A Look At How People Are Coping In Tough Times

While President Obama contemplates a big stimulus package to jumpstart the economy, and Tim Geithner was sworn in on Monday as the new Treasury secretary, there is still much uncertainty about the economic landscape and people are wondering if the worst is over, or still yet to come. The entertainment design and technology industry is in the same boat, yet many people are hopeful that things will get back to normal within the coming months.

From the theatre consultants point of view, Jules Lauve, an associate at Theatre Projects Consultants, is quite hopeful: “We've been preparing for a slow down for the last year, and continue to watch the market. We expect that projects that are fully funded or already in construction will move forward. Some projects currently in design may slow down, scale back, or go on hold until funding is secured. Conversely, the slow down makes the bidding environment more favorable and some projects have been accelerated to take advantage of the lower costs. We continue to see new leads every day, so there are certainly new projects being planned.”

As for the future, he quips: “Our crystal ball is in the shop, if we knew exactly what will happen, we'd get out of theatre consulting and move to Las Vegas— wait, check that, they ain't doin' too good there either…Taking a broad view of things, the slowdown that we have noticed seems to be distributed fairly evenly across all sectors. As for staffing, we are simply holding steady.”

Lighting designer Herrick Goldman is the owner of his own small business, HG Lighting Design Inc. In terms of projects for 2009 he reports, “Generally I'm seeing more theatre and fewer large corporate events. Usually my work is 60% corporate and 40% theater/art. I'm currently doing two Off Broadway shows, and one show in Virginia Beach. I had to turn down a musical in Alexandria, VA, and I just got asked to design a Broadway benefit for Prop 8. These for me are more artistically oriented and lower budget.”

On the corporate side he notes: "Madame Tussauds is a client and they asked me for a quote two weeks ago on a relatively small project. They usually approve very quickly but I am still waiting on that. January is always slow and usually March and April pick up so the phone rings the first week of February. I usually get some trickle down from Fashion Week, as in last minute parties and events or a spontaneous show that didn't bother to call the big guys soon enough. We'll see how that shakes out in the next few weeks.”

In terms of a squeeze due to the economy, Goldman has had a few things downgrade in scale and one event was cancelled. “I've seen one Off Broadway show keep pushing back, but it will still go forward,” he says, noting that “I haven't had anyone ask me to lower my fees, but if it meant keeping a gig or keeping one or two of my associates on the gig I would probably consider it.” Goldman also notes that he is getting two to three resumes a week, which he says is “more than usual so it seems the young, assistant level, designers are hurting. People definitely seem to be thinking twice about spending, but there is no lack of requests to design. I'm not getting rich but I am feeling artistically fulfilled and busy!”

Not all designers feel so optimistic. One designer/programmer who asked to remain anonymous paints a rather bleak picture: “This business is f**king brutal right now. I don't know how I'm going to pay rent these next couple of months. In fact, I'm moving to a different apartment when my lease is up because it's so bad. The end of the year showed a ton of clients just not paying their bills or stretching their terms to the point of sucking the profits out of it all. Corporate shows have evaporated. Installations have been put on indefinite hold. The touring market has freaked out to the point of not doing anything until the second half of the year. I think that by March everything will be back in action but these next few months are going to be really tough for everyone.”

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