Trade show fever took hold during April in China and Australia. The first edition of Light and Sound Shanghai, organized by PLASA in partnership with P&O Events, ran April 14-16 at the Intex Exhibition Centre. Then it was a long haul down to Sydney for exhibitors who were off to the last Entech of the millennium at the Sydney Exhibition Centre, April 22-24.
For those companies who took advantage of the convenient timing to exhibit at both shows, it was a busy two weeks. The hospitality in Shanghai alone would have been enough to render even the most hardened trade show regular a gibbering wreck, but fortunately there was a free weekend between the shows and many of the weary travelers took time out to make the most of the wonderful Sydney weather to do some sightseeing (though from what this observer could gather, the sights were mostly the interiors of Sydney's hippest bars and nightclubs).
But before Entech there was much work to be done--and fun to be had--in Shanghai, which reportedly has one of the world's fastest-growing economies, making it the ideal location for PLASA's inaugural event in China. Visitors to Shanghai cannot fail to notice the vast number of construction sites dotted all over the sprawling city, indicating the rapid growth phase it is currently enjoying. With a population of 16 million, Shanghai is a city undergoing enormous changes and this reflects positively on its entertainment industry which currently boasts 1,483 nightclubs, 89 film studios, and 88 theatres.
The Intex Exhibition Centre is situated in the economic district of Shanghai, a bustling area around the clock. The moment PLASA Shanghai was officially declared open, crowds of visitors literally stormed through the doors as the welcoming brass band played a rousing tune. It doesn't take long to figure out that the Chinese like to be first in and first out, whether it's catching a bus or attending a trade show, and if you're not prepared to do your share of pushing and shoving, it's best to stand back and wait for the crowd to subside (the safest option for Westerners who are used to more orderly queues).
PLASA Shanghai attracted 4,845 Chinese and international visitors and featured 48 international manufacturers/ distributors and 37 local manufacturers. Local Chinese companies were not permitted to display foreign products, a policy that was tightly policed, as were the limits on noise levels. It appears that keeping check on sound levels is a new concept for Chinese trade shows, which usually allow an audio free-for-all, though the 75dB limit was only occasionally disputed by exhibitors.
The show occupied the ground floor of the hall, with the Chinese exhibitors situated at either end and the international exhibitors in the middle. One reason for keeping the locals' stands together was to make them feel more comfortable, as many had never previously exhibited at a trade show. Some of the international exhibitors were making their initial foray into the Chinese marketplace, considering it a fishing expedition to determine if a niche exists for their products. Others who have been distributing their products in China saw it as an opportunity to strengthen relationships with their distributors, some of whom they had never actually met. Chinese exhibitors had the opportunity to view many Western products which had never been seen in Shanghai before. One British exhibitor put it very succinctly when asked if he was showing any new products: "Everything is new to China."
A highlight of the show for the local visitors was the wide-ranging international seminar program which was attended by 810 visitors over the three days. Sessions were a little longer than usual due to the necessity for translation of the Western speakers' contributions. Chinese etiquette concerning the use of mobile phones is very different from that accepted in the West; the Chinese made no concession for the seminar speakers, answering calls and carrying on loud conversations in a manner that would get one lynched at LDI or USITT.
Above the din, the lighting topics covered included "Programming Your Lighting Control Console," presented by A.C. Lighting and Avolites, and "Designing and Programming a Light Show," held by companies including Pulsar and Clay Paky. Since China has such a thriving film and TV industry it was relevant for there to be a seminar aimed at this audience; the topic presented was "Aurasoft: New Lighting Technologies and their Creative Applications for Film/TV Production," hosted by OpTex.
David Staples from Theatre Projects Consultants opened the seminar program with "Theatre Design and Installation," which proved a fascinating insight into current design trends in all styles of venues, multiform spaces in particular. His talk was well-illustrated, with venues such as the Singapore Arts Centre and the Cerritos Performing Arts Center in California used as examples. Several companies joined forces to present "Rigging the Perfect Truss," with representatives from Unusual Rigging, Total Fabrications, and James Thomas Engineering on hand.
Chris Cronin from Total Fabrications, which exhibited with Unusual Rigging, stated at lunchtime on the first day of PLASA Shanghai that "I could close our stand now and I'd be happy; I've been very impressed with the quality of visitors so far." Jon Petts from Jem Smoke, which introduced the Techno-Haze for the DJ and nightclub markets at the show, was surprised at the level of interest in special effects; even though Jem has a local distributor it doesn't sell a lot of smoke machines in China. Petts said a lot of the visitors to his stand were from the television industry, and he even had a potential customer from Siberia.
Peter Kemp from Coemar said he was there to put out feelers for distributors and as a marketing exercise, and was pleased with the way the show went.
