Our very own Gareth Conner was interviewed by Lighting and Sound America for the January issue of their monthly “People Worth Knowing” feature. (It’s on the back page if you have a hard copy)
You can read the article in full-color by checking out the very cool LSA web-based magazine by clicking here. (registration required, but totally worth it)
If you haven’t received your issue yet, here’s the transcript of the interview:
People Worth Knowing: Gareth Conner
Gareth Conner is the founder of Warren, Rhode Island-based Creative Conners, which has carved out a unique place in the industry as a supplier of scenic automation for markets other than Broadway. Below, he discusses the company and its services, and where he hopes to take it next.
Lighting&Sound America: When did you start Creative Conners?
Gareth Conner: In 2004. I started working at Mystic Scenic, in Dedham, Massachusetts, in 1996; I was in their automation department. After a while, I wanted to do more with automation. I had the idea that we could create a system that could serve the regional theatre—the places where they always have a closetful of gear and a Rube Goldberg system of switches and knobs where any time they want to do automation they’re basically starting over. My thought was, if you could buy the control portion and use your own gear, then you could make it work.
LSA: This is an unusual approach to this market segment.
GC: Everyone else was interested in Broadway, and I was aiming at schools and regional theatres.
LSA: So what did you do?
GC: I pitched the idea to Mystic, but they are a scene shop and didn’t really want to be an automation manufacturer. So I quit my job, double-mortgaged my house, and started the business.
LSA: How did it go at first?
GC: It was definitely a slow build; the phone didn’t ring much for the first six months. Luckily, at that point we got our first couple of sales, and we’ve had a nice steady increase in customers.
LSA: What is your product line?
GC: Our flagship is the Stagehand motor controller, which, tied to Spikemark software, is our big seller. We also have two machines, Pushstick, for basic automation, and Revolver, for revolving effects. The bulk of our business involves selling control systems for machinery our clients already have. They may already have a revolve system, and, with our products, they can use them in a new way.
LSA: Isn’t automation a tough sell to smaller companies and school theatres?
GC: We chose early on to make our products modular. You have to keep it universal. We made many choices, including taking on control protocols that are easy to use among many technologies and picking connectors for the boxes that can be found anywhere.
LSA: Did any particular project put you on the map?
GC: I don’t think there was one breakthrough sale, although we’ve had a few milestones. For example, we sold a turnkey system to Geva Theatre in Rochester, New York. We’ve done some work with ShowMotion, providing custom machinery for the Broadway shows Good Vibrations and Jersey Boys. We did Manipulation with Centerline Studios, which was recently staged Off Broadway at the Cherry Lane Theatre. It’s interesting—we’re not like a traditional automation shop. We don’t go directly to the producer; we supply gear to the scene shop.
LSA: How big is the company?
GC: There’s just three of us—myself; Ian Donahue, my sales guy; and Royal Marty, my engineer. We’re all theatre guys. There’s also my wife, Emily. These days, she’s mostly a full-time mom to our two kids. But she has been key in terms of support. She does our books and helps in terms of big-picture design-making. We met at the Alley Theatre, where she was working as a stitcher in the costume department, and I was a draftsman.
LSA: Where are you looking in terms of new markets?
GC: We recently did a large job in Korea, on a show called 200 Pounds Beauty. It’s a musical and had been done in Seoul, and was going to tour around Korea and Japan. A company there called Show Tech Line bumped into us online and called us—about two weeks before they needed to load in. We sold them controls, and I went over to help them install the gear.
LSA: Do you want to be more international?
GC: We’re still trying to drive deeper into our basic markets. From a product perspective, we’ve done a good job of making automation less mysterious and more approachable. We’d like to grow into an ETC for automation. I’d like to make it so ubiquitous that buying it would be like buying a Source Four.