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Decisions, Decisions – Buying versus Renting: Part Duex

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Decisions, Decisions – Buying versus Renting: Part Duex

Often you don’t have a choice whether to buy or rent – those decisions are made by someone solely concerned with dollars and cents. Here are a few bits of advice to make sure your theatre is not being pennywise and dollar dumb.

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If you are using your automation gear for a show that you do often (every year or even every few years), an outright purchase will usually save you money. You save on shipping and you ensure that you are never without the equipment you need when you need it. One of our customers recently realized that their annual rental of two Pushsticks  for the last 5 years would have paid for the purchase of the same equipment if they had seized the opportunity sooner.

If you are on the fence and are considering a purchase of Creative Conners’ equipment but need to test drive it first, we can apply a portion of a rental to your purchase of the same gear immediately after your rental period has ended. This way you are assured that the kit you rent is the one you want to own.

If you have the available capital or  a budget surplus – bite the bullet and buy the gear!  A budget surplus will be eaten up by some other department if you don’t claim it. Plus, Creative Conners’ gear can open up design possibilities that positively affect every element of every show. If you only rented when you could have easily bought, you’ll be kicking yourself by the start of your next show.

Lastly, because Creative Conners’ components are plug-and-play operable, consider at least owning a Stagehand controller and a Showstopper emergency stop. You can rent the winches, hoists, or other machinery on an as-needed basis. When you need a Pushstick, Revolver, Spotline or another one of our stock machines, a rental will still be necessary. You also open up opportunities to build your own home-brewed machinery and you won’t need to worry about the front-end control or software.

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If you have a project that is on the fence about automating the scenery, give us a shout and talk through your options. If nothing else, you can pick our brains and chat us up for ideas on how to get it done and how to fit it into your budget. We love talking about all things automation and seeing what imaginative ideas are floating around in your heads.

Until next time… Make It Move!

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!


 

Peter Veal Joins Creative Conners

Peter Veal has joined Creative Conners as our Director of Business Development. Peter double majored in technical theater and mechanical engineering at Pepperdine University (ultimately dropping the engineering, much to the chagrin of his parents). Now at Creative Conners both areas of interest can be satisfied.

Before joining Creative Conners, Peter worked in positions ranging from props master to technical director. Eventually he moved into an air-conditioned office and behind a desk to work at Rose Brand. After years of explaining flame-retardancy and how to “rope a track” his time in the land of drapery ended. He met new challenges at Miziker Entertainment where he was a project manager for a top-secret project in China (probably not the one you’re thinking of).

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Peter will focus his time at Creative Conners on you, the customer; making sure we build the right system for your show, putting together estimates, ensuring you have all the documentation you need, and just checking to see if you are having an awesome day. He loves getting students excited about all things tech. If you are part of a high school or university and are interested in having an automation seminar, give him a shout. He is based in Los Angeles and is excited to spread the “Make It Move!” mantra to the west coast.

Gareth Conner Reflects on Ten Years of Automation Success

If there were a “2014 Theater Technician’s 365 Day Desk Calendar”, June 28 would surely mention Creative Conners. We imagine it would say something like “On this day 10 years ago a new business was incorporated with the mission to provide affordable, accessible and high quality automation equipment to the theatrical industry.” And there’d be a picture of our beloved Gear Guy from our logo, and maybe a mention of turntables or the evolution of computer controlled motion. We’d take it as a reminder that the years do add up, success doesn’t come without patience, and there are important times to stop and reflect.

Celebrating this anniversary had us first thinking about numbers. Initially it was novelty numbers like how many times do we think  Gareth has said the word “Stagehand”, then practical numbers like how much food to cater for the 10 year anniversary party today. But gradually we got a bit more introspective which resulted in this interview with our fearless leader and company founder.

Q: We know it’s been 10 years since the company was founded, but how many years since you first began creating the system?

Gareth: Yes, it was a few years prior. My initial experiment developing a Stagehand control board was in January 2001. I know it was January because it was a New Year’s Resolution I got to right away.

