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Diary of an Automation Junky Our latest musings and updates, along with any information we think you might find helpful. Enjoy!
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Decisions, Decisions: Buying vs. Renting – Part One

Do you hate wasting money as much as we do? There is no feeling that irks most of us more than realizing that your budget is too tight and you have to start trimming effects from your show. Whether it’s lighting, sounds, scenic or (say-it-ain’t-so) automation, every show has a budget that is too small and artistic ideas that are too big. You have two obvious choices when it comes to automation gear: you can rent it or buy it (or you can also make it yourself, but that’s a blog post for another time).

Let’s examine a few pros and cons for both options…

Rent StampRenting

Pros

  • Lowest initial investment – A short term rental will always be less costly than an outright purchase.
  • Faster turnaround – A rental order can leave our doors in a few hours if you are in a jam and we have the gear available.
  • No maintenance needed – We prep, test, and maintain each component of our rental inventory so you always receive ready to use gear.

Cons

  • Freight costs are doubled – We have to ship it to you and ship it back. Twice the fun!
  • Less time to set up and experiment – If your rental arrives just before your load-in, you won’t have much time to play with it before it has to be ready for rehearsals.
  • Rental inventory availability – Our rental inventory is large but not infinite. There is always a slight chance that when you need a piece of equipment our shelves are bare. Make sure you call early to book the gear you need.

Buying

 

PFor Sale Stock Image Stamp [Converted]ros

  • Opportunity to train staff and students outside of show time – Owning a kit means your staff can become expert users and technicians.
  • Equipment is available for multiple shows every season & every year – Why not automate ALL your shows?
  • You can tweak, customize, adjust, or hack your gear to your heart’s content –  Push your gear to your creative limits.

Cons

  • Initial investment is higher
  • Longer lead-time – Plan on 3-4 week before your order ships.
  • Requires storage space when not in use – make sure you’ve thought about where to put this stuff once your show is over.
  • Maintenance – Dig into that manual or give us a call because you will need to make sure your gear is properly cared for.

It can be difficult to see a clear winner when considering performance automation. While you may only need the equipment for one show, you may be better off investing in a system to use in more shows and as a training tool for your staff or students. Imagine how impractical and wasteful it would be if you rented your entire lighting kit for every show. For the very same reasons you may want to build up stock of lighting gear, many theater are building up stock of automation gear. But our rental option means you don’t have to forgo automation entirely if the funds aren’t in your budget this year (or next).

In the next post find out how you can stretch every budget dollar as far as possible regardless of if you rent or buy.

Until next time … Make It Move!


 

Meet Our Team: Mike Wade

About a month ago we added Mike Wade to our staff at Creative Conners. Mike is our new Director of Technical Services. That means he will focus on technical support, custom project engineering, and user education.  When you’ve got a question about how to get your gear up and running or you are stumped trying to sort out a tricky bit of Spikemark programming – Mike is the guy to call. On top of that, Mike will be joining Gareth as the co-host of the Circuit and Gear podcast.

Mike’s history with Creative Conners goes back to being our guinea pig to test the original Stagehand prototype. He is an expert in dealing with all aspects of theatrical productions – so take advantage of him joining the team.

Mike most recently served as the production manager at the Atlantic Theatre in New York. He brings years of experience working with commercial scene shops, corporate events and several off-Broadway and regional theatres (Williamstown Theatre Festival, Roundabout Theatre, Daedalus Design and Production, is a brief rundown of his pedigree).

Mike_bio2Because he is based in New York City, Mike serves as our liaison to our Broadway and other New York customers. He’s available for on-site consultations and oversees many of our custom installations. He has already overseen the successful installation of automated variable speed chain hoists for Fairhaven Church in Ohio.

He is available by phone at 401-289-2942 or by e-mail at mike@creativeconnesr.com. Give’em a shout when you find yourself in a automation pickle and need some help.


Meet Our Team: Sylvia Bagaglio

We’re not just automation junkies at Creative Conners. Our expertise runs deep – theatre, mechanics, art, octopi. One of our newer team members is Sylvia Bagaglio. Sylvia describes her job at Creative Conners as Electromechanical Assembler. Whether wiring circuit boards, performing quality control checks on Stagehands, or wiring a new Pushstick deck winch, Sylvia’s wide range of professional experience is put to good use. Get to know a bit more about Sylvia and how she works…

Sylvia hard at work

What did you do before coming to Creative Conners?

I’ve had lots of really interesting jobs. I worked in a fabrication shop for a while, and did some really cool retail installations. If you ever need a mosaic made out of jelly beans…

I don’t even consider that one of the weirdest jobs I’ve had. I worked for a “Peter Pan” [show] and we had a two‑man, larger than life‑size crocodile puppet that constantly needed love, because it was built for a stand‑alone show, and they decided to tour it. It was supposed to look like it came out of a kid’s closet, so it was made out of pajamas and clothespins, and the like.

