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USITT Reaches New Heights

Jacob Coakley • Feature • April 2, 2016
Students compete in the Scenic Painting Challenge.
Students compete in the Scenic Painting Challenge.

All the highlights, contests, awards and more from USITT

Nestled at the western edge of the Rocky Mountains, Salt Lake City hosted the 2016 USITT Conference—which seemed to be as large as the peaks around it, offering accolades, education, more exhibitors than ever, and a glimpse into the future of what our industry—and artform—will become. 

The Expo kicked off by celebrating the people who make USITT such a vibrant organization, with three people added to its ranks of Fellows. These included Rachel Keebler, founder of Cobalt Studios. Accepting the award, Keebler prodded the audience to “Keep loving [theatre]; keep doing it—and then pay it forward because it pays you back with a wonderful life.” David Will, recently retired from Penn State, was also inducted as a Fellow thanks to his work growing USITT into a national, inclusive conference. “I did what I did with this institute out of love for the business … and a true belief in USITT,” he said. Finally, Stephanie Young—longtime head of the stage management program at CalArts and a mentor through her work at CalArts, Colorado Shakespeare Festival, and USITT, where she started the Stage Manager Mentor Project—was honored. USITT’s immediate past president Lea Asbell-Swanger was honored with the Joel E. Rubin Founders Award. After expressing her gratitude, she introduced the keynote speaker, designer and creator Tupac Martir. 


Martir’s hyperkinetic speech affirmed why he has been called a “light magician,” and an artistic genius. He has also been described as indefatigable—this was apt, as he was in continual movement throughout his presentation, urging designers to put everything they had into their designs, and come up with creative new ways to use technology. 

James Joseph of Eartec models their new UltraLite headset, which offers full-duplex comms for up to four headsets with no base station required.
James Joseph of Eartec models their new UltraLite headset, which offers full-duplex comms for up to four headsets with no base station required.

At one point in the address, Martir brought out a table and chair that he had outfitted with Mogee devices—and proceeded to play the table and chair, using the input to control the lights and video on the stage. He extended it into the crowd as well, with Mogee devices on chairs in the audience, and letting attendees “play” the room. “For me this is one of the greatest things that ever happened in my life,” he said. “The world is expanding and suddenly a single chair can become my instrument.” Still, he cautioned the audience to not become too enamored of technology, reminding them that the art that appears on stage and how the audience responds to it is far more important than the gear they put in the rig to make it happen. “What’s up there doesn’t matter. What is down there does,” he said. 


Lighting pioneers were honored as well, with Gordon Pearlman receiving the “Wally” Lifetime Achievement Award from the Wally Russell Foundation thanks to his innovative and pioneering contributions to lighting control, including the invention of the first computerized lighting console, the LS/8, and his development of IGBT choke-less dimmers.   

iWeiss teased a new control system and showed off their new line of counterweight rigging hardware.
iWeiss teased a new control system and showed off their new line of counterweight rigging hardware.

There were more sessions than could be attended by any one person. The Diversity Committee’s People of Color Network session hosted April Reign, creator of the #OscarsSoWhite hashtag, and managing editor of Broadway Black. In an inspiring session she talked about how she advocates for diversity and representation of all under-represented communities in entertainment. “There’s so much beauty and diversity and contest you miss when only telling stories from one point of view,” she said, urging people to actively dismantle negative structures. 

After his keynote, Tupac Martir spoke at several sessions, including RC4 Wireless’ “Life Untethered” panel, where he spoke about how he uses their gear for his art installations, including on the keynote for USITT. Designer Chris Wood shared how he created a new look for Angel in a production of RENT. The Sound Lab was a hive of activity throughout the show, with noted sound designers exhibiting how they tech a show, loading in their own designs while Vinnie Olivieri and Brad Berridge narrated their process and explained it for attendees. Students also got their chance to get their hands on the rig, with six students—who had worked their way through an adjudication process—given an hour to load in their cues under the mentorship of a professor or industry professional. 

And of course a lot of events took place on the Expo floor as well. In addition to all the cool gear on display there were plenty of contests, swag and charity happening throughout the show. Altman Lighting ran a contest offering attendees the chance to win an Apple Watch after they checked out their new Pegasus dimming Fresnel fixture. Avery Reynolds of Texas State University and Tanner Funk of Utah State University walked away winners there. 

The Light Source showed off their new Quick Release clamp, which allows fixtures to be removed from clamps to switch them out on pipe.
The Light Source showed off their new Quick Release clamp, which allows fixtures to be removed from clamps to switch them out on pipe.