Q: Is automation always on your resolution list?

Gareth: Well, yes frankly it is, although there are other resolutions that sneak in there. This year for instance I made a resolution to run a half-marathon. I guess you could say I like motion of one sort or another (we’ll see how that half-marathon goes!).

Q: In these first ten years of business operations, how many control systems have you sold?

Gareth: It surprised me a bit when I checked the records on this, but the tally of just the Stagehands sold [each Stagehand corresponding to one axis of motion on stage] is approaching 1000.

Q: So there could be, on any one day of performances around the country, almost 1000 pieces of scenery moving under the control of a Creative Conners system?

Gareth: Yeah, isn’t that cool! Also it would include other countries like Korea, Australia, and this fall our gear will premiere in Istanbul. And that doesn’t include the customers using just our machines with their own control system.

Q: How many machines have you sold?

Gareth: We’ve got 130 machines out there moving scenery. We are very excited to have expanded both the number and robustness of our machine line in recent years.

Q: Looking back, what years brought the most changes for the business?

Gareth: I would have to say 2006 and 2011 were quite significant. In 2006 we introduced our Revolver machine, prototyped the hardware for our Stagehand FX, began offering a rental option for our gear, and evolved the Stagehand in important areas like battery back up, the ability to update firmware over the network, and modified it to work with hydraulics which we appreciate on a regular basis. Just this week we got an order for a hydraulic powered lift control to be used on an Eminem / Rhianna concert.

Q: And 2011?

Gareth: Yes, a lot of changes in 2011. We finally made the leap into a commercial space, which we outgrew in a year and moved up to our current space. Prior to that we had a basement / garage based business and collaborated with two other commercial shops for machine fabrication and inventory housing. Setting up shop in our own commercial space afforded the opportunity to increase staff, bring almost all fabrication in house, and do more R&D on all aspects of our gear simultaneously (mechanical, software, and electrical). Plus, in our current 6800sf shop, we have room to do things like rent arcade games for our anniversary party.

Q: How many new products have you introduced since the ramp up in 2011?

Gareth: The company was launched offering one complete automation system consisting of four products. We now offer about a hundred products and services, which include things like stage hardware and education seminars, as well as the core variety of machines and motion controllers. Most of that increase has happened since 2011.

Q: This may be a painful question to answer, but how many units have ever been returned?

Gareth: Not painful at all. We have had our share of units that have to get repaired or replaced whether it’s been damaged in shipping, has a faulty bit that escaped our quality control, or just components that wear out over time, but it’s a small number and we work tremendously hard to rectify the situation immediately.

Q: Any products returned due to customer dissatisfaction?

Gareth: None. We’ve never had a customer tell us they didn’t like the product and ask for their money back. Although our system is designed to be plug and play, without on site supervision from us, we have always offered 24/7 customer support to make sure it all goes well, and we encourage our customers to stay in touch.

Q: How many lines of code were in Avista? Spikemark?

Gareth: Hmmm…it’s been I while since I checked those stats. I think Avista had about 30,000 lines and Spikemark, at least the first version, had significantly less. Spikemark is a bit more effecient 😉

Q: What’s on the horizon in the coming years?

Gareth: Specifially we’ve got our new Showstopper 3 just about to launch, we’re experimenting with servo motors, wireless control, and developing more machines like a turtle and a friction drive. Also, to accommodate our increase in demand for touring productions we are developing our own road box (aka “The Roadie”) to house the control gear backstage and in the trucks.

Q: What’s the biggest change for the company?

Gareth: Our initial system provided a way for smaller budgeted theatres to begin doing quality automation. Since then we’ve evolved, along with these customers’ needs, to offer more sophisticated products. As theaters are reaching for more and more complex motion, we’ve pushed to raise the bar on our product line to be ready for them, and also to serve the needs of others who are already there. Because of this we’ve expanded the breadth of our customer base. We initially focused on regional and academic theatres, who are still the backbone of our business, but now we’ve got a range of clients from a two week gear rental to a middle school to a year long national rock ‘n roll tour.