I worked for a very high‑end lighting designer at one point, like a really frou‑frou designer. I’ve had a lot of experience interacting with higher‑end visual artists.

What skills have been useful in your work here?

I keep taking jobs where I have to do math. It’s really amazing. I thought I got away from that.

Honestly, this might sound weird, but I think the fact that I have little tiny paws for hands has been really useful, because having very dexterous, small fingers has been really helpful for assembling all those little tiny parts that have to get put together.

Were you a Lego kid?

I still have Legos. My new addiction is Metal Earth; little tiny, laser-cut metal models. They’re super tiny. You have to put them together with tweezers.

What do you do when you’re not here?

I read books, and watch movies that are public domain and write reviews about them on a blog called genxpose. Which is great, because the Internet Archive has all kinds of stuff. It’s absolutely free, anyone can have it, and use it, and view it. It’s really simple to download or view on their website. There’s fascinating things on there.

You have an interesting Twitter follower… What’s up with the Octopus? Poctopus?

A couple of years ago, my husband had gotten me this Valentine’s card that has this little octopus. It was holding a heart that said, “I love you a lot.” It was my portable hug. I started taking pictures of him wherever I was traveling. I’d take a picture at the museum, and different places in Europe, or if I’d go to visit a friend of mine from out of town, I’d take a picture with them. That’s sort of how the octopus became a name.

Poctopus

The octopus now has an official twitter account. You can follow his travels on twitter @Poctopus.

Sylvia is just one of the team of tiny paw’d builders, designers and fabricators that help Creative Conners build the automation gear that makes your turntables spin, your wagons travel, and your scenery fly. Give us a call with your next show and Sylvia can add that to the long list of projects she’s been a part of.

Until next time… Make It Move!

USITT 2016 – See You There!

ExhibitorBannersVertical

From March 17-19, we’re headed to Salt Lake City, Utah, for USITT 2016. This annual conference is a perfect opportunity for a little face-to-face time with your friendly automation experts, and for us to meet with you, our loyal customers and stage tech enthusiasts. Swing by our Creative Conners’ booth, #1609, to see the newest gear we have to show. If you’ve got questions about how it all works, we’ve got answers. We’ll even let you take control of Spikemark software and see how easy it can be to program cues and add automation to your show.

If you’d like to schedule a meeting with our staff while visiting Salt Lake City, email us and we’ll find a time to ensure that you have our undivided.

We’ve also got expo floor passes that can get you into the show. Click the link below and we’ll share a free pass – make sure you don’t miss out.

https://www.xpressreg.net/register/USIT0316/start.asp?sc=CC1609&ex=1

Use the Creative Conners promo code CC1609

We can’t wait to show you how to Make It Move!

 

Random Acts of Pizza

This could be your Tech Table

So your stomach’s grumbling and its hours before you get to go home. All you can look forward to is your stage manager giving you a break from this never ending tech rehearsal. And what then? You’ll have to find something to eat at that vending machine by the call board. You know the one… Are you going to have a sticky bun or a bag of chips? The choices are less-than-stellar.

But, maybe you’ll get a surprise. Your friendly automation junkies here at Creative Conners are randomly sending Appreciation Pizza to the technicians that use our gear as a way of saying Thank You. Whether you are buying or renting for the first time or you are pulling out your Creative Conners gear from storage – let us know when you load-in, tech, and strike. Let us know on Facebok, Instagram, Twitter, e-mail, or the comments for this post.

We appreciate all of our customers but thought a bit of an extra special thank-you might be a nice thing to do. We’re not a pizza company so we’re not sending everyone pizzas -it will very much be randomly done.

Now, time to get back to that rehearsal and eat your sticky bun.

Make It Move!

 

Welcome to 2016

You’ve made it through the holidays, and now it’s time to get back to work. We’re right there with you. We have a busy year ahead of us, and we want to give you a preview of what you can expect from your friendly scenic automation experts.

  • Be prepared for new products. We’ve got a lot of fun toys on the drawing board and we know you’ll love them. You’ve already got a couple of spy shots of one, but there are more to come. Check back here often!
  • We have missed seeing your smiling faces, so you can expect to see us in-person this year. Workshops, meet and greets, trade shows – you’ll be seeing a lot more of us.

