In 1914, with World War 1 just beginning, two theatre electricians registered their first luminaire housing design and set up a small office and workshop at 66A St. Martin's Lane in Garrick Yard - named for the celebrated 18th century actor and located in the heart of London's West End theatre district.Arthur Earnshaw, 41, had been employed as an electrician at the Duke of York's Theatre, while Phillip Sheridan, 38, was an electrician at the Royal Strand Theatre.
According to the Golden Jubilee volume of Strand's house magazine TABS, published in March of 1964, Earnshaw and Sheridan began as rivals for the position of chief electrician at the Duke of York's Theatre. When Sheridan arrived to his interview with owner Charles Frohman, Earnshaw was also waiting. Earnshaw was successful, but the two crossed paths again when Jim Woolnough, of General Electric Company, suggested Earnshaw begin private electrical wiring work. Earnshaw took his advice and took up an office at 65 Long Acre in london, only to find that Sheridan had received the same advice from Woolnough and had also set up office at 65 Long Acre. Rather than continue to compete privately, the two formed a company together with Woolnough. The two colleagues called their company Strand Electric, and it went on to become the internationally renowned theatre and television lighting company Strand Lighting.
In 1918, the two electricians presented their company to Moss Mansell, a manufacturer of arc resistances and dimmers in Cecil Court, who agreed to buyout Woolnough's portion. TABS says, "[Mansell] was certainly a businessman, and one who believed firmly in the principle of minimum expenditure. This made him an extremely hard taskmaster but at the same time provided a great stimulus for [foreman] Jim Jordan's mechanical ingenuity. Incredible tales abound of the way in which Mansell's works got down to it and used what came to hand to achieve the impossible."
Competition was present, but the industry was surely not as crowded as it is today. Michael Hall, former managing director of Rosco UK and a lighting industry historian, says, "The dominant lighting companies at that time were Thomas Digby, who made a variety of arc-based units and had a staff of 40 who would operate and maintain them. The other company was R. R. Beard.Founded in 1882, they made a variety of equipment for arcs and sold [original equipment manufactured] for other companies for many years". According to TABS, neither Earnshaw nor Sheridan would work with [Beard], as they did their own electrical work and hiring.
One of Strand's first major projects, developed in 1922, was the Sunray glass reflector batten, or S-batten, a footlight with compartments spaced at 6' , 7', and 8' centers. The first show to make use of it was Round in Fifty at The London Hippodrome, a "musical adventure" designed as a vehicle for the comedian George Robey and the American vaudeville star Sophie Tucker. The show became widely known for its lighting, as technician Adrian Samoiloff used S-Battens with gelatin color filters to apply complementary colors and change effects such as costumes, makeup, and scenery.
Strand became an important part of the cultural fabric of London.In 1923, the company installed the famous "Centre of the World!" illuminated facade on the London Pavilion in Piccadilly Circus. In 1931, Strand lit Nelson in Trafalgar Square, the National Gallery, and St.Martin in the Fields.
However, Strand's true home was where it began, the West End. In 1923, L.G. (Leonard George) Applebee started the company's theatre lighting department, running it until 1957. Applebee later became Strand's first well-known lecturer and writer, helping to instruct lighting designers in the best use of Strand products; a typical work, "Coloured and Directional lighting as Applied to the Stage", was delivered to the British Kinematograph Society in 1948. During his career, Applebee also saw Strand develop lighting systems at The Old Vic, The Shepherd's Bush Pavilion, and The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford upon Avon among other important venues. When news spread that the old Memorial Theatre had caught fire on March 16th 1926, theatre director William Bridges-Adams received two telegrams. One came from playwright George Bernard Shaw, stating simply, "Congratulations". The other came from Applebee, offering Strand's assistance in its rebuilding.
At the same time, the development of new Strand products allowed for the implementation of more subtle lighting techniques. For example, in June 1929, work began at the Savoy Theatre to install a new electrical and lighting system by Strand, and in October, the theatre opened with Gilbert and Sullivan's The Gondoliers. Earnshaw had worked with the designer Lonides to conceal the auditorium lighting in order to achieve the look of "glowing sunshine". By 1930, the Adelphi had opened its production of the musical Ever Green, lighting a cyclorama show from floods and spots instead of the Sunray compartment batten staples.
During this period, Strand began to develop lighting control products as well, installing the first dead-front switchboard in the Old Vic Theatre in 1924. Previously, according to The Stage Lighting Technician's Handbook, electrical circuits were controlled by on/off switches installed on a slab of slate or marble, upon which were mounted open knife switches-leaving the operator vulnerable to electrocution. The new Strand board attempted to avoid the danger by ensuring that no metal parts carrying current were exposed on the front when the load was balanced on three or more phases of a supply with a potential of up to 400 - 5OOV. Strand literature about the system states that the whole of the busbars and connections were at the back of the board, the handles only protruding through to the front. The system was arranged for a four-color scheme with master color switches for each batten and footlight. Sub-switches were also provided, dividing these into two sections on each color. The stage dips were controlled by a master switch on each color and an individual switch on each stage socket. Main blackouts were controlled by magnetic contactor switches placed under the stage and operated by the small switches on the center panel on the board. This method allowed for blackouts without the noise of a heavy switch. Below the switch were the wheel regulators for operating the liquid dimmers. They were arranged on four color shafts and each wheel was capable of being operated individually or of being locked to the shafting so that a master handle could operate all the wheels on each color together. Each color bank was also capable of being interlocked to the other color at the same line so that the two banks could be operated together. Such a board cost about £250, equivalent to £3,500 today. The Shepherd's Bush Pavilion, the first of the great 3,000-seat super cinemas, was similarly provided with full stage lighting and concealed color-changing lights around the auditorium.
By 1930, Strand had achieved two major technological developments. In 1928, the company applied for a patent for the Stelmar ellipsoidal spotlight, a 1K and 500W ellipsoidal profile spot that would set the stage for theatre lighting for decades to come. In 1929, Moss Mansell patented his Magnetic Clutch, which made possible Strand's contribution to compact remote control of lighting. The Magnetic Clutch was composed of two pairs of electromagnets - useful because the pairs acted as magnets when electricity passed through them but not without electricity. Thus, they could be used to grip onto or release a rotating wheel at the flick of a switch to move their dimmers up and down.
Another big shift in Strand's technological path was the installation of the 42-way Grand Master Board at The Halifax Little Theatre in 1931 and the 56-way Grand Master Board at The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre in 1932. These included stacked resistance dimmers connected via self release locks onto a series of shafts with cross gearing to a central manual wheel. Individual dimmers could be simultaneously driven up or down, and several men were needed to drive, lock, and unlock the dimmers. An installation of the Grand Master in 1934 for the Covent Garden Opera married Strand's two big innovations-remote dimmers manually driven with the electro-mechanical Mansell clutch to connect each dimmer to the drive. In 1932, having outgrown its manufacturing abilities at 24 Floral Street, the company moved its manufacturing to Gunnersbury, a London suburb.
