What happens when a bomb-sniffing dog meets an 18-wheeler loaded with pyro supplies?

It's already happened more than once and is likely to happen again, reports Reggie Roark, marketing director at New Century Lighting in Albuquerque, NM. “It's never been a problem before for the pyro boys to hang their stuff on my trusses,” he adds. “Those trucks aren't going to just drive in anymore. If a dog hits on a truck, imagine the cost if you have 17 semis that have to be checked. Imagine if you had to evacuate an entire hotel because of a powder residue on a box. If you add two hours to each load-in, how much more cost is that?”

"What if we have to secure the roof, and every rigger who goes on the roof has to be secured?"
--Reggie Roark, New Century Lighting

Beefed-up security, cancellations, and slow sales were commonplace throughout the industry in the weeks after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Although some industry sources report economic conditions on the upswing, they also predict the change in security attitudes is likely to be long-term.

Riggers and other technicians will be affected, says Tom Loftus, general manager of Kinetic Artistry, a company specializing in theatrical lighting and makeup. “Many technicians routinely carry things that look very much like weapons,” he notes, including “some impressive-looking and very sharp knives.” These workers can expect a lot of added attention from facility security personnel and police.

Riggers, too, may be accustomed to having the run of a facility at all hours, and this is likely to change. “What if we now have to secure the roof, and every rigger who goes up on the roof has to be searched?” asks Roark. “In the past we only had to deal with that level of security when we were doing something for the White House. We'll probably see more of it now.”

Impacts of the September 11 tragedy are being felt in all kinds of settings. The Kodak Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta, for instance, lost several international participants in its October event due to drastic increases in the cost of shipping balloons, gondolas, and other paraphernalia from overseas. Fiesta spokesman Tom Garrity said some European teams that had paid $1,500 for shipping last year were quoted a $5,000 cost to ship the same materials this fall, due to heightened airline requirements.

Cancelled and Postponed

Events both major and minor were cancelled or postponed. Vari-Lite, Inc. provided luminaires and consoles to the Emmy Awards, which were postponed immediately following the New York and DC attacks and delayed again when the US air strikes began in Afghanistan. “There has been a slowdown in the fourth quarter because of cancelled shows and a reduction in the size and scale of shows,” reports CEO Randy Brutsché. “At the same time, there have been events postponed and some cancellations in Europe.”

Bill Sapsis of Sapsis Rigging cites one piece of good fortune for his company. Although a Sapsis crew had been on location in Manhattan rigging the series of citywide fashion shows that make up Fashion Week, nobody was actually onsite on September 11. “That particular day was one of the few days in a two-week period that we were not actually in the city,” Sapsis says. Instead, the crew was driving toward New York on the New Jersey Turnpike, a trip they never completed.

Fashion Week, of course, never happened, and Sapsis predicts, “There will be a significant financial impact on us because of this. As for other work, not much was outright cancelled but a lot of ‘in-the-process’ work went away, and the phones have been too quiet.”

At Tracoman, a US distributor for international lighting companies, executive vice president Marcel Fairbairn says, “We have even been forced to take product back that we had sold. Customers had shows cancel on them and became frightened about the future.”

Loftus has observed “a precipitous drop in corporate events. All the corporations have really reined it in, especially the corporate ‘rah-rah’ events.”

That trend, however, was already underway well before September 11, Roark says. “Business was slowing down anyway, and the two hardest-hit areas were corporate and tourism. Corporate business is going to continue to fall off. CEOs have felt they couldn't lay off 5,000 people and then have a million-dollar corporate event.”

Concerts, too, may be in for a harder time, says Roark. “Even if ticket sales only go down 10%, rock concerts run on such a small margin anyway that with a 10% decline, they might just cancel.” Looking ahead, he predicts, “This New Year's Eve we'll take a big hit.” Several cities, he noted, have already cancelled plans for public New Year's parties.

Steve Johnson, vice president/marketing at Shure, says, “Shure was certainly experiencing a bit of a downward trend before September 11. We saw an uptick during the first week of September, and we were feeling pretty good, then the events of September 11 knocked us all back.”

Much of Shure's business is retail, Johnson notes, and “all retailers are exercising caution about not overbuilding their inventories. It seems that products are still going off the shelves, and that's good.”

And a Rebound…When?

Johnson, moreover, also feels the summer's slow business was largely the result of economic conditions and decisions already well in the past, and the effects of these factors may have played themselves out. “On the whole, we have a pretty positive outlook,” he says. “We're confident that our sales will be up in the not-too-distant future.”

Kinetic Artistry's emphasis on theatre applications means “ours is a cyclical business,” says Loftus. Earlier in 2001, he said, “nobody wanted to use the ‘R word,’ but there was a downturn. Summer traditionally is a slightly slower time, and the end of summer is normally when we see an upswing. This year the upswing was not as great as in past years, but we still saw something.”

Better times may be coming soon, however. “We've seen business pick up already,” says Fairbairn. “Many shows that initially cancelled have since rescheduled.”

Sapsis also observes that “they've started to talk now, about jobs that were put off. If they're not really time-sensitive, they're looking now at rescheduling.”

All economic forecasts, bright or gloomy, include caveats about the effects of unpredictable future events both here and in other parts of the world. “The economic experts have said if the war is short and additional attacks [in the US] do not happen, then the economy will start to recover slowly after the first of the year,” Brutsché says.

But in many ways, the entire industry will have to wait and see what comes with a future that's even less predictable than usual. Says Sapsis, “I don't see where we as mere mortals have any control over it.”