CCI USITT (1 of 14)

  • This year, know that your voice counts, and we are listening more than ever. We want your opinions to be heard. What are we doing right? What should we focus on? What products should be developed to make your world easier? We’re looking to improve – and we can only do that if we know where to concentrate.
Photo credit: Seattle Municipal Archives via Foter.com / CC BY

Photo Courtesy Seattle Municipal Archives

  • Lastly, we understand the stress of tech week and the lack of time to fill your bellies, so we will occasionally be sending our customers “Random Acts of Pizza” to ease the hassle of those late night rehearsals, load-ins, and strikes. Keep watching this blog and Facebook for more info.

Photo credit: Matthew Kenwrick via Foter.com / CC BY-ND

Now let’s get back to work. You’ve got a show to put on and we’ve got your automation gear to build.

Until next time…Make it Move!

 

 

2015 in Review

Creative Conners 2015 Year in Review

As 2015 winds down, we wanted to take a few moments to review some of this years highlights. It’s been a heck of a year. Thanks to you, our customers, (both loyal returning users and first-time automation newbies) we’ve provided some very cool gear to theaters , scenic studios, and event producers all over the United States (and our Canadian friends as well).

We are proud to have been a part of some amazing projects. It’s remarkable what something as simple as a turntable can add to a show. Our friends at The Geffen Playhouse and the Atlantic Theater Company made good use from their Stagehands and Spikemark to power their turntable for “These Paper Bullets.” And Mystic Scenic created an awesome reveal for the new Cadillac CT6. South Coast Rep made excellent use of their stock of Creative Conners’ gear when they need ed synchronized scene changes during “Of Good Stock.”

 In 2015, we also found new ways to reach out and share what we love. Circuit & Gear PodcastOur Podcast, Circuit and Gear opened up a whole new way to get into our heads and see how we work. We’ve received great feedback and are eager to share more of our addition to automation in the coming year. We also added a new staff member just for you west coast automation junkies. Peter Veal is our Business Developer and is making house calls to theaters all over Los Angeles and southern California (or in one case, Ohio). Wherever you need us, we can be there.   This has also been a busy year of new products and updates to existing products. We’re working to make your scenery automation life a bit easier. With the Rhody , you have all your control, power, networking and e-stop needs in one convenient case. We’ve updated the Showstopper 3 and Stagehand Mini^2 to metal enclosures – it seems like a little improvement, but refinement makes your show run more smoothly. And we’ve continuously improved Spikemark – squashing bugs and tweaking code to enhance performance.  

2015 has seen some amazing custom projects come through our doors. We love it! Bring us your wacky ideas and let’s make them happen. For Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” we’ve made a car fly . We designed, engineered, fabricated, and aided in the installation of an awesome packaged lineset hoist – we called it “The Flyman” – for a cruise ship. And we created a heck of a large Sunroof Trap & Elevator for the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre . Each of these projects required a partnership with the end user and our team to make it happen. Our customers are some of the best in the world.


Most importantly, as we wrap up this year, we want to say Thank You to all of our customers, vendors, fans, and friends. You all have the most interesting, creative, zaniest ideas, and we are ecstatic that you choose us to help you make them a reality. Thank you for a fantastic 2015. Let’s have an even better 2016! Make It Move!


Let us know what you need from us to make your automation dream come true. Do you have a brilliant idea that you would love to see us create? Is there a burning question you have about motors, winches, or wire rope – give us a shout and let us help you get your show off the ground, revolving, or just plain moving.

Circuit and Gear Ep 12 – Catching up with Mike Wade

C&G_itunes

We’re back! Mike Wade, Production Manager for the Atlantic Theater, joins Gareth to discuss the Pushstick v2 and the automation used on These Paper Bullets.

Check out the latest episode!

How Do I Even Get Started? Grow Your Scenic Automation Muscle

One of our driving goals at Creative Conners is to help theaters and event producers of all shapes and sizes get their hands on the same automation gear that helps create the most amazing shows in entertainment.

We try to remove the budget barrier – you shouldn’t have to sell your theater’s naming rights to afford a turntable. We also want to remove the knowledge barrier – even if you’ve never been formally trained on automation equipment, you can get started with us. You might be a carpenter with 30 years of experience or an enthusiastic freshman in high school – but for many of you, scenery automation is something you know exists but have never had the pleasure of playing with.