In 1932, Strand acquired a young upstart named Fred Bentham to look after its demonstration theatre and hire fittings showroom. From the beginning, Bentham was destined to revolutionize Strand. From the Grand Master Boards of the 1930s, he conceived of replacing the multiple switches and dials with a device that could "play" light. He took an organ console that allowed, via a Compton Relay rack, the control of the dimmer clutches from the keyboard, multiple stop keys for channel selection, and memory pushes for channel grouping. One person alone could manipulate hundreds of lights with his or her limbs, a revolutionary concept at the time. This was the beginning of what would be known for the next 40 years as the Strand-Bentham Lighting Era, a time when Bentham would go on to become the director of technology for the company and forever change its history.
The two decades between 1936 and 1954 were a period of great upheaval and growth for Strand. On February 3, 1936, the company went public as Strand Electric Holdings Limited, and the new chairman, F.L. Blow JP, was assisted in directorship of Strand by Phillip Sheridan and Hugh Cotterill, formerly of Strand's rival, Major Equipment Ltd . The arrival of World War II brought major challenges as well as global expansion, extension into the film and television markets, and innovations in motorized lights.
One of the most lasting contributions Strand has made to the lighting world has been to move lighting control technology from complex on-stage mechanical devices to a remote control location anywhere the operator could see what was being lit. This development began with the Light Console.
The light Console was a specially made church organ console with remotely controlled banks of resistance dimmers that were connected to constant-speed, motor-driven shafts via magnetic clutches. Each channel was selected by a stop key to be played on a master keyboard . When it was tumed off, the dimmer stayed where it was last driven. Each master consisted of 12 keys, three of each color: white, red ,blue, and green. The stop keys were colored similarly. Dimmers could be moved against their color master by using reverse and general move controls. Master keys were double-touch given in fours from the left : blackout/dim, raise/dim, full-on/raise. The dimmers had both series and short-circuiting contactors.
The Light Console made its inaugural appearance with a recital of "Colour Music" in the Floral Street Theatre, Strand's first Demonstration Theatre opened by C.B. Cochran. From that point on, the theatre was used regularly for "Colour Music" recitals and as a research and development laboratory.
Richard Pilbrow, writing about Fred Bentham after his death in 2001, noted, "Fred's passion for innovation was inspired by his own ambition to design lighting. A love he would often express was for 'Colour Music', the playing of light in space to accompany and express music. I'd heard him talk of it many times, but I only once actually saw Fred perform it on his own light Console. The reality was very beautiful. The little Strand Demonstration Theatre on King Street seemed like a cathedral, filled with sound and light of great beauty. This was not an MTV or rock-and-roll lighting show. It was simple, eloquent, and the work of an artist".
Every London socialite had to have his or her dose of "Colour Music", even prompting a visit to the Floral Street showroom by HRH Prince George Duke of Kent in 1936. The Duke arrived driving himself and was introduced to managing director Sheridan before viewing the performance and sitting for a photo with Sheridan. The company had not known whether or not this photo opportunity would be possible and decided not to hire a professional photographer, instead having manager Stanley Scott take the photo (see page 4). The Demonstration Theat re would continue to be a mecca for stage lighting demonstra tions and lectures until it was closed in 1977.
In 1938, the lease at Strand's 28 Floral Street office was up. The company chose an office at 24 Floral Street, which stretched through to 29 King Street. The Demonstration Theatre was rebuilt after Strand removed a floor to offer suitable height, and Bentham says of the offices, "like all places of character, it is possible to love them".
Another advancement included the unveiling of The Kaleidakon at London's Idea! Home Exhibition in Earls Court in 1939. The Kaleidakon was a 70', 230 kW tower connected to a 72-way light Console and Compton Organ for "Colour Music". It was the centerpiece of the exhibition and was described by Gramophone magazine in its May 1939 edition. "One of the many sights of the Ideal Home Exhibition now drawing to a close at Earls Court is the huge Kaleidakon, a white-and-silver tower which raises its head almost a hundred feet above a pool of rippling water. Here, with the aid of [organist and composer] Quentin Maclean, at the console of a Compton organ, and an expert on a light console, duets in sound and light are given daily. As the sound of music emerges, so the tower is lit by an ever-changing harmony in color in bright and pastel shades closely allied to the humor".
In 1940, the company made another leap by installing its first complete opera house stage lighting installation abroad. In the early days of World War II, "our large Talbot road factory was full of work for the Admiralty (those patriotic pillars and landing lights and the like!)", Fred Bentham writes in his autobiography, Sixty Years of Light Work. The company also contributed the electrical and mechanical expertise necessary for the Royal Navy's technical simulator, Torpedo Attack Teacher, which was used to instruct pilots in the technique of dropping torpedoes from aircrafts.
Yet the company continued to expand globally, as English manufacturers were also encouraged to export during the war. "War or no war, someone wanted a Light Console!" Bentham says in his book The Aft of Stage Lighting, published in 1976. In 1940, a complete Continental opera house stage lighting system was installed in the Teatro San Carlos in Lisbon, Portugal, controlled by a Light Console in the theatre's orchestra pit. The installation was possible as Portugal was neutral during the war and thus one of the few places a British company could work on the continent at the time. Nevertheless, it posed many war-related challenges. including poor transportation. Because France had fallen to the German army. there was no overland travel; Bentham and "Applebee's favourite" foreman Bill Pepworth were only able to enter Portugal after being offered spaces on a weekly civil flight "at the extraordinary request of his Excellency the Ambassador [Arriaga de Tavares]". Bentham says. The installation took six months.
Strand suffered other setbacks because of the war. In London. on May 10th 1941 two bombs destroyed Strand's Demonstration Theatre at 24 Floral St. Surprisingly, the Light Console survived, as it had been placed under a balcony when the war broke out. It was reinstalled in the West End's Palladium Theatre later that year, a fitting place for the console, as the theatre had also survived by luck when it was hit by a parachute bomb that failed to detonate on May 11.
After the war. Strand began moving forward again. In 1947, it worked with lighting designer and electronics innovator George Lzenour to release the two-tube thyratron dimmer, one of the first electronic dimmers in England. A thyratron dimmer is a type of gas-filled tube used as a high-energy electrical switch and controlled rectifier. The use of an inverse polarized rectifier circuit for dimming and switching was the first of its kind for stage lighting. and it significantly reduced the size of dimming systems used in theatres.
In 1950, the L-16C02 Thyratron Tube Remote Control Preset, designed and built by George Izenour, was installed in the Carnegie Institute of Technology as a prototype along with three other locations: Yale Drama School, the Goodman Theatre in Chicago, and a theatre in Delaware. The console incl uded ten scene presets plus manual controllers for 49 dimmer ways. It also included fader, autofade, manual master, relay control for a motorized house dimmer, intercom handset, and monitor speaker. This was one of the first systems to physically disassociate the preset banks from the manual controllers and faders. Control current was AC. It was donated by Carnegie Mellon University to the Penn State SChool of Theatre in 1972.
