City Thearical's New Home


After many years of battling the Bronx where he built the foundations for City Theatrical (CTI), Gary Fails finally bit the bullet and moved his company to Carlstadt, NJ this summer. “We've created a beautiful small factory environment that is perfect for our type of fast changing industry that values innovation and reliability above all,” says Fails. “We can manufacture with complete control of timing and quality, can customize quickly and inexpensively, and can create and prototype within hours of having an idea. On top of that, we have built a knowledgeable staff with a lot of lighting experience.”

Fails adds that the new building has given City Theatrical the room to add several technologies that increase efficiency and throughput. “We've added a full powdercoat system, a lead-free surface mount manufacturing line, and a second high-speed CNC punch press,” he says. “The significance of this on our ability to be world-class manufacturers is immense, particularly when you couple it with the work flow in our building. You can stand in our 300'-long manufacturing aisle and see loading docks bringing in flat skids of sheet metal at one end of the building, and look to the other end of the building and see finished goods racks and outgoing loading docks. Parts can flow from raw materials to finished goods in just a few hours.”

On August 11, Fails hosted an open house: “It was a great event for our staff, dealers, and friends. Every CTI staff member participated in some way,” he notes. “We had fabricators and assemblers demonstrating products and leading tours. We did technology seminars on accessories, LEDs, and WDS Wireless Data that were really well attended. It was a beautiful day for a party and we had a blast.”

This is my 30th year of designing lights for a community theatre. Like most community theatres, we started out with very little money. In fact, my father and our resident “electrical wizard” actually built our first dimmer system in 1975. I consider my first real lighting design experience to have been in the summer of 1977. We did the musical Oklahoma! at the high school auditorium. Although I helped a little with the lighting before then, this was the first show that I helped design. Quite frankly, I didn't really know what was going on.

There were a few small problems. The existing auditorium lighting consisted of eight ellipsoidals, which I suppose they thought could light the entire stage. While we were excited that we had “real” stage lighting instruments to work with, they were about 25' above the auditorium floor. Needless to say, there was no easy way to get to these lights. The obvious way was to use a ladder. There was only one ladder that would even come close to reaching them, a wooden A-frame extension ladder. The other way was to crawl all the way from the back of the auditorium ceiling near the lighting booth to the instruments.

There's another fact I should also mention. The ceiling was a dropped Celotex ceiling. This was fine, because it meant you couldn't see the floor below when you were crawling across the ceiling beams. Evidently, the auditorium designers didn't think the lighting instruments would ever have to be moved, so the ceiling tile was cut in a circle to within 2“ to 3“ of the nose of the instrument. Not only did this mean you could barely adjust the light, but the little movement available meant that if you moved it, you had no idea where it was pointed. Also, the lights were hard-wired and permanently mounted to UniStrut, so you couldn't move the instruments without rewiring them and disconnecting them.

As you might imagine, not only did the ellipsoidals need to be refocused, but some of them also had burned out bulbs, and of course the existing gels were burned beyond recognition. If I remember correctly, replacing the gels on these lights was extremely difficult, since you practically had to suspend yourself over the floor below and reach way out with one hand and hold onto the ceiling beam with the other. This was probably the first time anyone had been brave enough (or crazy enough) to try and work on the lights since they had been installed.

You couldn't have asked for a more difficult first-time situation. First, it was summer and incredibly hot in the ceiling in the daytime. So, we decided to do it late at night, which was still quite hot, but tolerable. Second, there I was suspended between rafters, afraid I would fall. Third, I'd never really focused stage lights before and certainly not a “fancy” ellipsoidal. It was a little different than aiming a lightweight PAR38 on a swivel-socket from the top of a 10' ladder. Finally, it was rather difficult to position myself so I could see where I was pointing the light below and hold myself securely to the beams at the same time, due to the fact that there were still ceiling tiles in the wall so I had to rely on direction from below telling me where to aim the light without really being able to see it. I believe Preston, who was my first mentor, did the first few lights, and then I had my hand at it. Dripping with perspiration, we finally finished the job.

The next summer we didn't refocus the lights, or add any more.
Robin Moore, The Whole Backstage Theatre, Guntersville, AL

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