined our industry. She also founded LDI in 1988 as the entertainment technology industry was starting to come of age and needed a focus, a gathering place, a marketplace, and a home. This year, as LDI celebrates its 20th anniversary, the show and Live Design honor her with A Light In Life Award for the vision, dedication, and insight that helped put the industry on its feet. The award, sponsored by Theatre Projects Consultants, will be presented at the LDI Awards ceremony on Saturday, November 17, in Orlando, FL.
MacKay purchased Theatre Crafts in 1981 from Rodale press, where she started working in 1970. She became editor of the magazine in 1975, when it had a circulation of 27,500. She remained at the helm of the publication until 1996, adding Lighting Dimensions to her folio in 1986 and expanding it from its roots in rock 'n' roll lighting to include theatre, as well as architectural projects, as many LDs began to “crossover.”
In 1988, MacKay added another publication to her list when she acquired Cue, a small British technical theatre publication, and renamed it Cue International (edited in Europe by yours truly). This was eventually folded into Theatre Crafts when it became Theatre Crafts International (TCI) and, later, Entertainment Design.
MacKay has certainly seen the industry change profoundly during the past 30-plus years. “I remember Tharon Musser once explaining to me that a Broadway lighting designer was basically limited by the number of elbows, hands, knees, and feet of the electricians who could squeeze in front of a road board. You don't need me to point out how far we've come,” she says.
“Hey, back in the day, designers and technicians were out there fighting to be treated professionally and to get the best possible tools to execute their visions,” MacKay adds. “Now the designers and the technology have moved to center stage. How it looks, how it is executed, how it engages an audience are now as much a part of the process and the success of an event as the words, music, direction, and performance — can't ask for better than that.”
Other changes MacKay sees coming are environmentally related:
“It goes without saying that ‘greener is better,’” she notes. And in terms of equipment: “Smaller used to be the Holy Grail in designing fixtures, and it looks like the stumbling block of the actual ‘lamp’ size has been tackled successfully. Equipment will keep getting faster and more powerful, and eventually, there will be a total convergence in control and the multipurpose, multifunctional item that is controlled,” says MacKay.
“From a business point of view, you can always look to the computer hardware and software industry as a road map to what's going to happen next in the entertainment technology business,” she continues. And from an aesthetic point of view, she's looking for the pendulum to swing back a bit. “Just ‘because we can’ doesn't always result in the best, most effective design for any given event or experience,” notes MacKay. “I see elegance and simplicity ahead.”
What keeps MacKay interested in this crazy business? “What? Leave show business!” she quips. “But seriously, there is absolutely nothing to match the excitement, passion, and pleasure of assembling and working with a great team and creating something wonderful, entertaining, thoughtful, provocative, and successful. In the last 10 years or so, I have had an extraordinary opportunity: I've gone from writing about it to actually doing what I used to write about, thanks in particular to a couple of my favorite teams: Mark Thomas and On Track Themes, Chris Conte and Electrosonic, and Phil Hettema and The Hettema Group.”
Among her fans is Gary Fails of City Theatrical. “Pat MacKay had a profound effect on my business,” says Fails. “In Reno in 1994, at our very first LDI as exhibitors, I was walking the show floor early in the morning, hours before the show started. By chance, I crossed paths with an attractive, dark-haired woman who asked me why I was there so early. I explained that it was the first time my company exhibited at LDI and that it was my only chance to see any of the show since I was trapped in my booth all day. We introduced ourselves and sat on a couch in someone's booth to talk. Pat asked me about my company and what we made, how I started my business, and what we hoped to do. Later that day, City Theatrical won its first product award. I've always felt that Pat touched my company with her magic wand and gave us a little push toward success.”