These years were a period of growth for Strand as it moved out of the West End and into the global market. In 1949, Strand installed a Light Console at the new National Opera House in Ankara, Turkey and its first Electronic Preset, a 120-way thyratron, with complete installation for the new National Theatre in Reykjavik, Iceland. In 1951, the Royal Festival Hall in London was equipped with a Light Console as well as a light installation with long-range color spots. This installation was part of the Festival of Britain, a nationwide exhibit designed to build national morale and demonstrate the country's achievements in industry and the arts. This show of patriotism led to more work abroad and ultimately a request for a duplicate installation at Aula Magna, an auditorium in Caracas, Venezuela. By the late 1950s, Strand would expand so much internationally that it required branch offices in both Australia and Canada.
In 1953, the company introduced the world to the first mass-produced theatre spotlight. The patent, Pattern 23, was for the first die-cast construction stage luminaire. Diecast by the 5,0005 for a market in which a gross (144) was thought to be an outsize batch, it stayed in use for the next 30 years. More than 500,000 units were sold before 1983, and it became the company's most popular luminaire after the Leko Lite. In 1935, the Leko Lite had been announced by Century Lighting(which Strand later acquired; see sidebar on page 13) as the "New Type Incandescent Leko Lites" to replace "standard arc-carbon-fed lamps." The spotlight used an ellipsoidal reflector and base-up 1,000 - 1,500W lamp; it was sold for $155.
One of the hallmarks of the 1950s was the commercialization and widespread adaptation of television in many homes. More than a decade earlier, in 1936, Strand had unveiled its first television installation: the BBC Alexandra Palace television studios. Studios A and B each had a Strand Grand Master dimmer board. Studio A was equipped with the electronic system of the Marconi-EMI Company, and the center of the studio had a special lighting bridge for spot and flood lights. Studio B was equipped with the varying systems from Baird's Company, another equipment manufacturer of the period . The general public had become familiar with television at the 1939 World's Fair, held in New York City, but the outbreak of World War II prevented it from gaining widespread popularity until the late 1940s.
By 1954, Strand had installed the first remote-controlled lighting system at NBC's Studio 8-H, the storied venue designed for live radio concerts of the NBC Symphony Orchestra under Arturo Toscanini in 1937 and renovated into a television studio in 1950. For this project , Strand also created its first automated luminaires with motorized pan and tilt. Herbert F. King, of Newtonville, Massachusetts, had first patented the use of electrical motors to move fixtures, and the beam position with it, in 1925. In 1936, Joseph Levy, a founder of Century Ughting, was granted a patent for a similar device in which pan and tilt were controlled by means of a joystick instead of switches.
In 1960, the BBC opened The BBC Television Centre at White City in West London. Many of the studios included Strand pole-operated Pattern 243 pressed steel Fresnel spots, System C controls, and patching systems with "jills" instead of jacks.
All the while, Strand continued to strive in terms of research and development. In 1958, the C Core dimmer system, the first SCR dimmer, was installed at Yale University. The SCR dimmer became commercialized in 1957 by Frank W. Gutzwiller and the team of power engineers that developed it , most notably Robert N. Hall. The SCR dimmer, compared to the variable resistors used previously, were considered more efficient since variable resistors dissipated power as heat and acted as a voltage divider, while silicon-controlled rectifier switches dissipated very little power compared with the controlled load. Still , due to the SCR's expense and the amount of power it consumed, massive patch panels appeared on most stages, with the operator acting much like a telephone operator to reassign circuits to dimmers. Even today, SCRs are the basis of many dimming systems.
In 1959, Strand released the Pattern 243BP Fresnel Spot. It had a G38 bi-post base and lead-screw focus. The lens had a 250mm diameter and a 16Q /50Q variable spread and 430mm length, and the entire unit weighed 301b. The company described it in its literature as a "high-power, high-efficiency soft edged circular beam, spread variably between wide limits. The soft edges of the beam, which is free of filament striation, can be contained by the addition of a fourdoor rotatable barndoor attachment ," and was best used for "high-intensity highlighting or backlight ing, without any discernible edges to the pool of light, or as a dominant source to represent sunlight."
Strand opened its first office in Toronto, Canada in 1959, according to "From Little Acorns," an article written by Philip Rose for the August 1993 edition of the in-house publication Lights! Rose was dispatched to direct Strand Canada in 1959 and later became director of Strand Century in 1968. The market had previously been served by Kliegl Brothers, but Strand had installed its products in several Canadian theatres and was bolstered to expand by its success in Australia. A scouting report from the country surmised the following: "Big country - small population undeveloped theatre - 120 volts and the Canadian Standards Association's 3'-high stack of design, technical, and safety standards." Yet company president Jack Sheridan pressed on, and a shop was rented at 755 Yonge Street in Toronto, thus becoming the launch pad for Strand's North American operation.
The office was originally run by Bill Lorraine, an executive in Strand 's European offices, and Leslie Yeo, an actor who had previously worked with Strand products at his theatre company in Nova Scotia. "But problems soon began to appear," Rose says. "Maybe the time scale was too tight, the objectives optimistic; whatever the causes, it was clear that the plan and structure had to be changed. It was decided that Bill would return to the UK and that I would take over his role."
Within two years, Strand was a market leader in Canada and had appointed an agent in the US-in Minneapolis, a location that soon established its own branch. In the next two decades, Strand would become a leading force in lighting for theatre, television, architecture, and commercial installations in North America. The company continued to develop its global ties with offices in Hong Kong, South Africa, and Germany as well as a large factory in Scotland.
At its London offices, however, Strand maintained British traditions. Alan Luxford, currently a regional sales manager of Eastern European markets for Strand and general manager of Strand Lighting Europe from 2007 - 2009, started as a Strand specialist trainee in 1967 when he was just 16 and remembers the morning ritual when the managing director entered the office with a bowler hat and newspaper under his arm. "Jack Sheridan walked in every morning, and you stood up and said 'Good morning, Mr. Sheridan,,,, he says.
In 1962, Britain opened its first new theatre with a thrust stage format, the Chichester Festival Theatre. It featured LC control, a 72-way transistor/choke preset. The system was available with 48, 72, or 96 individually controlled dimmer channels and consisted of a remote-control cabinet as well as two or more dimmer racks complete with 2kW saturable reactor dimmers fitted as standard. Each dimmer was provided with a transistor control amplifier to permit presetting and load variations down to 50%. The duplicate dimmer levers were mounted one above the other to allow lighting levels to be easily matched without the operator being impeded by having to pick out alternate levers when he or she "played" a change. The controls were vertically inclined, and all internal wiring was fitted while terminals provided for the control wiring to the dimmer racks. A floor standing version came standard, but a desk version was also available at an addition al charge.
The next year, Strand produced the last of its directly operated dimmers, the Junior 8. The direct operated dimmers took two forms: the Slider type, in which the resistance was housed in a sheet metal casing and which was used mounted on the front of the switchboard, and the Sunset Former or Element types, which were mounted on the back of the board and operated by a handle and control link . The slider dimmer was a more cost-efficient option because Sunset Former or Element-type dimmers could only be supplied as part of a dimmer board assembly.