Q: What kind of complex motion do you see evolving?

Gareth: A lot of theatres are interested in synchronizing many elements at once. I think we will continue to see an increase in syncing projection and scenic motion specifically. For this reason we are focusing on more intricate software. There is a need to have more devices on the network sharing position information to achieve this complex motion.

Q: Lastly, is there anyone you’d like to thank for these first 10 successful years?

Gareth: The theatres and production shops creatively integrating scenic motion into their shows are top on the list. It is always fun to see what’s moving on their stages, and we thank them for putting their trust in us to provide their automation equipment. Beyond that, if I were to list everyone individually you would see a comprehensive mesh from early influences in high school technical theatre right up to the incredible collaborators surrounding me in my shop everyday. Among the most humorous to thank would be family like my mother who, to this day, does not understand what I do for a living but offers support nonetheless. After 15 years of calling me a set designer she finally asked just last year, “What do you mean when you say ‘automation’?”

Gareth and Royal (& Sprocket) testing out a wireless friction drive prototype in April 2014.

USITT 2014, Booth #1229 Made it Move!


Sometimes when we tell people in our every day lives that our business is theatrical automation, there is a blank inquisitive stare and a pause which we quickly fill with phrases like “we make scenery move” and “have you ever seen a show where something on stage revolves?”  Not that we mind.  We understand it’s a niche market, but it makes for a comfortable and exciting attendance at the annual USITT Conference & Stage Expo where not only does everyone know the term “theatrical automation” but an impressive number of attendees want to talk to us about how to automate, and how to do it well.  Our team (Gareth, Royal, and Ryan) couldn’t decide if they felt like rock stars or kids in a candy shop at last week’s Conference & Expo in Ft. Worth.  Probably a bit of both.

From Thursday morning’s mad running of the bulls, er…students, who charged the doors of the Expo eager to be first to swipe the swag to the final packing of crates Saturday evening, we didn’t stop talking , listening, and showcasing our equipment and our passion for automation. Expositions are in fact a grown-up Show & Tell, and we were happy to showcase the components of our tried and true system, adding a couple of newcomers to the line up.

Our Spotline hoist made its conference floor premiere with well deserved attention not just for the snazzy rig with orange rope, but also for its applications like flying chandeliers or rigging elevators without counterweights.  Plus, with the tensioner accessory, it can be used as a deck winch. (Take a bow, Spotline).

Also making their Stage Expo debut were the Stagehand Pro, Deck Chief, and Curtain Call, as well as new features in Spikemark that were lots of fun to play with live in the booth.

Enthusiastic technicians numbering over 100 convened to hear Gareth, Loren Schreiber, and Michael O’Nele talk about PID loops.  Loren Schrieber explained the wide use of PID’s in industry (ever use cruise control in your car?) and their essential existence in automated scenery if one is to achieve precision and speed regulation. But jumping into PID’s is not something to be taken lightly, and a little guidance can make all the difference. Michael spoke to this point, effectively relating his experience of Gareth guiding him through tuning a motor for the first time, and correctly configuring the drives in a Stagehand motor controller.  Using an oscilloscope, a motor, a PID controller, and a webcam, Gareth illustrated very clearly how the adjustments to the PID loop changed the electrical waveform while simultaneously observing change in the motor’s movement. It was very rewarding to hear that for some attendees this session solidified their previously piecemeal knowledge of PID’s and left them more confident to harness their use in future.

One of the most impressive moments at the conference came in the sheer volume of attendees to our Basic Machine Design session.  Over 200 people filled the room, with more turned away at the door when the room reached capacity. Adopting the role of true Southern Gentlemen, Gareth and Royal shuffled seats off the stage and into the audience to get attendees as comfortable as possible for the educational session. Although you can buy machines for theatrical purposes, and most theatres you work at will have some machines in stock, this audience clearly keyed into the fact that you still need to know how these machines work and how to build your own machine.  It’s not uncommon for your stock machine not to work with the design specs. Show of hands, who has been asked to build a very tiny deck winch?

