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  • Writer's pictureTheater Design Inc.

Toys Are Not Just For Kids

Who says we have to stop playing with toys when we grow up? A friend of mine opened a model train store just so he could continue to play. For others of us, grown-up toys are of a different kind: they light up and create sounds and make things “magically” move. They are the latest lighting control board, moving light or mixing console. They are motorized rigging sets and stage elevators and turntables. For some, they are simply a few Lekos (that’s an ellipsoidal reflector spotlight for you youngsters) and a pipe grid. Whatever the size and needs of your facility or whether you are building new, renovating or upgrading; you will find a bewildering array of theatrical systems and equipment. Below are some steps you should take before spending a cent.


Justify the Need – before the “powers that be” will commit to any capital project, they will have to be convinced of its need and value.  This will require that you keep records and try to quantify the need (i.e. what can’t you do now that you would like to do.)


Decide What You Want Your Systems to Do – there is a great deal of information available and many new and interesting toys. It is easy to miss the forest for the trees.  Look at your current systems and how they are used.  What works and what doesn’t? What new demands can you see in the immediate and far future?  Are there any safety concerns?  Organize this information and write it down - - don’t keep it in your head.


Budget – it is the lucky manager who gets everything they want - - and I have never met any lucky ones.  Develop a budget based on the goals you wish to achieve. Leave some wiggle room in your budget - - remember it is almost impossible to get more money, but you will certainly be asked to spend less. 


Take Advantage of Available Help – while most techies and designers have experience in the operation and maintenance of theatrical systems and equipment, very few have ever designed them.  There is more than just selecting the equipment.  You will be working with architects, engineers and contractors who may have more or less experience than you.  If possible, talk with the staff of other facilities that have completed similar projects to yours. Surf the web and visit the library.  Seek help from members of your staff. The more you know the better you will be able to determine and articulate your needs, especially if the project budget is tight.


Who Are These Folks and What Do They Do?

All of the theatrical systems and equipment are made by an equally bewildering array of dealers, representatives and manufacturers. Different manufacturers of theatrical systems and equipment employ different levels of response to a bid or direct purchase, depending upon the project location and its size. Some of the principal players are:


Manufacturer or OEM is the company that actually designs and fabricates the equipment. Some have limited distribution but most work through dealers and representatives.


Dealer is a sales agent for different non-competing manufacturers. Dealers re-sell the equipment and make their profit on the mark-up.


Manufacturer’s Representative is a sales agent for a variety of manufacturers who makes a commission on any represented products that are sold in their territory.


Systems Integrator will package any and all of the typical theatrical equipment packages and provide all coordination and responsibility.

 ? Who Do You Call?

If you are simply buying some off-the-shelf items a local dealer or representative can assist you.  When you can, do business with a local dealer who will open their shop on Sunday afternoon to get that replacement lamp or console that you need. For a medium-sized project without too many bells and whistles, a Systems Integrator can be very helpful.  These firms will not only supply equipment but will also design, coordinate and ensure that all required components are included.  They have experience working with engineers and contractors and will provide them with necessary information during installation and testing of theatrical systems.  They can also offer warranty services. 


For large projects a theater consultant should be engaged.  These consultants work with theatrical systems every day and will be able to help to distill your needs and ideas and to offer suggestions.  As well, they are fluent in the design and construction process and can act as your advocate for what can be, for a new facility, a multi-year process. The theater consultant will prepare specifications and drawings to describe the theatrical systems for bid. These documents will describe the intent, as well as the letter, of the design of the systems and will provide a common basis for bidding.


As I said at the beginning, there are a lot of toys out there. You will be pressured by staff and salespeople alike to purchase the latest-and-the-greatest whatever. Take the time to evaluate your needs, speak with colleagues and research the products to ensure you don’t have more toys than you can play with.


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