A ShowLight Virgin Tells All

I had never done it before, and I had no idea if it would live up to all the hype I had heard about it. But the invitation to go to Edinburgh, Scotland, was too good to resist, so I packed my bags and off I went to Showlight 2001 (special thanks to ETC Europe for the hospitality once I arrived).

Setting off from London in a van with Mark White, ETC's European sales manager, and a lot if "kit" (as the Brits call their equipment), I was happy to see that the English and Scottish countryside was still dotted with grazing sheep and cattle, all looking picture-book perfect. The long drive was punctuated with an afternoon visit and dinner with lighting designers Jenny Kagan and Rob Halliday at Jenny's family home in the Lake District, with a late night arrival in Edinburgh, or actually Leath, where the hotel was located.

The next three days (May 21-23) proved absolutely glorious, both in terms of uncharacteristically warm sunny weather, and a wonderful group of people at Showlight, an international colloquium on entertainment lighting held once every four years. This year's event was held at the Edinburgh Festival Theatre, which boasts the second largest stage in the UK (one assumes the Royal Opera House must have the bigger one).


From left: Mark White, Fred Foster, and Ellen Lampert-Gréaux

The large stage proved perfect for the exhibition area of Showlight, where approximately 40 companies showed their wares. These included ADB-LSI, Apollo Design, ARRI, Avolites, 5 Star Cases, CCT, Cirro Lite, DeSisti, DHA, Doughty Engineering, ETC Europe, E\T\C UK, Fourth Phase, High End Systems/Flying Pig, Howard Eaton Lighting, iLight, James Thomas Engineering, LeMark/GAM, Lee Filters, Light Projects, Lighting Technology, Litestructures, Martin Professional, Northern Light, Opti, PCM/Rope Assemblies, Philips Lighting, Pulsar Light of Cambridge, Rosco, Selecon UK, SES, Stagetec/Compulite, Strand, Teknique Systems, TMB, Total Fabrications, Vari-Lite Europe, White Light, Wybron, and Zero 88.

In keeping with the maritime nature of Edinburgh, the stage was divided into "booth" spaces by voluminous sails in white, yellow, and gold, each clearly marked with a company name. This was a very effective, and attractive, way to divide the stage. Tea and coffee breaks, as well as lunch, were served at round tables in amongst the exhibitors, providing lots of time for networking and seeing friends.

A wide range of lighting designers and industry professionals presented brief talks, most limited to 15 minutes, with Showlight chairman John Watts providing his personal style of charm and humor along the way. Keynote speakers (or those allotted 45 minutes to speak) were Paula Dinkel of Walt Disney Imagineering, Tony Award-winner Peggy Eisenhauer, and John Rayment, LD for the opening and closing ceremonies at the recent Olympic Games in Sydney. His talk (much to the delight of the audience) went on almost as long as the Olympics themselves, as he humorously detailed the budgetary and time constraints he was forced to accept (why were there 250 horses rehearsing at two o'clock in the morning? Call John, it makes a great story).

After lunch on the second day of Showlight, participants boarded buses (or coaches as they are called across the pond) for tours of nearby theatres, historic houses, the picturesque Glenturret single malt whiskey distillery, and the Strand Lighting factory in nearby Kirkcaldy. I was lucky enough to be on the bus with ETC's Fred Foster. His appearance at the Strand factory was notable enough, but to make things even more interesting, he was wearing a kilt and sporran, as the result of "I will if you raise £2000 for Light Relief" (which we did). Fred's outfit was completed with a Groucho Marx nose and red mustache, provided by his daughter. It certainly made our afternoon.

By late afternoon, everyone gathered at Hopetoun House, a gilded Scottish mansion whose earliest sections were built between 1699 and 1707. Set in 100 acres of parkland, Hopetoun House was the perfect setting for Showlight's gala dinner, generously sponsored by Strand Lighting. As John Watts explained, "Showlight can only take place near a solvent lighting manufacturer."

And what a gala evening it was. Cocktails on the parapet, a great dinner including a wee dram for your haggis and neeps (if you don't know, don't ask), and a post-dinner military tattoo, or bagpipe and drum retreat ceremony out on the lawn, sponsored and lit by Northern Light, which also has offices in Edinburgh. All 300 of us were gathered on the front steps of Hopetoun House, watching the pipers and drummers perform under lights by Mike Pendlowski of Northern Light, who used 25-year-old Strand pattern 765 followspots converted to 2.5kW HMI lamps, and two sets of 12 PAR cans on the roof, as well as PAR cans to follow the marching. What a surprise ending to a fabulous evening.

The presentations the next day seemed a little pale in comparison, but Ian Dow's final paper on "Lights, Camera, Action....Whoops," showed a hilarious series of bloopers in his long career of lighting for television. At the end of the day, Showlight serves as a great reminder of why we are all in the business in the first place. And I look forward to their announcement of a locale for Showlight 2005. I may not have done it before, but I'm certainly game to do it again.

For additional information about ShowLight, contact: sheila@plasa.org.