Royal and Gareth’s session focused on the deck winch, the most common theatrical machine. They guided the audience through building one of these standard workhorses, slide by slide, from initial concept to sizing the motor and gear box, right through making the drum and frame.

Additionally, the audience got a good lesson in torque and horsepower as well as feedback sensors (after all, who wants motion you can’t control?)

Since there are always more questions than can be answered in a 1 hour 15 minute session, Gareth and Royal left the audience with information on suppliers, a reminder to make use of Alan Hendrickson’s Mechanical Design for the Stage, the link to our own motor calculator, and an invitation to keep in touch with Creative Conners.

As the Stage Expo ended and the dismantling of the booths began, a silent round of applause could be felt in Creative Conners Booth #1229.  To the attendees who took the time to connect with us, thank you.  You made us feel like rock stars. We hope to see you again soon.

Might we suggest May 12 in Chicago for USITT Presents, “Moving on Cue, Automation with Creative Conners.” This will be another opportunity to share our knowledge and passion about theatrical automation.  And we won’t have to explain what we do for a living.  Bonus!

Top Ten Reasons to Find Us at USITT This Week

 

Here’s why you should hightail it on over to  USITT’s Conference and Stage Expo in Fort Worth and see our automation team.

10. Get SWAG.

9. Learn all you’ve ever wanted to know about PID Loops Wednesday at 1pm.  Don’t worry, they will start with explaining the acronym and work right up to applying this knowledge to unmanned space flight (or for lack of time maybe just to your automated scenery).  Click here for the full schedule and location.

 

Stagehand Pro

8. See our usually reserved and hidden-in-the-wings Stagehand Pro handle the glare of the spotlight on Friday 4:40pm on USITT’s Innovation Stage.

 

7. See Ryan’s new haircut. And ask him about his addiction to Samoas®, a.k.a Caramel Delites®.

 

6. Ride on the 3′ mini-spinner powered by the Revolver.

5. Cozy up to words like speed reducer, horsepower, torque, output gearing, drum size, unmanned space flight and more at the Basic Machine Design Session Thursday 2:45pm.  Click right here for the full schedule and location.

Vegan?

4. Find out if these three popular desserts are Vegan: Thin Mints®, Swedish Fish®, Oreos®. (Hint: Ask Royal, it’s a topic near and dear to his heart. Kind of like the Samoas® are to Ryan.)

3. Lose yourself in the acreage of our biggest booth space to date, complete with four machines to monkey around with, and take the quiz to find out which machine you are.

2. Experience wireless automation control from a tablet. Then ask if you can try to beat their score on Three’s.

And the top reason to visit our brilliant Creative Conners team at Booth 1229 in USITT’s 2014 Stage Expo and Conference at the dazzling Fort Worth Convention Center is…

1. MORE SWAG! After all, we brought it just for you.

 

Deck Chief Clicks the Shutter for “Love and Information” Rapid Scene Change

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"Love & Information" (Note: Back wall is closed during performances.)

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Mule Sheaves Offer 4:1 Advantage, Reduce Machine Travel.

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“That’s a big motor for a 3′ Turntable!” and Other Revelations at SETC 2014

If you walked by our booth last week at the SETC Convention in Mobile AL and wondered why we had such a big motor for a meager 3′ turntable, we’re glad you asked us about it.  Surely our explanation made it all clear: The size-of-my-breakfast-table mini-spinner is merely a scaled model for demos, but the full sized Revolver machine is designed to rotate a real-life-no-doll-scale-move-the-whole-set turntable.

Unscrewing Revolver Crate

Perhaps you were one of the people who took advantage of having a ride on our mini-spinner, which made for a fun break if you were tired of carrying around swag and trading business cards.  And we hope you enjoyed our swag, candy and travel mugs.

