Rental Redux

I read with great interest the Chris Parry article on lighting rental pricing in the June 2004 issue [“The Price Is Not Always Right,” page 28]. Much of the content resonated with me, both from the designer's point of view and that of the rental shop. In the six years since John McGraw and I sold Production Arts to PRG, I have heard a lot of comments from designers that begin “It just isn't like the old days…” And that's absolutely true. The increased capital cost of rental equipment, the ever-shortening life-cycle of new gear, and the increased cost and complexity of maintenance are all major contributors to a price structure that often alarms the design community.

Coupled with the recent period of five or six years where rental pricing fell to extraordinary, unsustainable lows that resulted in the bankruptcy of at least three major rental houses, it's no wonder that prices are heading up. One rather blunt but plausible view might be: “The free ride for the renter is over.” It pains me to say that, especially coming from the background of Production Arts, where support of the design community was at the very top of our list. But the economic realities of the lighting rental business in 2004 are just completely different than they were six or eight years go.

Finally, it really makes fire come out of my nostrils to hear manufacturers blithely commenting on rental pricing being too high, as they did in Chris' article. And this coming from my current position as a manufacturer! Any accurate analysis of a rental price must include utilization, general demand for the specific piece of equipment, “hand-holding” factor required to help the client use the gear properly (quite high with a product like Autopilot), and expected life-cycle. Chris' price for an Autopilot system of $4,000 for six weeks looks pretty wonderful to me, when I recall the many weeks per year that PA's Autopilots sat on the shelf waiting for a rental! If manufacturers feel the need to shoot from the hip with “that's too high” commentary, I suggest that they check with their favorite rental house to determine the real cost of ownership for the gear they manufacture!
Steve Terry, Vice president of research & development ETC

Acoustical Attribution

In the interest of maintaining an error-free history of recent performing arts facility development, I am writing to offer some comments and corrections on Daniel Keller's recent piece on the Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, “A Dallas Maverick” [May 2004, page 16].

Daniel Keller mentions Nick Edwards and David Kahn as having worked with Russ Johnson on the design of the Meyerson. It is incorrect to mention only these two individuals. Many others contributed to the project on behalf of Artec. Russ Johnson and I worked side by side as performance space designers and acoustics designers on the project. Johnson led the project from start to finish. When the project began for us in 1980, I was in my 10th year with the firm and had played key roles in achieving the Artec facilities since 1970 that had gained Artec the consulting opportunity so that what became known as Meyerson Center was for Artec.

Nick Edwards joined the firm just a few months prior to the beginning of work on the Dallas project. While I believe he was mentioned in the book The Meyerson Symphony Center: Building a Dream, by Laurie Shulman, implying that he was a pivotal contributor to the design of the hall is not entirely correct. The design Nick developed, during several days that he spent away from the office, was slowly and carefully pulled apart rather completely in subsequent weeks, as the office moved toward a design that we would present about six months later: first to the Dallas Symphony Orchestra, then to the I.M. Pei and Partners architectural firm.

Russell Johnson is what the French would call the “Conceptor” of the Meyerson Room. A lot of capable people assisted him, including Edwards, Kahn, Carol Allen, Randy Cormack, Paul Garrity, yours truly, and others over the 9-10 years of the firm's involvement on the project.
Robert William Wolff, Designer
Randolph, VT

Editor's Note: The article on the Meyerson Symphony Center focused on Edwards and Kahn's efforts to address sound reinforcement issues in the venue, which opened in 1989.