The company described the Junior 8 as its first "extraordinary compact, lightweight control, which can without alteration be used fixed or as a portable." Its eight channels could be controlled from four dimmers, which made the product less expensive as dimmers were expensive components. Its circuitry also allowed all eight channels to be switched to the dimmers for simultaneous fade-out or fadein. All board channels also terminated in socket outlets, which allowed lighting circuits to be patched in any order and permitted circuit substitution at the control. The Junior 8 circuit also came available as the Junior Interlock, in which the dimmers were grouped on two shafts, each with their master wheel, and could be locked down by "a simple twist of their handles." the company says. Boards could be used with five-amp plug boxes to allow patching of circuits on the dimmers. For a complete set of dimmers, a range of standard sizes was listed in two forms: Junior Sunset or heavyduty Senior Sunset.
In 1964, George Izenour developed the first version of the Platten c-cerc System for Century Lighting, a plug-in preset controller system that boasted 30 control channels and linear pots on the Platten mate with contacts on the reader. That same year, the Edkotron dimmer system was introduced and was said to be the first modular, truly portable electronic dimming system. It was comprised of six 1,800W SCR dimmers, one control unit , and one control cable. Also in 1964, Strand installed its thyristor dimming system at the Royal Opera House in London and at the Glyndebourne Festival Opera House.
The mid-'60s and early '70s were a time of transition across the world, and Strand was not immune 10 the world's rapidly changing ways. During this time, the company expanded its offices internationally. A series of mergers and acquisitions also increased the company's reach.
In 1964, Strand began by looking back on its 50 years of history with a golden jubilee celebration. As part of the ce lebration, the company published a special edition of the journal TABS-begun in October 1937- in March 1964, which recorded the company's 50-year history.
In March 1966, Strand began its journey toward dimmer memory control systems. That month , it demonstrated its first Instant Dimmer Memory Control. This was touted as the world's first memory lighting control, and it arose largely from the desire of designers to record fader levels and reproduce them in performance settings. Two large installations were ordered for theatres in Ottawa. Including its push -button variation (IDM/R} and redesign under the name MSR, the system was installed in 20 theatres globally.
In August 1968, The Spectator had this to say about recent developments in London opera: "At the Coliseum they're putting in an automated Instant Dimmer Memory. Part of it is in the basement: rows of grey metal cabinets which look as though meant for undersized shop stewards to hang their coats and put tea-break sandwiches in. This part, unless I've got it wrong, is called the Memory Store. When the thing's working, one man at a control switch behind a window looking on to the stage will manage the lighting changes (pre-recorded) of a whole opera by flicking a switch and using a pair of control nobs. The temptation to become an automated Memory Store oneself is strong."
The same year it was acquired by Strand Electric, Century Lighting had also made strides in developing memory control systems with the introduction of the Memo-Q console, the first computerized memory control system. Century worked in conjunction with George Van Buren on the project, and, according to Bentham's autobiography, "This was the version of the IDM memory system made in the United States for century Strand and Strand Century in Canada. The keyboard call-up represented an improvement."
In 1968, Strand Electric was purchased by The Rank Organisation, an entertainment firm that was considered the largest film company in Britain at the time, owning production, distribution, and exhibition facilities. The purchase was part of Rank's diversification into entertainment manufacturing . Strand became part of Rank Audio Visual, a division of Rank Precision Industries that also produced Nikon cameras. Rank also purchased the high-fidelity aud io company H.J. Leak & Co. the next year. After the acquisition, Strand Electric became known as Rank Strand Electric. In 1969, Strand acquired another storied lighting company-Century Lighting, which then became Strand Century in the US. (See sidebar on page 13.)
"We would have folded without a doubt," but for the purchase, Luxford says. Strand had little competition at the time, but its reputation was suffering because the Instant Dimmer Memory System worked inconsistently, a problem when it was installed in such high-profile theatres as the Budapest Opera. However, the Rank Organisation worked with clients to replace alllDMs with MSR systems, and Rank executives also scouted universities for engineering talent to refurbish the R&D department.
Good management was not enough, however, and it soon became clear that Rank executives' lack of knowledge about the entertainment industry would be detrimental to Strand. They allowed for little cooperation between end users and eng ineers producing products, leading to many products that did not meet clients' specifications. As part of its restructuring, Rank closed Strand's six factories around London and accepted a government grant to build one large facility in Kirkcaldy, SCotland. The factory was a long, thin structure with the intention that it would expand as other Rank manufacturing companies moved there. However, they never did.
One of the biggest changes to take place in the lighting industry during the 1970s was the release of tungsten halogen lamps, an event so important that some have called it "the tungsten revolution." Strand was a part of this develop ment, building its 700 Series around the tungsten halogen lamps. "We made the 764, 774, and Patt 763. So we, at Strand, in the UK, actually developed the first tungsten range," Luxford says. "We used the Century Leko lens tube, so it was kind of half-American. The front end was American, but the back end was British."
Tungsten lamps had "virtually 100% lumen maintenance" and 20% better efficiency than regular incandescent lamps-all of this in a tubular lamp smaller than ordinary lamps. Bob Schiller, who spent 1950 - 1992 with Century (later Strand) Lighting, says, "The smaller bulb and more compact filament gave you more control. A larger filament meant a larger source, which was more difficult to control."
In 1972, Strand returned to The Shakespeare Memorial Theatre at Stratford-upon-Avon, where it had previously installed a lighting system, to bring the theatre a new 240way DDM (Digital Dimmer Memory) computer system. The system was used for a summer season of Roman plays and assisted with a difficulty that the recorded presets systems such as the IDM presented: the procedure of rerecording modified lighting states. According to Strand literature, it also allowed the controller immedi ate access to any channel and was largely considered the push-button version of IDM. It became the prototype for software computer lighting con trol and was immediately recogniZed as world-class. Its catalog states , "A system such as Rank Strand's DDM, although capable of being operated simply. is offered on the assumption that lighting will become more and more sophisticated and that the operator will ultimately use every facility to the full. Fade within fade facilities, instant modification of the intensity level of any control channel without the need to match the existing level, and a magnetic tape repertoire store in addition to the instant access ferrite-core store are all standard features of DDM."
In 1973, the company launched its first Modular Memory System. It offered programming abilities for various facilities and two unique features: modular construction, which provided "a series of compatible, self-contained modules providing both complementary and alternat ive control facilities, all of which plug into a common data-link," and "two alternative modules of the digital fader wheel, which has the 'feel' of a fader lever in that it increases or decreases the intensity level of any control channel according to the amount, the rate, and the direct ion of movement. Yet it never has to be moved to match the existing intensity level before taking over control." The MMS was one of the first memory consoles to be mass-produced, and it had two major advantages: low-priced integrated circuit technology and the abandonment of the rocker switch for channel control. The rocker switches were replaced with a calculator keypad and a control wheel.
The history of the dimmer memory systems is also tied to Bentham as, according to Robert Oxlade, both the IDM and DDM were partially designed by him. The DDM was his last console designed with the company, its rocker switches directly contrasting the stopkeys he made famous through the Light Console. When Bentham retired, the work he had done in his 40 years with the company poised Strand to make many technological innovations in the coming years.
In 1972, the company welcomed another industry giant into its ranks when Wally Russell became president of Strand Century Canada.
In the early 1970s, Strand USA was poised to make big technological innovations under the leadership of Wally Russell (see sidebar on page 17), a lighting designer and technical director who was named president of Strand century Canada in 1972 and Strand Lighting USA in 1975. Monetarily, the company also grew, going from producing $4 million in 1977 to $150 million in 1987.
