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Rob Halliday: It’s time to celebrate 25 years of revolutionary theatre technology

LED moving lights in action The power of lights and loudspeakers is hard to convey over the web
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The tendency in our industry is to look relentlessly forward – perhaps not surprising given that once a show is gone, it’s gone, and even before it opened you were probably thinking about your next project.

Industry trade shows are a key part of this onward drive, the place to come to try new toys. This is still true, as the power of lights and loudspeakers is hard to convey over the web. So you might expect this year’s PLASA show at London Olympia to be forward-looking.

But it feels like this show might be a bit more nostalgic. While every year is some anniversary of some product, 2017 marks 25 years since 1992, a remarkable year for new products. Some of them influence the way we do things today – and others, amazingly, remain the standard tools we use today.

The original gang behind Flying Pig Systems – Nick Archdale, Tom Thorne and Nils Thorjussen – are leading the celebrations with a recreation of their 1992 PLASA Show stand. At its heart is the very first Whole Hog console: all 24 of them had names – this one is Eeny. Both company and console got their name from the console’s outrageous power. Its ability to run up to 1,000 moving lights across 12 DMX universes was unprecedented at the time.

It was also both a remarkable control surface (long faders, buttons, displays, 12 encoders plus, as the brochure noted, the world’s most comfortable elbow rest) and a remarkable operating environment. It offered the ability to name everything and tools such as the stack synthesiser for quickly creating effects.

The ‘three pigs’ aren’t involved with the current Hog line. I suspect they just like a good party, which is reason enough to head over to stand T61, or to hear them talk about the Hog’s birth at a panel on the Monday afternoon.

In one of those strange quirks of corporate takeovers, ETC, the current owner of the Hog, has some 25th anniversaries of its own to celebrate. Celebrating these at PLASA is a slight cheat – their big launch didn’t happen until the LDI Show a few weeks post-PLASA, but that launch was of a remarkable trio: the Obsession lighting console, the Sensor dimmer range and, most importantly, the Source Four spotlight.

Obsession now lives on in Eos, but both Sensor and Source Four are still everywhere. That’s a tribute to both the inventiveness of their creators, David Cunningham and Gregg Esakoff, and the way ETC sold them to the world, making it the powerhouse it is now.

If all that wasn’t enough, 1992 also gave us Vari-Lite’s VL5 – remarkable then for its versatility and accessibility, moving Vari-Lite on from its ‘closed’ world and proprietary protocols – and for its unique look. You still find it all over the place – a little creaky compared to the young LED upstarts but still cutting distinctively through. Hopefully it, too, will get a celebratory PLASA appearance.

So 1992 was quite a year. See you at Olympia, where we’ll find out whether 2017 is just as remarkable.

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