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Gary Fails Announced as The 2020/2021 “Wally” Lifetime Achievement Winner

Michael S. Eddy • Industry NewsTheatre Buzz • February 11, 2020

Gary Fails

The Board of Directors of the Wally Russell Foundation announces the winner of the 2020/2021 Lifetime Achievement Award is distinguished innovator, entrepreneur, and industry pioneer, Gary Fails. The award will be presented at the annual USITT Conference and Exhibition in Houston, TX at a breakfast celebration on April 3, 2020.

Gary Fails is president of City Theatrical, the company he founded in 1986 in a South Bronx garage to create innovative lighting products and accessories. City Theatrical invents, manufactures, and customizes unique lighting accessories for the entertainment and architectural industries and has offices in Carlstadt, New Jersey and London, England. Products include Multiverse® wireless DMX/RDM systems, the multi award-winning DMXcat® Multi Function Test Tool, and QolorFLEX® brand of professional LED linear lighting, dimmers and accessories. These products and others are part of the industry’s most extensive catalog of entertainment and architectural lighting accessories. City Theatrical also performs custom manufacturing services and designs and manufactures products on an OEM basis for other lighting manufacturers.

2021 will mark Fails’ 50th year in professional lighting, a career that started when he dropped out of Columbia University and went on the road with Dance Theatre of Harlem as a teenager, first as a truck driver and later as an electrician, stage manager, and lighting designer. With DTH he completed numerous coast to coast U.S. tours and 10 European tours before he was 25 years old. He also toured extensively as production electrician on first national tours of Broadway shows and in all spent 10 years on the road.

In 1980, Fails returned to New York City to become an IATSE Local One apprentice at Four Star Lighting in the South Bronx and spent his nights as a Local One electrician on Broadway, soon becoming the house electrician at Circle in the Square Theatre on West 50th St.

Fails’ Local One apprenticeship allowed him to become a certified welder, licensed New York State laser operator, and also provided his training in sheet metal design and fabrication, all skills that he utilized to form City Theatrical. His routine for the first 10 years of City Theatrical was to work a full day at the company’s South Bronx shop, then travel to midtown Manhattan to work on a Broadway show at night. Fails was production electrician for 28 Broadway shows, and had the unique opportunity to meet and work with nearly every Broadway designer of the time, often building products during the day to meet the needs of the designer he was working with at night. At its heart, City Theatrical’s role is to create products that serve the needs of lighting professionals.

Several opportunities presented themselves for Fails and his growing team at City Theatrical in the early 1990s. The largest Broadway hit of its time, Phantom of the Opera, needed a better dry ice fogger to support important moments of the show and Fails developed the SS6000 Dry Ice Fogger from stainless steel, which soon became the standard of Broadway and the touring world and is still used on Phantom today.

Upon seeing ETC Source Four fixtures for the first time and realizing there were no beam control accessories for it, City Theatrical designed and produced a full range of accessories for designers. Today, many lighting manufacturers depend on City Theatrical to design and manufacture their lighting accessories.

In 1993, Fails attended the LDI Show as a visitor for the first time and realized that what City Theatrical had been doing for the New York lighting shops was also needed around the country, and around the world. Fails created a U.S. distribution network and expanded it to Europe and Asia. City Theatrical first exhibited at LDI in 1994, and won its first product award at the show, and since then has received over 40 business and innovation awards, including multiple product of the year awards in both the U.S. and Europe, the Crain’s New York Magazine Small Business Award, and the New Jersey Small Manufacturer of the Year award.

In the early years of moving light development and at the request of Broadway designer Brian MacDevitt, Fails formed an engineering team to develop the AutoYoke®, a precision moving yoke designed to hold a Source Four that would give designers an incandescent sourced hard edge refocusable fixture, a niche that had not been filled in the moving light world, but which was of critical importance to Broadway designers. City Theatrical brought this fixture to market and the AutoYoke has played an important part in professional lighting for over 20 years.

In the early 2000s during the earliest days of the LED revolution, Fails formed a strategic alliance with Color Kinetics to produce the products and accessories that would allow Color Kinetics’ architectural LED lighting products to transition to entertainment use. City Theatrical developed over 200 different accessories for Color Kinetics products including entertainment specific power/data supplies, beam control products, lenses, and hardware. These products enabled Color Kinetics to lead the LED lighting revolution in entertainment lighting.

Understanding the opportunity in the technology of wireless DMX, Fails worked with co-inventors Paul Kleissler, Larry Dunn, and Philip Nye to design and commercialize five generations of wireless DMX products over a 15-year period, creating an industry leading vision of a future lighting world in which every DMX device contains a small, inexpensive Multiverse wireless DMX/RDM receiver, leading to wireless systems of hundreds of fixtures and dozens of universes.

From working on productions such as The Amazing Spiderman 2 and network television shows such as The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon and Saturday Night Live, Fails realized that entertainment designers needed linear LED products specific to our industry and created the QolorFLEX brand of LED tape and dimmers which has grown to be an industry leader found on hundreds of Broadway and West End shows, films, and network television shows.

Fails is a 40-year member of IATSE Local One and an instructor in their technology training program, an ETCP certified electrician, and an MBA graduate of the Columbia University Graduate School of Business. He is a member of the Advisory Board to the Entertainment Technology program at the New York City College of Technology and is a Board member of the New Jersey Manufacturing Extension Program which advises and aids New Jersey manufacturers.

For over 20 years, City Theatrical has utilized an innovative open book management system in which the company shares business and financial information with employees in a monthly meeting, and encourages the creation of profit with the philosophy that “those who create the profits should share in those profits.” City Theatrical shares 20% of after-tax profits with the highly skilled and experienced staff and craftspeople who have designed and built thousands of products and projects over the years.

Fails is married to Broadway actress Terri Klausner. They live in New York and have three children, Greta, Joseph, and Michael. In his spare time Fails has run 12 marathons and builds acoustic guitars.

The Wally Russell Foundation was created in 1992 to celebrate the vision and life of Wally Russell, a true mentor to the industry. For 29 years, the Foundation has been supporting Lighting Interns for the Canadian Opera Company and the Los Angeles Opera in his memory.

For further information regarding the activities of the Wally Russell Foundation including:

The Wally Russell Lifetime Achievement Award
The Wally Russell Lighting Intern Program at the Los Angeles Opera
The Wally Russell Foundation/USITT Annual Mentoring Award,

The Foundation is a registered 501c3 charity


To contribute to the Wally Foundation, please contact:

Tom Folsom
The Wally Russell Foundation
3809 S. General Bruce Drive
Suite 103-360
Temple, TX 76502

Further information from the Wally Russell Foundation:

Wally Award Winners
– Gary Fails
2018/2019 – Steve Terry
2017/2018 – David Higgins
2015/2016 – Gordon Pearlman
2013/2014 – Jules Fisher
2012 – Imero Fiorentino
2011 – Rusty Brutsche
2010 – Dave Cunningham
2009 – Joel Rubin
2008 – Richard Pilbrow
2007 – Fred Foster
2006 – Allen Branton
2005 – Richard Belliveau
2004 – George Izenour
2003 – Sonny Sonnenfeld
2002 – Jimmy Fuller
2001 – Jim Bornhorst
2000 – Stan Miller
1999 – Don Stern
1998 – Bran Ferren
1997 – Fred Bentham
1996 – Francis DeVerna
1995 – Tharon Musser
1994 – George van Buren
1993 – Charles Altman
1992 – Wally Russell


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