Photo credit: ToddonFlickr / Foter.com / CC BY

Photo credit: ToddonFlickr / Foter.com / CC BY

Here are 5 ways we can help you gain knowledge, build your skill set, and start playing with automation…

  1. Check out our podcast – Circuit and Gear. We started podcasting over the summer and it’s a perfect time to jump into the conversation. We talk about recent projects we’ve worked on and give you an inside peek at the working of our shop.
  2. Reach out to us about a seminar or workshop. We love talking to students and faculty at schools and colleges. We’ve done everything from short master’s classes to full-blown multi-day workshops. Undergrad students often don’t see any automation until they are out in the professional world. We can help your school’s theater program give them a head start.
  3. We’ve made our control software, Spikemark, free because it is an excellent way to start experimenting with your moving scenery ideas. The visualizer that’s baked into Spikemark provides a way to play in a virtual sandbox and get a grasp of what’s possible. You’ll be surprised by how much you can learn just by programming.
  4. If you’ve got a project or an idea that has been kicking around and you want to talk it through – give us a shout. We can help you clarify your idea to achieve a practical solution. We can also partner with you to provide off-the-shelf or custom equipment to make your idea a reality.
  5. Download our white paper on stage automation. This is a quick overview of the components and different types of machines in any automation system. It is a great place to start. It’s not too long and not too deep but still has enough info to make it worth the read.

Like any newer technology, there is a learning curve with scenic automation. But like with many tools in entertainment, sometimes you just need to jump in and start playing. Find a show or a project on which you can  use a turntable or a deck winch. Once you, your director, and your audience have seen how your stationary scenery is brought to life, a new world of creative possibilities will open.

Don’t be nervous – come to the dark side… I mean the automation side .

Until next time… Make it Move!

What’s That Noise? Tech Support to the rescue!

Automation Tech Support NoiseAt Creative Conners, we all know what it’s like to be in a technical rehearsal that isn’t going smoothly. Some days nothing can go right. Other days, there may be one persistent issue that you cannot work out of your show. We hate it. We know you hate it. That’s  why we make sure that if you are having a rough night with our automation gear, we are standing by to help you wring out the system – and get on to whatever the next headache will be. Day or night we pick up the phone and give you the tech support you need.

When our friends at the Actors Theatre of Louisville were having trouble with their recent show, we were there to help . The Actors Theatre’s technical director, Justin Hagovsky, told us they were having some trouble with two Pushstick winches they’ve owned for about a year (beyond the warranty period – but that doesn’t matter, a show was hanging in the balance). We took a look at his Spikemark show file and the show log, and with a bit of back-and-forth conversation decided that the most likely culprit was his Stagehand controllers. We sent him two new controllers and he returned the misbehaving units. All seemed well in his world… until the next night’s tech rehearsal.

The machines were almost perfect, but they occasionally did not finish a move completely – they would miss their mark by three-quarters of an inch. Also, there was an awful sound as one of the winches completed a particular move. We helped him tune his machines to tighten up that missing three-quarters of an inch – it was as easy as walking his tech staff through the process of tuning the motor to get a complete and smooth motion. One more problem solved.

The awful noise problem was new to him and us. A few more rounds of telephone tech support and emails did not get rid of the noise. They double checked to see if there was a physical obstruction in the path of the scenery. Nothing seemed to solve it and the noise persisted. What made it worse is that when they tried to duplicate the noise, it sometimes mysteriously disappeared and other times it was back in full force .

The day before the opening night, when the director was staring daggers at the automation guys and an audience was but one day away… the problem was solved. Here is the e-mail we got the morning after his opening night.

We ran [the Pushstick cues]  a dozen times and then within the whole scene shift sequence. We could not get any faults. We go into tech in the afternoon and sure enough, the noise is back. After a few short mumbles under my breath and the director giving me that same old look, the head of the sound department starts playing the transition music simply to mess with it […]. As I’m walking over to my operator to figure out how anything is different from the morning, I hear the sound that I’ve been desperately seeking to get rid of and I’ll be damned if it isn’t a humming/buzz noise built into the very end of the transition music sound cue. Anger consumed me when I (and the director) discovered this. 

So, there was definitely tuning needed from the Wednesday tech so we messed around with ramp speed until we felt good which was all it needed. But the two hours [spent troubleshooting on] Thursday morning was just good practice. Everything worked out great in the end. We had a perfect opening  … Thanks again guys for all the help. I hope the next time we are in touch is when I am able to buy some more gear from you. Cheers.

We were glad to hear it. If the noise was due to our equipment, we would have been working on it every minute he was working on it. Here at Creative Conners, we stand behind what we build. We stand with you as you do your work. And we stand by when it’s show time.

Until next time… Make It Move!

P.S.

If something like this happens to you, here are three keys to keep in mind.

  1. Don’t panic or make rash decisions; trust us, this will only make matters worse.
  2. Start with the simple things and work towards the more complicated (is everything plugged in and turned on?).
  3. Lastly, if you have paired your own machine to Creative Conners Stagehand controllers, have you auto-tuned the motor? Most people don’t but it can be a lifesaver. Take a look at page 20 of the Stagehand manual.

 

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