There were more contests on the show floor. Rose Brand partnered with USITT to present the eSet Quiz Show, a Jeopardy-style tournament that asked three technicians questions in the areas of costuming, electricity and rigging. ETC showed how easy it was to upgrade a tu ngsten Source Four to an LED engine with their Source 4WRD retrofit kit by timing attendees as they switched out light sources. While Fred Foster held the lead for a few hours, eventually some attendees edged him out. Thursday’s and Saturday’s winners—Jono de Leon from the University of California, Davis (19.72 seconds); Trent Ware from the University of Texas at El Paso (16.16 seconds)—earned a Source 4WRD kit for their schools. Megan Hamilton from the College of William and Mary took top honors with a time of 12.19 seconds, and earned a complete Source 4WRD fixture for her school. 

ETC also presented Rick Rudolph of Behind the Scenes with a check of the proceeds from the sale of iRFR and aRFR apps amounting to more than $19,250. Rosco, meanwhile, their eighth annual royalty check from the sales of Roscolux #359 Medium Violet to Behind the Scenes, worth $3,200. Rick Rudolph, Chair of the Behind the Scenes Foundation, accepted the check saying, Rosco was our first Pledge-a-Product partner. Their long term vision of the entertainment industry has tremendous depth and we are very grateful to be included. Thank you for the many years of commitment to Behind the Scenes.” A.C.T Lighting made their first Pledge-a-Product donation to Behind the Scenes for $5,000, reflecting proceeds from the sale of the dot2 Series of Lighting Control Solutions from MA Lighting. Sale of Behind the Scenes swag at the show, combined with their raffle and auction—emceed by Bill Sapsis who led the kazoo parade riding a three-wheel security scooter wearing his Long Reach Long Rider leathers—raised more than $15,000. 

The Gear

Stage Directions shot more than 20 product videos at USITT, showing new gear from lighting companies (Altman, Chauvet, ETC, Mega-Lite), staging (Creative Conners, Flying by Foy, Gerriets, J.R. Clancy, Staging Concepts), audio (d&b, DPA, Point Source Audio) and even costuming and makeup (Ben Nye Makeup, OSF Costume Rentals). We fit in as many as we could here, but you can see all of them online at Browse through these pics from the show floor, check out the videos, and get ready to see the gear you’ll be using this year.  

Pete Borchetta showed off the dimming capabilities of Altman’s Pegasus. 


Dana Nye of Ben Nye and Meghan Bernstein of Norcostoco shared the Ben Nye makeup they used in a design. 


Michael Graham displayed the wide range of theatrical fixtures in Chauvet Professional’s Ovation series, including the new E-910FC. 


Gareth Conner of Creative Conners had crowds throughout the expo checking out the new Pushstick V2 Winch.


Christopher Kulesa shared the features of the new line of VP Point Source cabinets from d&b audiotechnik. 


James Capparelle of DPA Microphones introduced the d:screet Slim 4060 and its accessories to theatre makers.


John Dunn from Elation Professional showed off the featurs of the Satura CMY fixture. 


In addition to the Source 4WRD and the debut of a new console (the Color Source and Color Source AV), ETC premiered its new Cue System.



Joe McGeough of Flying by Foy gave demonstrations of their new Featherweight winches.


Gerriets’ Drew Russo kept things moving with their new low profile, compact Belt Track system. 


GLP showed off their X4 Impression Bar cyc washer, currently in use on Fiddler on the Roof on Broadway. 


J.R. Clancy and Wenger showed off new rigging control options, with Dale Hourlland explaining the new synthesis of Scene Control motion control and Cast Software’s Wysiwyg. 


Mark DeLorenzo from Osram shows off the Kreios line of fixtures, including the Kreios  Fresnel Warm White, Kreios RGBW Fresnel, Kreios Profile, and Kreios  FLx flood.


Mega-Lite showed off the color capabilities of the PR XRLED 500 Spot and the punchy output of its Drama LED W50 compact ellipsoidal). 



Emily Ehrlich Inget of OSF Costume Rentals inspired costumers with a  Silly Hat contest—and by showing off the features of their new website.


James Lamb introduced Point Source Audio’s Embrace mic system, made from a malleable material that can hug the ear in a variety of configurations. 


Joel Svendsen from Rosco shows off three new models of  Pica Cubes: WNC, 4C and UV


Bob Randall and Staging Concepts impressed theatre owners and consultants with the new Uplift stage platform, which can easily transform anywhere between 8-48 inches in height.  


Tammy Modica and TheatreWorld backdrops went epic, bringing their 48-foot-by-20-foot Princess Castle backdrop to the show.


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