Overall, PLASA Shanghai appeared to be a success, with the majority of exhibitors looking forward to returning in 1999. Even those who were apprehensive about exhibiting in this unknown market realized that China is a country eager to learn from Western technology and design practices in the entertainment field. Most exhibitors were pleased with the quality of visitors the show attracted and felt that they had made some good contacts, but realize that as the Chinese approach to business is cautious and personal, it will probably take some time before concrete deals and relationships are formed.
The feeling from the Chinese exhibitors was very positive. For many of them it was a new and strange experience, although they appreciated the discipline and organization of the show and the opportunity to learn and compare products with the Western exhibitors. The Chinese need to be first in and out resurfaced on the last day of the show when several of the Chinese exhibitors started packing up their stands around lunchtime and no amount of persuasion from the organizers could stop them.
Over in Sydney, Entech 98 proved a slick, great-looking show that featured 135 exhibitors and attracted 4,894 trade visitors. For the first time, floor space was allocated for exclusive audio and lighting zones, a concept that worked very well; it certainly preserved the feet of those visitors only interested in one or the other of the fields. The remaining floor space housed exhibitors in staging, video, and related services and associations. A generous area, well away from the bustle and noise of the main floor, was set aside for meetings and networking, and additional spaces were available for exhibitors to privately entertain guests or run hands-on product workshops.
The 18 seminars held over the three days covered all disciplines. One of the key issues this year was safety. On the day prior to Entech a safety conference was held at the Sydney Opera House by ShowSafe, the association formed following a safety conference held at Entech 96, when it was agreed that the Australian entertainment industry would benefit from uniform health and safety guidelines. The three Entech safety seminars covered electrical safety (in particular testing and tagging of equipment), rigging, and safety at outdoor events. These seminars attracted packed houses and stimulated discussions that continued long after the seminars ended. This is clearly an area where the Australian entertainment industry is going to initiate major changes in the near future.
Product launches were numerous this year, with many companies bringing in overseas guests to add a touch of excitement to the vibe on the floor. Unfortunately for some companies, a long-running industrial dispute on the wharves meant that some products never actually made it to the show, leaving some stands looking a little bare.
Chameleon Touring Systems was showing a very sexy, Australian-designed lighting winch with adjustable legs and spring lock. In its first production run it will be available in two heights, 22' (7m) or 18' (5m). Universal Lighting & Audio has recently taken over the exclusive Australian distribution of Avolites products, and Avolites sales director Steve Warren was on-site (fresh from the UK via Shanghai) to demonstrate products. John Saunders from Abstract was also on hand to give the VR-8 scanner its Australian launch.
LSC hosted drinks at its stand to launch its new logo and corporate image, and to mark the occasion the guys were decked out in vivid purple shirts. Lee Filters is releasing 13 new colors in its gel range to be called the 700 series. The new colors, created by several British lighting designers, were scheduled to be available in Australia in late June. Jands Electronics unveiled its new Echelon 1K lighting control desk, a 1,000-channel unit using the Wholehog II operating system and designed to accommodate both conventional and moving fixtures.
Perhaps one of the more interesting products seen at Entech this year was Philips' Blue Pinch halogen lamp; its compact size is allowing the production of new ranges of smaller, more efficient luminaires. Selecon NZ was to release its Pacific luminaire, designed around one of these new lamps. But the Pacific was a no-show, due to a last minute hold-up on delivery of the die for the ends of the luminaire body.
Canadian company Stageline was at Entech for the first time to evaluate interest in its mobile stage systems, which come complete with wings, trusses, windwalls, stairs, and railings. Judging by the interest shown in the Chameleon stand, which was built on a Stageline stage, this will not be its last visit. Columbus McKinnon was investigating the possibility of running its well-known "motor school" in Australia. Stage Technologies was showing only one item this year: the Nomad stage automation controller, which has been selected to run the stage machinery at the Royal Opera House in London and the redeveloped Sadler's Wells.
The Entech awards night was held April 24 at Sydney's Metro nightclub. Moving light of the year went to the Martin MAC 600, distributed by Martin Professional Lighting Australia, and luminaire of the year was awarded to the Clay Paky Mini Scan HPE, distributed by Show Lighting Australia. The Jands Hog 250/600, distributed by Jands Electronics, took home lighting control product of the year, while Martin claimed the innovation in lighting product design award for the MAC 500. Sean "Motley" Hackett was named lighting designer of the year for his work with INXS and Savage Garden, with Chameleon named best lighting production company and Bytecraft winning the "architainment" lighting project award for the foyer of the Crown Casino in Melbourne, which involved 3,000 DMX channels. It was a fitting finish to the last Entech of the century, which appeared to be a successful show for all involved.
Jacqueline Molloy is an Australia-based freelance writer with a background in lighting and production management.