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|Articles - March 2010|
|Thursday, February 25, 2010|
Colorful samples of velour curtains, lighting tracks and pulley systems in Stagecraft Industries’ offices are hints to the company’s work: producing the backstage infrastructure that makes the magic of musicals and plays across the Northwest.
There are no relics from this stage manufacturing company’s history that began with building sets and scenery for vaudeville shows. Stagecraft now manufactures the permanent parts of auditoriums and stages including curtains, orchestra pits, rigging and pulley systems for lighting and other backstage equipment typically not seen by audiences.
Getting its start as the Stagecraft Shop in 1921, the switch from vaudeville sets to auditorium stages was made when the demand for vaudeville tanked along with employment numbers during the Great Depression. In 1960, Stagecraft Industries was created out of a merger between Stage Craft Shop and Northern School Supply, a school supply firm.
Sales manager Kevin Shetterly says Stagecraft is able to celebrate its 50th anniversary this year because of a diversity of clients — mainly schools, but also TV studios and performance centers — and a three-year backlog of projects. Stagecraft manufactures stage equipment for 300 different clients each year and does $10 million to $14 million in sales.
Follow Shetterly through a wide and heavy wooden door — after putting on a pair of “goofy glasses” for safety — and the smells of dust and metal that has been cut, welded, and sanded wafts through a large manufacturing plant. In one corner destined for the auditorium of Pierce College in Tacoma, Wash., are 12 tension grids on which lighting technicians stand to direct stage lights during musical and theatrical performances.
All are hand woven on site. Shetterly says what sets Stagecraft apart as a business is that it manufactures its products with its own seamstresses, metal workers and engineers. Stagecraft also sends installation managers to oversee and install the equipment.
Stages and auditoriums, Shetterly says, “are an important aspect of any educational facility.” The most satisfying part of Shetterly’s job is knowing that Stagecraft’s product is going to be used for graduations, musical and theater performances. Maybe even vaudeville.
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The New Yorker recently published a sharply worded critique of “disruptive innovation,” one of the most widely cited theories in the business world today. The article raises questions about the descriptive value of disruption and innovation — whether the terms are mere buzzwords or actually explain today's extraordinarily complex and fast changing business environment.
Update: We caught up with Portland's Thomas Thurston, who shared his data driven take on the disruption controversy.
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