Newest Swag: Insulated Travel Mug

Actually we know you enjoyed the travel mugs. Royal and Gareth could hardly keep up with demand for our newest swag, and it made us happy to know that SETC attendees enjoy a hot beverage as much as we do.

Among the attendees who stopped by the booth to chat and pick up a mug were many high schools interested in automation.  That’s no surprise considering Les Miserables is the most successful musical ever produced in schools.  According to BroadwayWorld.com there are over “2,500 productions of the Les Miserables School’s Edition scheduled or being performed by over 125,000 school children in the UK, US and Australia.” I believe “les miserables” can be loosely translated as “theatrical show using a turntable.”  Loosely.  Kind of an idiom, you know.

By the way, a 2 week rental for an entire Revolver Kit costs just $1,100, plus shipping.

Overall the convention was a great time. We’d like to thank Esthere Strom, SETC Events Chair, for arranging our booth and our automation talk.  And hats off to the entire SETC team.  They did a great job integrating the Educational Expo, Commercial Exhibitors, and Job Fair into one seamless event.  Most notable were those charming Southern Belles roaming freely throughout the convention.

Southern Belle

In this day and age of online shopping and text based communications (both of which we enjoy as much as you do!) events like this remind us of the pleasure of a personal chat with like minded theatrical professionals.  And we’re ready to do it again in Fort Worth with the same mission: Give away more travel mugs and candy.

Come see us at Booth#1229 on March 26 -29 at USITT’s Stage Expo.  Our booth space will be 4 times the size of our SETC booth allowing us to showcase four machines, two full Spikemark demo stations, plus room for the queue of people waiting to ride the mini-spinner.  Can we take you for a spin?

Creative Conners at SETC 2014

 

Big Demo at University of Maryland

 

On August 19th, Gareth and I are heading down to The University of Maryland for our biggest demo ever! Jon Shimon and Mark Rapach, from the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center are putting together a complete Creative Conners setup for the demo and everyone is invited to come and see in-person the machines, control and software that make up the Creative Conners system.

Among all the fully-functional gear that’s going to be on display will be a Pushstick deck winch with a working track setup, our Revolver running one of UMD’s turntables, and a couple of Stagehand FX’s running some pneumatic rigs that Jon has come up with. Additionally, we’ll have 2 working Spikemark setups, so you can see for yourself how easy it is to cue, run and edit your show.

The demo starts at 9:30 with a comprehensive overview of the system, how it’s set up, and how to use Spikemark. Then we’ll have some lunch and turn the gear over to the attendees to write cues and ask questions. If you’d like to attend, let me know at ian@creativeconners.com. Space is limited, so don’t wait to RSVP. The demo is free and lunch will be provided.

 

Spring Fever Sale!

Creative Conners spring sale image

If you’ve been waiting for a good reason to finally get that Creative Conners gear you’ve been wanting, then we’ve got some good news for you! Today we’re kicking off our Spring Fever Sale, with fantastic prices on Stagehands, machines and hardware.

Stagehands

Our awesome Stagehand motor controllers are being reduced by $1500. The list price is $4995, so you can pick one up for $3495 during the sale. That’s a savings of 30%! These motor controllers are the real deal, sporting everyone’s favorite Mitsubishi A700 VFD and all the Stagehand technology goodness that makes these units the industry standard for plug-and-play motor control. If you’ve been eyeing a Stagehand FX, they’ll be $695 and our Stagehand Mini will be $1995 during the sale.

Machines

Image of Creative Conners Revolver friction drive machine

Prices on our stock machines have been reduced during the sale. Our Pushstick and Revolver have been reduced $3000 to $11,995,  and the Curtain Call is $2000 off, now $7995.

Hardware

image of Creative Conners turnaround deck sheave

But wait, there’s more – We’re including our stock hardware in this sale! Our deck sheaves, deck dogs and Spot Blocks are all 10% off.

There’s never been a better time to get started with Creative Conners automation or to expand your inventory. The sale ends on May 17th. Give us a call at (401) 289-2942 or email me at ian@creativeconners.com if you need more info.

 

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