profiles - a light-hearted look at industry personalities
No. 37 in a continuing series
President, Entertainment Services & Technology Association (ESTA)
Mike was born in Liverpool but missed the Beatles by about 14 years (Paul McCartney was 60 this year so you can work out how old he is). He was ferried across the Mersey at the age of six to be brought up in the more rarified atmosphere of Birkenhead and that mystic place famed in tale and fable and steeped in lore - the Wirral Peninsula.
He first bumped into the theatre while at school where he refused to go on stage at the age of 10 dressed in a grass skirt and black greasepaint in a preparatory school musical called Once aboard a Logger'. Clearly he must have already realised that he was meant to be on the other side of the footlights and spent the remainder of his school theatrical career selling tickets and pouring orange juice ‘front-of-house'.
Education continued while studying (hah!) Engineering at Cambridge where the theatrical bug really bit. After spending three years firmly behind the scenes as technical director for Cambridge Footlights and the ADC he ventured on stage again for the first time since that abortive attempt in prep school as ‘Yappy'. a garrulous dwarf in the 1977 Footlights Pantomime. He thinks the director, Charlie Shaughnessy. only gave him the part out of sympathy, but it did allow him to bury some old ghosts.
After college he worked briefly for Cambridge Arts Theatre and Cambridge Theatre Company as a lighting designer but soon realised he wasn't going to be able to make a living that way - he just wasn't good enough and he needed a job which paid every week. However something more important came out of that time touring as he met a wardrobe mistress on the same tour of ‘Barefoot in the Park' who was prepared to put up with him and, in fact, married him two years later. By the way - Mike and Sue are still married 23 years later and have three children.
If lighting design wasn't going to pay the bills where could he get a proper job'? Fortunately Don Hindle was having one of his less astute days and offered our hero a job with CCT Theatre Lighting as a design engineer. This seemed to be a good fit and Mike went from CCT to the BBC for six years before leaving at Mario DeSisti's request to help start DeSisti (UK) with Roman Walanta and WB Lighting (remember them'?). This turned out to be fateful as WB Lighting also distributed Coemar which, in turn, was sold in the USA by Blackstone Audio Visual which (bear with us) was the precursor to High End Systems Inc.
At that time he became increasingly involved with PLASA (thanks to the press ganging of this magazine's editor) and successfully ran for election to the PLASA Executive Committee and subsequently became PLASA chairman in 1994. He also moved job - to JEM Theatrical Supplies and Pyrotechnics - where Nigel Morris allowed him to indulge a childhood ambition to blow things up and get paid for it at the same time!
The contacts made at WB Lighting paid off in 1995 when he was invited to move to the USA to join High End Systems where he is currently chief technology officer responsible for defining and development of the company's products. He's stuck at it with trade associations and after moving to Austin, Texas he became involved with the ESTA Technical Standards Program before standing and being elected as ESTA President in 1999.
Our tale ends with our Scouser living happily in Austin trying to work out how American's afford to put their kids through college without a lifetime of penury. Three kids, four years apart means 12 years of college fees! And, by the by, Mike's oldest son is currently at UT Austin studying theatrical lighting - It must be genetic.
Look out for the next subject in our Profile series...
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