MORE CAUTION ON CONTENT

I was extremely disappointed to read the article “A Cautionary Content Tale” [LD, Feb 2005]. As a regular reader, I was amazed to find an article in such poor taste in your pages.

Instead of an informative article debating a serious issue, this article reads more like a gossip column. Events recounted did not happen as they were explained. Others are downright lies.

Although I was not present for all the discussions that were described in the article, I was present for some. This article actually puts quotes around the phrase “Steal it. Jack it,” and attributes this to a major recording artist who has made his living with his own copyrighted material. Even if we were to suspend disbelief and pretend that this happened, Mr. Virkhaus was involved in all video content that made it to the screens, and if he thought that something should not have been used because of copyright reasons, he did not express it to me or to anyone else in my presence.

The issue of copyrighted material is a serious one that everyone in the industry is interested in. The cut and dry approach taken by Lighting Dimensions that an artist owns all art “commissioned” of him is one that I find surprising. If I commissioned an artist to paint a picture, I would expect to own it when he was done. If the artist expected to retain all rights, I would expect him to have a contract. I would have expected this article to debate this issue, but instead, the article suggests there is no need for debate.

This type of attitude is dangerous and not one that should be taken lightly by such a prominent publication. With video quickly becoming a part of the lighting vocabulary, a publication such as Lighting Dimensions should be encouraging discussion and highlighting the efforts in the field. This article does none of that. Instead, it puts forward the opinion that everyone is out to steal from you, an extremely paranoid response. In the future, I would hope that Lighting Dimensions screens it articles more closely. Articles that approach serious issues should be informative not accusatory. Articles that seek to ruin the reputation of industry professionals should at minimum be checked with multiple sources. We all work in a very small industry. Allowing random individuals to use your pages as a place to vent their frustrations does not seem helpful to the community.

As a freelancer in this business, your article has done harm that cannot be undone. I have worked very hard to establish relationships in this business that are built on hard work, talent, and trust. The false accusations in your pages have negatively affected these relationships. The extent of this damage will not be known for some time.
Name withheld by request

THE END OF A CONSERVATORY?

Debating the relative value of graduate school versus on the job training will be ongoing in our industry probably forever. The longer I work in this business, the more I come to realize that the evidence is just too individual to provide a concrete answer. Aspiring young designers will continue to choose between the likely debt load of graduate school versus the uncertain future of jumping into the work force headfirst.

There are a few widely known institutions that provide a much higher chance of career success (if one can get through the front door), such as the Yale School of Drama. There has been, however, a professional training ground operating in the backyard of New York City for many years that has been infusing the industry with an unusually high number of successful lighting professionals that I believe needs a closer look.

Those who follow such things will know that Michael Ritchie, the much loved and critically acclaimed producer of the Williamstown Theatre Festival (WTF), has taken on a new role at the helm of the Mark Taper Forum in Los Angeles. This move has made way for veteran actor and director Roger Rees to take over the leadership of Williamstown. As frequently happens in times of change, Roger has opted to bring in his own design team, a decision that brings an end to the epic 17-year run by Rui Rita as lighting supervisor and resident lighting designer at WTF. For those of us who know Rui personally, his passion and dedication to the Festival over these years has been truly remarkable and unwavering. That he trained at Williamstown with such names as Thomas Skelton, Arden Fingerhut, Peter Hunt, and Craig Miller will certainly resonate with anyone old enough to have seen the work of these masters. That he began his tenure at Williamstown under the leadership of Nikos Psacharopoulos and went on to light over 50 productions with such directors as Christopher Ashley, Michael Greif, Jack Hofsis, Daniel Sullivan, Nicholas Martin, and scores of others puts him well into the ranks of top designers and the history books of the Festival. Add to this his four Broadway credits, numerous off-Broadway shows, and extensive regional resume at such places as the Gutherie, A.C.T., the Alley, and numerous others, and you've got an impressive portrait of someone who is only 36 years old. Yet there is another contribution to the theatre community that emerged from Rui's tenure at WTF, one that may be less glamorous than his design resume, and one that will not appear in his program bio. That contribution is found in the investment Rui made in the intern and training program that underscores all facets of production at Williamstown. The results of his efforts in this area are evident in the collective success of the people who have trained with him.

A new direction will arrive at Williamstown this summer, both in artistic leadership, as well as the production and design departments. There will likely be some new faces at the tech table as well as new priorities. I find myself hoping and wondering if the new team will put the same value on training and mentoring as in recent years. If so, Williamstown will remain a source of talent for the New York community and a coveted intern position for students around the country. But if this priority falls by the side, it will mark the decline of an unofficial conservatory of stage lighting that I am proud to call my professional alma mater.
Jeff Nellis
Lighting designer

IN MEMORY OF BILL MCMANUS…

I was Bill McManus' vice president of production in the 80s and 90s. I did not come to Bill as a green beginner but rather as a young roadie lighting director looking for temporary work. That work turned into a 10-year span. Bill never treated me any differently from men, even though women were rare in the industry and not even allowed into many IAs.

It was the 80s, and McManus Enterprises was really moving into the world of sports lighting, primarily boxing. Bill would put me on the same gigs as the guys and expect the same results. Bill taught me how to light every kind of sporting event, and by the 90s, I was the only national female sports lighting director thanks to Bill. With “Jack the Rigger,” we became our own team on events. I learned to view sporting events through Bill's eyes and the eyes of the participants. He was always a teacher. Bill, Jack, and I made one hell of a team in our day. I have lost my mentor, my big brother, and one of my dearest friends.
Joy Bowman Thompson

I was master electrician for two Jethro Tull tours and one Cat Stevens tour in the 1970s, with Bill as lighting designer and equipment vendor. I remember dealing with all those Scrimmer dimmer packs and Bill's then-innovative multi-cables and PAR cans! Bill was truly able to connect with the visions of the artists, and to make their visions come true during each and every performance. He motivated all of us to reach beyond what we had done and to do what had never been done to make his inspired visions happen on stage. He always respected our knowledge and experience and drew on this to do his finest work. I remember him strolling outside the arenas, listening to a cassette of the previous night's concert, envisioning in his mind ways to improve the show that would happen that evening. Bill had great respect for his crews. He insisted that all his concert crews in the ‘70s should be IATSE yellow-card stagehands. This brought tremendous cooperation from the local crews and gained Bill much respect in the industry. Although we may have had an occasional difference of opinion, we both shared an honest regard for the production. I regret to say that I did not communicate with Bill these last three decades. Now, I deeply regret not staying in touch with this true pioneer and good friend. God Bless you, Bill. Your memory will live with me throughout my days.
D. Scott Linder
Glendale, CA

As it stands right now, technology either can't or isn't being applied to protect the work of content creators and designers. Therefore, it is up to us as practitioners and up to the vendors who deploy media servers to do the right thing. In this age of open source and new means of media distribution, the whole entertainment business is wrestling with the topic of IP protection. We strongly believe it can't be draconian; it must embrace an open extensible model, but it has to also protect the rights of the artist. We are big believers in open source and in the sharing of media. But this sharing has to involve the consent of the originating artist; it has to be done in a spirit of collaboration. It also has to be done in a way that is sensible to the idea that we all want to make a living from our art.

It's simple really…just don't steal. If you're a vendor, take responsibility for the gear, and wipe the non-stock libraries when they return to the shop. If you're a designer or programmer, and you find yourself tempted to use “found” media, don't. The gratification from making your own stuff, or in seeking your own productive collaboration with another artist, is always going to look better and be better.
Bob and Colleen Bonniol
Mode Studios,
Seattle, WA