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SEAL: Focusing on Florida since 1967

Curt Contrata and Michael Gold

Written by Marshall Bissett

Describing his long relationship with ETC, Rick Rudolph, the executive vice president of Stage Equipment and Lighting (SEAL), raises three fingers and says with pride: “We are number three.” He leaves it for us to guess the identity of the first and second dealers ever opened by ETC in the late seventies. 

In a 30-year career with this 50-year-old company, Rudolph (under the watchful eye of SEAL President Vivian Gill) has pulled off the rare feat of maintaining an operation of manageable size. He explains: “I learned early on that it’s better to do more with less. I’d much rather work harder and have a loyal staff rather than a group looking for the next gig.” I met up with two of the loyal staff, Mike Gold and Curt Contrata, at ETC’s Rep and Dealer Workshop in Madison. 

Gold has been with the company since 1997, working his way from the shop floor through the Rental and Shipping departments, to VP of sales for the Miami and Orlando offices. He brings with him a broad theatrical background – with time spent at the Utah Shakespeare Festival, Florida Grand Opera and the Coconut Grove Playhouse – to his specialty in system sales. He reflects back: “SEAL hired me when my son was one year old – late nights and early-morning production calls are not the best for parenting.” In keeping with founder George Gill’s principle not to compete with his customers, SEAL stays clear of full production work, focusing on dry-hire, system and expendable sales. Gold is at the workshop to sharpen his system integration skills. “We are often called in, like paramedics, when electrical contractors see the name ‘theater’ on the boxes and realize that our company contains the name ‘stage.’ As systems become more complex, our role as integrators and educators will become more essential.”

Pembroke Pines Civic Center

Based in the Orlando office since 2002, Curt Contrata hails from a New York theatrical family. His father and grandfather both worked for CBS TV with Jackie Gleason, and later at Disney in Florida. After a spell in public television as a cameraman and gaffer, he worked at Univision as a lighting designer and now pays sales calls on Disney and the other theme-park customers in the exploding Orlando marketplace. “The local television market – and especially Univision and Telemundo – is in love with the ETC Lustr Series along with D40s, D60s and even ColorSource PARs,” says Contrata. With many 6,000- to 7,000-seat church venues in Florida, the house of worship market has long been a boon for the lighting industry. “This market is huge and each denomination is slightly different – the Baptists and Methodists like color and movement while the Catholics go more for white light, and others just like the cost savings,” he laughs.

Cruise ships, while no longer constructed in the U.S., are still serviced and supplied from SEAL’s Miami office. That task falls to veteran Sales VP Mike Grosz whose legendary ability to unite equipment with cruise liners on short layovers in remote ports worldwide has kept this aspect of the business very much alive. 

Asked about the new world of ‘architainment’ products, Rudolph is grateful that “ETC took the time to introduce power and control solutions that we need rather than adapt old technology. We thrive in the world of renovations and updates where we can expand our scope.” Like most dealers, SEAL has to balance the benefits of nurturing their ‘old guard’ employees with the reality of bringing in fresh, young talent. Rudolph met the problem head on by hiring his son, Andrew, in the Orlando office, where his Bachelor of Industrial Design degree is utilized, and – in his father’s words – he is ‘designing things that work.’

A former member of the ESTA board, Rudolph now concentrates his volunteer energy as chair of the Behind the Scenes Foundation, guiding the administration of the charity’s activities. He is especially proud of a new program, the Counseling Fund, which is designed to provide early access to mental health and addiction counseling. To learn more about BTS and the recently established Fred Foster Scholarship, visit www.behindthescenescharity.org

As a parting shot, with Cuba so much in the international news, it seemed right to ask when SEAL might be opening their Havana office. Rudolph replied with an enigmatic “Shhhhh!”