That year, the company moved from its offices on 43rd Street and 10th Avenue in New York City to Santa Monica, California. According to Schiller, Strand had occupied the second and third floors of its 43rd Street offices for management and manufacturing, an arrangement that made transportation of products very cumbersome. Also, the move to California ostensibly assisted the company in its expansion into the growing markets of television and film.
Strand continued to expand its installations of lighting consoles intemationally, in Italy, North Korea, and Spain. In 1975, the company installed the DDM, a 320-channel memory lighting control system, in the famed Teatro alia Scala in Milan, Italy; this was the first time a Strand console was installed in a major Italian opera house. That same year, the company topped itself by installing a larger 480-channel MMS console, the largest ever made, in the Congress-Hall complex in Pyongyang, North Korea.
Around this time, Strand also made its foray into transportable memory systems with its Compact system, a self contained memory control that controlled up to 80 thyristor dimmer channels and would eventually control up 120 channels. It was installed at The Duke of York's Theatre in London and the Alcala Palace in Madrid. Its portability also made it appealing to the BBC for various broadcasting abilities outside the studio.
In 1975 and 1976, Strand made a major breakthrough in theatre when lighting designer Tharon Musser used a Multi-Q for touring productions of A Chorus Line. The show began with a 101 performance run at Joseph Papp's Public Theater. In Richard Pilbrow's book, Stage Lighting Design, Musser says that, at the Public, "They had a five-scene preset, and we rented a little auxiliary board for the Mondrian pattern [a major effect in show], etcetera. When it was apparent that we were going to move uptown, the Shuberts said we coul d have whatever we wanted in the way of control. So I called Frank DeVema of Four Star and said we were going to skip preset boards and go directly to memory. Well, that started a panic, because nobody really knew what was available".
Steve Terry, vice president of research and development at Electronic Theatre Controls, worked on A Chorus Line in the early years of its run. In terms of availability, he says, there were virtually no off-the-shelf memory systems at that time. The team settled on working with Electronics Diversified Incorporated (EDI) and its new (vaporware) system called TAM - The Adaptable Memory system. However, EDI could not deliver the product. Meanwhile, Gordon Pearlman had created a prototype of the LS-8 at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. EDI bought the prototype and brought on Pearlman for its development, also asking him to ship the prototype to the Shubert Theatre. The show opened with the system, and shortly thereafter a new unit with hardware improvements was installed by Steve Carlson, of EDI. The new unit also had the latest in memory loading : floppy disks from IBM, making it possible to load code from a disk instead of paper tape. That unit ran on the Broadway production for the next 13 years, but because of a patent lawsuit filed by Steve Skirpan related to setting levels through a CRT screen, when nat ional and international companies of the show went out, it could not use the LS-8. "Frank [DeVerna] and Four Star had a very close relationship with Strand. So when it came time for the tours, Four Star had Strand build them a very similar unit, which became Multi-Q", Pearlman says.
When Russell returned frorn a meeting in New York to say that Four Star had placed an order for the first Multi-Q, he also said they had just nine weeks to finish developing the console, which the R&D team based on an earlier Strand console called Compuset 2000. The system had been a failure, but it allowed Strand century to quickly develop the Multi-Q for tours of A Chorus Line. It became the Broadway standard for several years until David Cunningham rewrote the rules for consoles in the development of the Light Palette.
The light Palette was a micro-processor-based memory system that recorded, displayed, and recalled the running cue sheet and the transition timing of lighting changes as well as the intensity levels of up to 500 control channels. An electronic patch between dimmers and control channels allowed dimmers required for a particular production to be selected. "Everybody was buying the Light Palette", Schiller says. "The thing that made that board so good was that it thought the way a lighting designer thought".
However, according to several accounts, the production of the light Palette was complicated by Strand's desire to develop new technologies in North America while being managed by executives in Europe. Many people in the industry felt Strand's Modular Memory System was cumbersome and difficult to use, but executives in the UK wanted Strand USA to sell the products European manufacturers had produced rather than develop its own. Under Russell's direction, all engineers were hired as field service technicians, says Tom Folsom, who worked as a sales manager for Strand from 1978 - 1981, vice president of sales and operations from 1995 - 1998, and general manager from 2008 - 2010.
"Once a month, the British would show up to inspect us and to take a look at the business," Folsom says. "And we would have to cover up everything we were working on in the back with sheets and things. They didn't want us to be developing products like the Multi-Q and the Ught Palette. It was only after the products hit the market that the British understood what Wally and the team had developed."
The development was accomplished in conjunction with dealers and other customers with the understanding that they would remain mum about what products they were purchasing. By the time British executives became aware of the Mult i-Q, the company already had orders for 120 units. "At that point, all of a sudden, it couldn't be stopped. The light Palette had frankly been in design since the Multi-Q became a product," Folsom says.
However, this development was an integral part of the success of the console, Luxford says. "[Wally Russell] understood that the American market was different." Customer service representat ive Chuck Levy was also integral to the console's success, as he communicated with Broadway designers about its development. light Palette was released in February of 1980 and went on to sell wor1dwide, introducing the tracking style of memory control with multipart fades and becoming what many consider the precursor to modern lighting control systems today.
In 1976, Strand acquired Stagesound Ltd. from Theatre Projects, precipitating the creation of Rank Strand Sound. The company had begun to work with lighting designer and Theatre Projects founder Richard Pilbrow to develop lightboard, which had its final installation in 1976 at the National Theatre. The system included one Palette, two playbacks, two video displays, tape and auxiliary panel, and control of up to 1,000 circuits. Although advanced for its time, the system was only a precursor to the Galaxy console that would become so popular in Europe.
After Russell introduced the light Palette to British executives , the company attempted to sell it in Europe as well. However, something was missing, Luxford says. "We were pretty successful, but it wasn't what the market wanted." The UK R&D department's response, the Galaxy console, was released in 1980, and by 1983 it was installed in both TV-AM studios and Limehouse, an independent studio facility in the heart of London's Dockland. The Galaxy 2 came out in 1984. Company literature says of the system, "Rapid control and mixing of channels, groups of channels, and prerecorded memories are provided together with playbacks incorporat ing fader wheels for manual intervention of recorded-time, split-start crossfades, or move fades. All prime numerical displays are embodied within the shallow modular control panels so that reference to the mono or color VDU can be limited to precise detail. Optional modules include submastees for intermixing and an effects generator. The optional alpha-numeric keyboard allows recorded text, channel-to-dimmer patching, listing and editing of transfer between the managed CMOS memory, and an optional floppy disc library store." Strand continued to sell them for many years, with Luxford installing the last system in Moscow in 1996.
When Strand introduced the Tempus, a 24lb console that ottereo 120 channels and the ability to record up to 120 lighting states, it could, the company said, be used as an independent new system or as an extension to an existing manual system, and it also made memory lighting widely available to small theatres.
