Big name in lights

A Carlstadt company develops sophisticated systems that illuminate stages on Broadway and beyond

David Hutter//January 28, 2019//

Big name in lights

A Carlstadt company develops sophisticated systems that illuminate stages on Broadway and beyond

David Hutter//January 28, 2019//

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City Theatrical President Gary Fails with some of the devices his company has created.

Randall Zaibek has worked as a production electrician on Broadway musicals and tours for more than 25 years. He chooses the hardware, then plans and supervises its installation to turn the visions of lighting designers into working systems. And he often chooses gear from a company in Carlstadt named City Theatrical Inc.

“I count heavily on the equipment from City Theatrical and it delivers every show,” Zaibek said. “There are so many things that City Theatrical provides that have become staples of our industry. It becomes hard to think about who else there is that could supply such things as flexibly and quickly as they do.”

City Theatrical develops, manufactures and customizes unique lighting accessories for the entertainment and architectural industries. The company has won 35 product and business awards, including the New Jersey Small Manufacturer of the Year in 2015. Founded in 1986, City Theatrical employs 45 people in Carlstadt and others in London. It holds two U.S. patents and one European patent for lighting control products.

Gary Fails, the company’s president, sees two recent inventions as keys to revolutionizing its business.

One is the Multiverse, a large-scale wireless system for controlling entertainment and architectural lighting. With a patent pending, the company will bring Multiverse to market beginning March 1.

And City Theatrical has already received a patent for the other invention, the DMXcat. It’s a small piece of hardware with a smartphone app for controlling, analyzing and testing – hence, the “cat” in the name – entertainment and architectural lighting. The company distributes DMXcat around the world.

Bright LEDs, big Multiverse

“About 15 years ago LEDs started to be used in all types of lighting,” Fails said. That development made turning on the lights into a more complex task than simply flipping a switch.

“The lights that were being made in entertainment needed both power and data for control,” Fails said. “It used to be just power so it really changed everything. We developed ways to get that data to lights wirelessly.

“As this world grew, it got more complicated,” Fails said. “And it actually got to the point where a light became impossible to turn on if you did not have a dedicated and expensive lighting control device and someone who was specially trained in that technology who could program that technology. We decided to make a device that anybody could use to turn on one of these LED lights.”

Many suppliers were slow to adapt. “Even the biggest, most innovative lighting companies in the world were not doing this,” Fails said. “They forced the users to have this big control console and a dedicated operator just to turn on a simple light.”

The DMXcat enables all lighting users to do their jobs better and removes stumbling blocks, Fails said.

“A couple years ago, we said what could we do to enable this to grow bigger?” Fails said. “And could we in the future envision a world where every single light was able to be controlled wirelessly? We set out to scale up a wireless system that could be many times bigger than anyone had ever done before without it collapsing under its own weight of interference.”

City Theatrical also developed a radio module it will sell to other lighting manufacturers, who will then produce lights with a chip containing the radio module. That chip will then communicate wirelessly with the lights, Fails said.

“This allows you to control the lights without any data wires running to them,” Fails said. “The system used four radios and has the DMXcat technology built in to it.”

The inventions overcome problems of radio interference and issues related to limits on scaling.

“We invented a transmitting system that used much less radio energy, much more sophisticated radio, much more clever control of it, so we could scale up bigger and bigger systems,” Fails said. “This is the breakthrough technology of Multiverse. It allows larger wireless control systems to be created.”

Tom Madden, CEO of Barbizon Lighting Co. in New York City, said his company is a master distributor of City Theatrical products. The two outfits have been working together since the mid-1980s.

“Gary and his team have a great reputation as industry leaders and the manufacturer of high-quality products,” Madden said. “They are known internationally for making specialty gear for the entertainment lighting industry.”

Barbizon distributes both the DMXcat and Multiverse Wireless DMX Systems. The DMXcat is one of the go-to industry tools for testing digital multiplex (DMX) and remote device management (RDM) systems, Madden said.

“It is also a great tool for the diagnostics and the testing of intelligent moving light and LED fixtures,” Madden said. “Multiverse is a standard tool for the wireless control of entertainment lighting systems. It is used on Broadway, network television and even in architectural lighting.”

Beyond stage and screen

From left, a Multiverse Transmitter, Multiverse Node and DMXcat.

City Theatrical products also have health care applications. “We collaborated with City Theatrical on a non-traditional project in the development of a lighting fixture for a next-generation Optomus ISE (Integrated Surgical Environment),” Madden said. “With City Theatrical, we were able to provide high color-rendering agile surgery field lighting for a medical client that is in use today.”

Chris Conti is a product manager at Secaucus-based Production Resource Group, a provider of entertainment and event technology solutions. Production Resource purchases equipment from City Theatrical that it deploys on various shows.

Conti personally owns a DMXcat, calling it “a highly effective troubleshooting tool.” He has also found it to be great for testing out various lighting equipment.

He also has helped City Theatrical with some of the testing of Multiverse.

“We have worked with City Theatrical on a wide variety of projects,” Conti said. “They have always been a pleasure to work with and are quick to help come up with solutions to problems. Having them and their manufacturing capabilities right down the road from us has been a great asset in dealing with the short project time frames we often encounter in the entertainment business.”

Zaibek recalls how City Theatrical’s capabilities have grown. “Initially I remember Gary was the go-to person when looking for sheet metal hardware to control light spill and control light shapes for theatrical lighting units,” he said. “Over the years he has expanded filling niche markets for our industry continuing to develop needed theatrical hardware and then expanding to wireless data control like Multiverse, moving lights, as well as distributing the core softwares that dominate the theatrical lighting world.”

Zaibek calls Fails the go-to guy when a solution is needed, citing his shop’s versatility and understanding of the theatrical market.

“He is the one most all of us call when we need a new beam control or wireless data solution as well as just the odd single solution a show may come up with,” Zaibek said. “The big part of his success is his support for not only his own equipment, but helping solve problems in the theater quickly.”

Zaibek personally owns and has given as opening night gifts the DMXcat and has implemented an early beta version of the Multiverse on a production.

He has used City Theatrical’s prior four versions of wireless data – WDS, ShowDMX, ShowDMX Neo, ShowDMX, Neo MAX – with great success and plans to implement Multiverse.

“His equipment makes my job safer, more efficient and reliable,” Zaibek said. “Gary and City Theatrical are a huge part of Broadway, the West End, and theatrical lighting.”