PLASA 2007 – Was It Worth It?

Wednesday, September 12th, 2007 - Stage Lighting Equipment - by:

Another year goes by and the PLASA trade show at London’s Earls Court brings together a world of production lighting and sound equipment to the drooling masses of the laminate ‘n’ Sharpie wearing brigade. The PLASA show is the biggest showcase of the new lighting equipment that allows “lampies” to poke and prod new kit while drinking a bit too much and catching up with old friends. An On Stage Lighting writer returned to the PLASA, after a long absence, in the hope of bringing our readers a sniff of the zeitgeist in stage lighting of 2007.

Warning: This is not a comprehensive guide to PLASA 2007, including who was giving away what, how big the biggest moving light was this year or what the cocktails were that Avolites were serving (I don’t know but they were very nice).

What Was I Hoping To See?

Let me ‘fess up now. I haven’t been to PLASA for years, for a number of reasons. Let’s face it, given the chance not to be in Earl’s Court looking at fixtures and truss and tripping over the edge of exhibition stands looks attractive to anyone in the business. Trade shows can be pretty dull even if you can be excited by swag T-shirts or another Mini-Maglite. The size of the PLASA show means that socialising can be a mammoth task , as can actually getting anywhere near some of the stands. I only had a few bits of lighting kit on my “list” and on Monday 10th I had to make quite a few “fly pasts” before grabbing the opportunity to dive down get a closer look.

If you’re interested, my equipment To-Do list included the Pearl Expert lighting control, some LED lighting and getting the sales pitch from the guys at Vectorworks Spotlight CAD software. If you think this is setting the bar too low, I spent the rest of the six hours in the various bars, running into old chums, as is the norm.

For On Stage Lighting, my remit was to report on anything that our readers, those who are learning stage and theatre lighting, would be interested in.

What’s New In Stage Lighting for 2007

Short Answer – Not much! If that sounds unfair to the lighting equipment manufacturers then let me explain that this is not a smear on their ability to create new products but how those products relate to lighting design.

At PLASA this year, the LED fixture theme continued to dominate, and LED technologies were shoe horned into every available package, some of which seemed to have narrow range of lighting design applications.

In moving lights, 250w+ moving heads lost shelf space to make way for the more powerful 700w+ ranges of many manufacturers and scanners have not yet made their comeback.

The continued crossover between manufacturer’s and markets mixed the lighting control desk sector. Every console brand these days seems to want a slice of every pie going, with top end brands like Avolites and Flying Pig trying to muscle in on the lower end and Cham-Sys seeming to now produce a lighting desk of every size, including ½ sizes. The attraction of broadening markets, to the manufacturers, is obvious. Whether this will be successful is still unproven.

The LED array and funky starcloth markets continue to chug along while it seemed to the Media Server/Waggly Projector hype of a few years ago has quietened down to a comfortable level. This is now neither bleeding edge nor mainstream in many entertainment sectors and is just another tool in the armoury of the lighting designer .

For PLASA 2007, there seemed to be a lot of technology solutions looking for a problem, rather and a lighting design problem being solved by technology. I suppose you can’t invent the Source Four every year!

What was there for my gig/school/theatre/church hall lighting?

As usual, Zero88 have continued to think about the needs of their market and were showing the Jester ML Moving Light control desk that is also available as a wing to the Jester generic consoles. This gives you the ability to use your existing Jester as a fader wing and control up to 30 moving lights on the ML. This end of the lighting control market is really hotting up these days with the Avolites Tiger (a baby Pearl) trying to climb aboard with the ETC Congo Junior etc. There was also talk of an upgraded Linebacker2 from Zero88 with extra control for Moving Lights.

Lighting fixtures with LED technology continue to become cheaper and more sophisticated although bottom end of the market is still to be dominated by cheap rip offs and home made units. In generic lanterns, nothing has come along to rival the Source Four Junior in it’s class and in intelligent lighting, Robe have continued to grow into their roles as annoyers of the rest of the moving light market although many of their smaller products were not on show this year.

So, what about the Avolites Pearl Expert, then?

After a few attempts to get near one of the Pearl Expert demo desks, we collared one the Avo crew to give us the rundown of why the Expert was so great set against the old Pearl. Apart from the obvious ones: more buttons, better software platform, great split roller and all the “standard” options of a modern console (USB support etc.), the feeling was very much what it could do when they get around to it. Avo say that the high number of rip-offs from China mean that they have spent a lot of their development time securing the new software, rather then implementing loads of new features. The console architecture now means that you could, in theory, squeeze a lot of the extra functions of the Diamond 4 into the Pearl Expert.

The Avolites Pearl has been one of the most successful lighting controls of all time and you could argue that “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!”. There is still a lot of Pearl 2000′s ain’t broke yet. The Expert will now enable the Pearl to keep pace with it’s peers and secure a future for the world’s best loved lighting control.

PLASA 2007 – Was It Worth It?

For stage and theatre lighting point of view, no! Technology always dominates over content at a trade show, and this year’s PLASA show was no exception. The future of stage lighting this year? Apart from brighter, more efficient and cheaper versions of things we already have (and some things we probably don’t need) then it’s business as usual in the lighting industry. As a lighting designer, going to a manufacturer’s trade event is nowhere near as useful as seeing a show lit by a top industry professional but they don’t give out free drinks at the theatre I go to….

They say that there’s nothing new under the sun, and the sun definitely shone down on PLASA in 2007.

Give Us Your Opinion!

If you managed to get to PLASA this year, or have any thoughts on the latest in lighting technology and lighting design, let’s us know in the comment section below.

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Rob is a Lighting Designer and Moving Light Programmer and currently Senior Lecturer in Technical Theatre Production at Bath Spa University in the UK. He is also the Editor of On Stage Lighting and runs workshops in stage lighting practice.

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