The company also introduced the CD80 dimmer in 1980, making dimmer-per-circuit operation commercially viable for the first time. As what has been said to be one of the most successful high -density dimmer systems to-date, th e model was the first of three generations of the CSO and was a ramp card, AMX-based unit. The CD80AE released in the early 1990s allowed for rack patching and DMX input. The unit was eventually redesigned to be microprocessor-based and released as the Supervisor rack (CD80SV).
While the decade held many developments in terms of lighting control, the company also made strides in offering new lanterns. In 1978, it released the popular T/84 variablebeam bifocal profile, which held a 1,OOOW T/11 halogen lamp that had a variable width from 16° - 28°
In 1981, Russell left Strand and began work as a consultant. Many saw it as the end of an era. "He was clearly my mentor, " Folsom says . "There were so many people that were impacted by his vision and knowledge during that period of time when he was basically operating the business, people that owe their careers to his insight and vision."
That year, the company unveiled its new series of profile, prism convex, and Fresnel spotlights at the ABTT Trade Show, named Prelude, Harmony, and Minim, respectively. The company said all the lanterns in the Harmony series "have a fully integrated housing of finned, extruded sides and interlocking pressure die-castings including internal color runners. Rear grab handle is fitted as standard. The alloy fork is adju stable in height and also adjustable throughout the whole length." The Prelude series lights had similar features as the Harmony as well as "unique high standards of safety including a separable power connector which has to be withdrawn before hinged internal access can be gained , also a safety bond anchorage on the housing and a sprung safety clip over the color frame runners." Strand described Minim as "a powerful lightweight spotlight for display lighting, in a range of colors, offering instant beam adjustment from spot to flood. No need to change fixed-spread PAR lamps to suit the beam to the need; a simple focusing control varies the circular beam between 12° and 50°. A four-leaf barn door can be added to change the beam edges."
In 1983, Strand completed its new range of luminaires with the addition of a smaller SOOW Minim spotlight, a Cadenza 2,OOOW spotlight , and Nocturne/Coda flood and cyclorama lights. The Cadenza was "a powerful 2,DOOW range of spotlights, essentially for the large-scale professional venue, setting new standards of optical performance, beam quality, mechanical construction, and safety with the maximum of convenience for the lighting technician. Particularly useful wherever high intensities are required with accurate control of beam, and/or pattern gobo projection." The Nocturne/Coda lights were available as two complementary ranges with separate optical systems. The "floodlights and backlights are of compact design and have robust die-cast end sections. They are designed for use with linear tungsten halogen lamps, and may be fitted with plastic color filters."
1983 brought the end of an era for one important unit, the Pattern 23. That year, Strand discontinued its first diecast lantern after more than 30 years of production and seiling more than 500,000 units.
During this period, Strand saw opportunities to expand into the Eastern European market, although it had sold its products in Russia for many years through a general distributor. However, when it was discovered the distributor was peddling Strand products as its own, the company quickly used its contacts in Vienna to establish its own relationship with the Russian government. "We were given a theatre by the ministry for a week, and we shipped over everything we made. One of everything," Luxford says. This included Quartzcolor products, the A to Z range of 26 luminaires, 500W spotlights, Cadenzas, and memory systems. Government officials brought in artists and electricians throughout five days, and Luxford lectured to more than 1,000 people a day to demonstrate Strand's products. Afterward, all meetings consisted of the buying company, the client, Luxford, and a KGB representative. " If that person didn't nod at the end, you didn't get the job," he says. Luxford went on to install Strand Lighting products across Russia and Eastern Europe, including at the Bolshoi ballet and the 1980 Olympics in Moscow.
The company also gained a strong force in its Canadian offices when, in 1979, Donna Appleton joined Strand Century Canada as motion picture and TV product manager. In 1988, she became president of Strand Lighting Canada, a post she held until her retirement in June 2006
The mid -1980s and early 1990s were a period of rapid technological growth for Strand . Wally Russell had moved Strand USA to Los Angeles in 1975, giving the company a talented engineering pool to draw from as the area developed its reputation in the computer revolution, says Phil O'Donnell, CEO of Strand from 2001 - 2004 and an employee since 1978. This was the decade Strand would release many of its most famous products, including the Precision Automated lighting Systems, Light Palette 90, a second generation Leko Lite, and the CD8O dimmer system.
"They had some absolutely brilliant engineers," says Peter Rogers. who managed sales and marketing for Strand from 1986 - 2011 . "[David Cunninghamjled an R&D team that was truly amazing. [My] first ten-year period, we had some really interesting and innovation-driven business." And although Cunningham left his position as vice president of research and development in 1984 to become president of the product design firm Entertec, his legacy lived on through the research and development department he had built.
When Bill Greener first began as a product manager at Strand in 1984, Strand's three divisions in North America, the UK, and Hong Kong, acted largely autonomously and even sometimes competed, says Groener, who today is general manager of systems and design at 4Wall Entertainment. Greener left and returned in 1985, eventually becoming executive vice president of sales for the company until 1993. By 1985, the companies had begun to merge and focus on acting as a unified entity.
"Strand was really one of the first companies to be owned by a large conglomerate," Greener says. "One of their main competitors was Kliegl, a family-owned company. Colortran was owned by a larger organization but not as large as Strand in the world of entertainment lighting."
At this time, Strand employees across the world collaborated to improve their communication practices. This was especially true for the marketing team, says Steve Norman, who served as director of marketing from 1987 - 1997. Norman, David Brooks, Andy Collier, and Ed Pagett worked as the core marketing team, reviving the tradition of Strand catalogs and offering them in a variety of languages, including Spanish, German, and Russian. They also revitalized Strand's quarterly publication , TABS, reimagining it in the form of the journal Lights! Articles covered recent projects, new products, and company history; the insertion of response cards made it easy to contact representatives.
In 1986, Rank Strand purchased Quartzcolor, the Italian based manufacturer of television and film lighting. According to Rogers, the company began distributing Quartzcolor lights around 1980, exclusively managing its sales distribution in North America.
In 1989, Strand introduced its line of Precision Automated Lighting System (PALS), which included 2,OOOW plano-convex spotlights on moving yokes. The original system was designed in the mid 80s by a small UK-based company, Light Works, and licensed to Strand. The design goals, which included no fan, motorized focus, and the ability to dim instantly, were popular with British theatre designers. However, Rogers says, "At that time, American theatres were going more toward the high-performance automated gear. American theatres woul d spend more and buy a [Vari"Utej VL5, which was both high-speed and had a bigger color palette ." The largest customer for the units in the United States was San Francisco Opera, which still uses them today.
The company also greatly expanded its sales into Middle Eastern and Asian markets. As part of this expansion, in 1990, Strand lighting became one of the first companies and the only one in North America-to achieve ISO9000 quality certification. According to O'Donnell, the move was largely precipitated by the company's European manufacturing influence. "That type of process was very popular in Europe, where two largest factories were," he says. " If we were going to do it there, then we would do it in all our international factories."
In 1991, the company restructured, separating its manufacturing from sales. Units were produced in the company's factories in Kirkcaldy, Scotland and Rancho Dominguez, California and were then purchased separately by individual company divisions around the world for sales. " [The goal] was twofold ," Groener says. "One was, if the factory was only concerned with making product and not how it got sold, the goal there would be to create a very efficient, costeffective operation. If the trading company's goal was to sell, theoretically there would be an efficient , motivated sales force . This would create specialization so that people good at certain th ings could focus on the th ing they do really well. " However, the scheme did not result in increased sales or lower manufacturing costs, and in 1993, the company returned to its previous model, eventually manufacturing pieces in Kirkcaldy while assembling them in California.
