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Lights dimming at Epic

Theatre, concert supplier cuts staff, operations

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The city's largest concert and theatrical lighting company -- Epic Production Technologies -- has cut back its operations and laid off a "good number" of its workers after its banker called in a loan, its former chief executive says.

"The company needs to refinance and the private equity firm out of New York (majority shareholder Praesidian Capital) is working with the bank to try to find a solution," Marc Raymond, Epic's co-founder and former chairman and CEO, said in a telephone interview from British Columbia.

"It isn't closing down at the moment, but it has certainly cut back its operations."

He said existing contracts to supply lighting and other services for upcoming shows and events will continue to be honoured.

Epic was described by MTS Centre CEO Kevin Donnelly as "a North American-wide player" in the concert and theatrical lighting industry.

"Their business was huge," he added.

In addition to its Winnipeg headquarters, the company also has offices in Vancouver and Los Angeles. Raymond said people are still working at all three offices, "but a good number of staff have been let go."

He said he didn't know how many employees the company had before the cutbacks, or how many were laid off. But he noted the Winnipeg headquarters didn't have a huge staff -- 12 to 15 workers at the most. He said most of the event work was done by freelance technicians who were brought in as needed.

Raymond said he and two other senior executives/minority shareholders -- executive vice-presidents Ted Fowler and Brian Konechny -- are also "no longer working for the company." He didn't elaborate on the circumstances surrounding their departure.

Raymond said the current financial crisis came about after a major loan Epic had with Wells Fargo matured recently, and the bank demanded full payment. That left Epic scrambling to find alternate financing so it can pay off the loan.

"A solution so far has not materialized, so the board of directors (of Epic) decided to scale back operations," he said. "But people are trying to put a solution together. A lot of people would like to see the company continue. It's a great company."

Praesidian officials declined to comment Monday.

A veteran of the local theatrical-lighting industry, Raymond was also at the helm of another big sound and lighting company -- Winnipeg-based Westsun International -- when it was placed into receivership in 2002.

The former Crocus Investment Fund, which was Westsun's largest shareholder at the time, lost $20.9 million as a result of Westsun's failure. Raymond blamed Westsun's demise on the failure three years earlier of Livent, a Toronto-based theatrical-production company, which had been one of its biggest customers.

Donnelly said losing Epic would be a blow to the local entertainment industry.

"They had a massive inventory (of lighting equipment)... and the Winnipeg marketplace absolutely benefited from having a supplier with those kinds of resources here in town. If we had a show that was touring and needed something, we could always count on them (to have it)."

He said Epic was booked to supply lighting equipment and other related services for a number of upcoming events at the MTS Centre, including this week's Jason Bonham Led Zeppelin Experience concert. He said he hadn't been able to reach anyone with Epic last week to find out if it would be honouring the contract.

"But we have a plan B," he added. "The show will go on."

Barny Haines, international representative for the International Alliance of Theatrical Stage Employees (IATSE) -- the union that provides carpenters, lighting technicians and other specialized workers for Epic -- said Epic owes about $25,000 in unpaid wages for work its members had done for the company in recent months.

Haines also said messages left last week with Epic's Winnipeg office have gone unanswered.


Shining a light

About Epic Production Technologies:

-- Created in September 2008 with the merger of Q1 Production Technologies, a Winnipeg theatrical lighting company, and Ed & Ted's Excellent Lighting, a U.S. firm that supplied lighting equipment to the U.S. concert-touring industry.

-- Q1 had been founded seven years earlier by Winnipeggers Marc Raymond and Phil Bernard after the failure of another major sound and lighting company Raymond had co-founded -- Winnipeg's Westsun International.

-- Q1 later merged with Showtime Lighting. Showtime Lighting founder Brian Konechny became a partner in Q1. The company subsequently purchased a portion of Westsun's assets, including its Winnipeg head office operation.

-- When Epic was formed, it set also set up its headquarters here.

-- In September 2008, U.S. private equity firm H.I.G. Capital became a majority shareholder in Epic. Two years later, it sold its stake in the company to Praesidian Capital, a New York private investment firm.

-- sources: Epic Production Technologies, Marc Raymond and Free Press archives

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 5, 2013 B3

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