Light Palette 90 software expanded exponentially the functionality and performance of the Light Palette operating system, and in 1991, the installed base of more than 700 systems exceeded the quantity of all other Light Palettes previously sold. It was the company's first large-scale DMX console-previous Light Palettes were AMX-based -and it was one of the first to break 1,000 channels and feature multiple control surfaces. It supported color scrollers as well as the hundreds of dimmers necessary for Broadway shows, but because it was easily scalable with the simple addition of cards for higher output, it was practical for many smaller houses as well. The console was also unique, Norman says, because it was one of the first consoles to allow up to six users to access the command lines.
"We had a rental house in Hollywood who always did the Academy Awards," Norman says. "He always wanted to use the biggest and best new lighting consoles for the conventional lighting for the Academy Awards, which always made me scared because it 's a lot of people and a lot of televi sion, and it's live, " Norman says. "So it went on the show. But because people were nervous about it, mostly me, as I recall, we put a couple of field service technicians in tuxedos, and they were available on the set-either out in the trucks, where the consoles were , or they could go in the theatre if necessary. They were on standby. After we got it more stable, it became one of the more successful consoles that Strand Light ing ever had."
In 1992, Strand installed the first completely digital status- reporting dimming system, the CD90, at the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation 's 12 new studios in Toronto. This system brought full 2,OOO-step fade resolution with line and load compensation to high-density dimmer rac ks for the first time. Rogers says it also offered the status reporting dimmers users were requesting. These would tell designers when a lamp was burned out , something that became espe- cially important as systems grew. The separate microprocessor in each dimmer also offered multi-voltage regulation for the first time. The CD90 went on to be installed in NBC Studios in California, including the set for The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Garson. That year, the CD90 won LDI's New Lighting Product of the Year Award.
In 1993, the company released its first software-based lighting control system, GSX. It offered 25, 50, 75, 100, and 125 channels and was described as a "compact lighting hardware platform with a choice of software packages." It was designed for small-scale projects with a low-priced entry level offering channel number and feature upgrade paths. Other features included an integrated 3.5" disk drive and separate VGA color monitor; comprehensive control surface including command panel , two independent playbacks, wheel, LCD display, and 24 submasters; and an intuitive user interlace and a foundation environment for controlling up to 512 DMX dimmers or scrollers using 25, 50, 75, 100, or 125 channels. The optional Kaleidoscope application software expanded Strand's operating software, Genius, to include advanced effects and intelligent color scroller control, and the optional Communique application software expanded Genius to include industry-standard communications protocols such as MIDI Show Control, MIDI Backup, DMX input, RS232 ASCII remote control, and macros.
The company won another LDI Award in 1994 when its Premier Network Manager was presented with the International Product of Year Award for Architectural Lighting. The application software package enabled a computer (running Windows V3.1 or Windows 98) to be connected to 15 Premiere systems for real time lighting control of up to 480 rooms or areas. Typical applications included convention centers, theme parks, hotels, and museums. Premiere processors could simultaneously provide visual information for presets, channel levels, and station lockout status. Presets could be recalled in a room or group of rooms, macros executed, stations, or as groups of stations.
In 1996, The Rank Organisation sold Strand to Schroder Ventures, one of Europe's leading venture capitalists. At the time, Rank was attempting to divest itself of all its manufacturing companies and refocus on its hospitality investments a string of bingo halls in the United Kingdom as well as several resort and time-share holdings. This meant the sale of a large share of stock in Xerox as well as the British film studio Pinewood Studios and Strand Lighting.
Schroder dramatically reduced the size of the company's European offices, reorganizing Strand into three working groups: Europe, the Americas, and Asia. "Throughout their time, they really did work hard to grow the Americas and Asia because that was kind of the global engine for growth within the company," Rogers says.
In 1995, the company introduced an enhanced version of the Light Palette software and the 530, a memory lighting console that included 24 submasters to be used with GeniusPlus or Light Palette operating software. In 1996, Strand updated the lighting system of the san Francisco Opera House with two 550i consoles and almost 2,000 CD80 dimmers. The 550i console was Strand 's first to offer trackballs for pan and tilt, coders for mixing color, and a fixture library. The theatre was also the first major installation of a ShowNet Ethernet system, which provided data distribution through a TCP/IP Ethernet network. It included EINTIA 568A, a Cat5 cable for every 250' covered, and a structured cabling system (SCS). Another important feature was the system's scalability, as bandwidth speeds were rapidly increasing. Strand applied this technology to its installation for Cirque du Soleil's 0, the water-based spectacle at the Bellagio in Las Vegas. In late 2000, the company released ShowNet to be used on other platforms. In 2001, Strand released SN110 DMX Ethernet nodes, its first system to use embedded Linux for its operating system. The nodes could be configured with ShowNet Pro software or through Ethernet and could be powered over Ethernet or with an internal power supply.
In 1998, Strand's ParkNet control system for Universal Studios' Islands of Adventure was one of the first to operate an entire theme park's lighting system from a central location using an Ethernet data distribution, which was two miles long for this project. The system arose out of the park's desire to control its seven distinct areas; a central GUI controlled DMX data for up to 18,000 devices.
In 2002, the 100/200/301 series consoles were released. The Strand 100 Series console was a small, easy-to-use , preset lighting desk that could control 24 channels in one scene or 12 channels in two scenes with the ability to expand scenes. The console could also run a single effect, while the 200 series could control up to 48 channels in one scene or 24 channels in two scenes and could control 24 effects each. It had a split crossfader with time fade function and bump buttons on all the channels. The 300 series console provided control of up to 1,024 DMX512 (1,536 with ShowNet} devices via a maximum of 100 channels dedicated to color scrollers and moving lights. It had up to 600 cues , 500 groups, 300 effects, 3,000 macros, and one patch-in internal memory.
In 2003, the company began to develop the Designer Remote USB drive, which allowed users to use computers for a console's remote video display and remote access device. In 2005, the release of Reporter Pro software for Windows XP assisted designers with setting up dimmer racks and network nodes for theatre lighting systems and control lighting tied to system-wide control and Outlook presets in the dimmer racks.
Strand continued to be a major cultural force in Europe. In 2004, Strand lit Paris' Eiffel Tower for four days in celebration of Chinese president Hu Jintao's visit to France. The tower was to be "bathed in red-a symbol of happiness and prosperity," but due to the 984' height of the tower, the design team needed a 5,000W quartz lamp to achieve the effect. Strand modified a 6,OOOW HMI PAR to accept a 5,000W quartz lamp, placing the units at the base of each pillar in groups of five.
In 2005, Strand continued its longstanding relationship with the Royal Shakespeare Company (RSC) when it supplied five racks of its EC21 dimmer for the Courtyard Theatre, RSC's main performance space while the Royal Shakespeare Theatre was redeveloped. Installation began at the end of 2005 with theatre opening in 2006 as part of The Complete works of Shakespeare Festival.
In the last decade, Strand has faced difficult times and has worked diligently to overcome them. "The Strand brand is a very strong brand," says Pete Borchetta, director of marketing and product management. "At the same time, it's 100. You don't turn 100 without getting some wrinkles."
By 2006, the company had fallen into dire straits, with bank collectors insisting Strand sell off its assets in Hong Kong and North America while shuttering all of its European offices. In March of that year, the bank froze Strand 's assets, and in June, the bank began discussing Strand's sale with Genlyte Thomas Group, which also manufactured and sold lighting fixtures and controls for commercial, residential, theatre, and industrial markets. Genlyte had had two successful forays into the entertainment lighting business, purchasing Entertainment Technology, a subsidiary of Rosco Laboratories, in 2001 and Vari-Lite in 2002.
"Strand was a damaged company that we felt we could turn around with proper management and proper discipline in the marketplace. We thought we could turn it around and bring it back," says Steve Carson, strategic business advisor to Philips Entertainment Group and a 29-year veteran at Genlyte and Philips. Under Strand's previous management, the company's attention to research and development and customer service had largely dissipated.
"The organization was inefficient at that point," Carson says. "We brought it down to a manageable size and have been growing it from there. We've been investing resources in the more critical things, such as quality control. It was a transformation back into a modern company, a leaner, more streamlined company." By the end of 2007, Strand had made significant cuts and was beginning to make a profit for the first time in several years . In January 2007, it reopened Strand UK as a smaller profit/loss center with 11 employees and a general manager, Alan Luxford.
The change of management offered Strand an infusion of technology, Borchetta says, in the form of Genlyte's IGBT dimming. An IGBT dimmer is an insulated gate bipolar transistor power device that works with a dedicated micro microprocessor to control lighting. The silicon- based dimmers operate without the use of chokes and do not produce the noise associated with SCA dimmers. Strand says they are smaller, lighter, and generate fewer neutral harmonics than SCA dimmers.
"Because Genlyte had so much technology," Borchetta says, "we were able to very quickly bring products to market." There were benefits for Genlyte, which had entered the entertainment lighting market only five years earlier. "Genlyte really opened its portfolio that much further into the theatrical and architectural controls and dimming," he says.
Genlyte executives also organized a strong service-oriented training program and cross-trained Strand employees with Vari-Lite employees and other employees in 2009. "Everyone has issues," Carson says of the importance of the service department. "It's how you react to those issues and how you service the customer that counts."
Strand has maintained that service oriented philosophy ever since. Today, it works closely with end-users to specify the types of products they want. This process involves holding summits between representatives and dealers and using trade shows as opportunities to discuss products with designers. For example, when the company began working on its LED profile spotlight, Strand rented a separate room at LDI and gave customers markers with a poster of the structural design. "Essentially, the customers designed that light, ~ Borchetta says. (This emphasis on interaction with customers is familiar to Borchetta: in his previous career as an educator, he consistently offered feedback to companies about their products.) The review process has also gone digital, including a development forum online where customers can offer suggested changes or describe the various ways they are using the products.
In its continuing effort to educate people about its products, the company recently announced the online resource "It's as Easy as 1, 2, 3, 4." which allows customers to build narrated layouts and 3-D layouts for shows, access bills of material, analyze costs and specifications, and watch learning videos hosted by Borchetta. Video topics include networking, why channel counts increase the way they do, and how systems work best together. Also offered is an introduction to LED lighting and how to lay out LED systems. "There are a 101 of choices for people make today," Borchetta says. "At the same time, there's no one teaching you about the product. There's nothing better than having the information in front of you to help you make a better-informed decision."
On January 18, 2008, Genlyte was acquired by Royal Philips Lighting, the multinational engineering and electronics conglomerate headquartered in Amsterdam. As part of the acquisition, Strand was made part of the Philips Entertainment Group. Today, there are several lighting brands under that umbrella, including Vari-Lite, Selecon. and Showline; in 2011 , Strand was named company of the year under the Philips Entertainment Group brand.
"The Philips acquisition was eye-opening. At first, we thought we were working for a big company with Genlyte. Working with Philips, we saw how big companies could really be," Borchetta says. "Now, all of the sudden, we were working for a company with deep pockets and infinite resources. We weren't used to it , but it has really brought home the If-youcan-dream-it-youcan-do-it idea." Julie Smith, Philips Strand Lighting Americas general manager, adds, "Today more than ever, backed by the The Quartet 650W. multitude of technology innovations within Philips Entertainment , Philips Strand Lighting is able to give designers the absolute freedom to design the exact system that fits their needs."
This has allowed the company to home in on developing LED technologies, a focus many Philips companies have taken up. Talking to customers, Strand found that many of the early LED units released were pixelated, cast multi-colored shadows, and did not offer the dimming range high end users required. They wanted "a high-power LED that acted and looked more like tungsten," Carson says. ' These were professional luminaires that happened to be LEDs." Strand listened to these comments, releasing products that offer homogenous sources and good color rendering; their abilities to change colors quickly reduce both the number of luminaires and dimmers. "The creativity of the designer can come out with real color," Carson says.
These technologies have broad applications in the specification markets of schools, churches, and arenas, where Strand has focused much of its business in recent years. In Rama 6" Fresnel. December 2011, Strand completed its work on the Qatar National Convention Center, a project that included EC21 dimming cabinets, Light Palette control consoles, Vision.net control panels, hundreds of touch screens, and miles of fiber networking.
Carson has been a major catalyst of these changes, Borchetta says. "He's a real visionary. He's able to see the future of what a company can do. When he purchased Strand, he really saw a company he could mold into the 21st century and beyond with the dimming and controls market. " Carson recently retired as general manager, handing over management to Richard SChmit, formerly the director of INDAL group, a manufacturer of outdoor roadway lighting, which Philips recently acquired. Carson credits others: Luxford, who "held Europe together;" Smith, who handled the top-notch service division at Vari-Lite for some time; and Borchetta, who "brings youth and passion to the product and marketing. His excitement is contagious."
In the end, the pervasive influence of Strand cannot be found in profit margins, the number of products sold, or the variety of projects completed. It is in the number of people who have seen the company become a backdrop for their lives as they have shaped the lighting industry. "A lot of people came out of that cu lture and that environment, and Strand became a kind of incubator for a lot of people who have been very successful in our industry," Greener says. " It's amazing how many people were a part of that organization and have had a pretty big impact on our world."
Smith adds, "Strand has made an invaluable impact on so many facets of the entertainment industry, and the changes it has gone through over the past 100 years have been remarkable. Words are difficult to capture the journey Strand has traveled, but today the journey continues at an accelerated pace to deliver the next generation of theatrical controls, fixtures, and so much more. Not many companies can say they have touched and influenced the lives of so many people for as long as Strand has, and we are excited and honored to carry on this legacy well into the future."
In honor of this legacy and the people who have shaped it, the company is kicking off its centennial celebration early, spending the next year gathering interviews, videos, and pictures of all those who have helped create its 100-year history. This will all culminate in official 100th birthday events at both PLASA London and LDI2014.