With our employee population growing, stories of the “good old days” unfortunately often get buried. There are, as I’m sure you can imagine, some amazing people at ETC who started out exactly where you are – backstage, touring, and designing. They have since turned in their backstage passes for the 9-5 life. And, on a selfish note, we’re sure glad they did. One of those people is our very own Outreach and Training Specialist, Tom Littrell.
RF: Where did your career begin?
TL: I was born in, and grew up in Wichita Falls, Texas. After high school, I was pretty unfocused – a state I’ve remained in for the rest of my life. But some aptitude testing said that radio/television might be a good career path. Since I went to school at Stephen F. Austin State University in Nacogdoches, Texas, and not a school with a radio/TV department, I began as a theater major. Technical theater and I got along quite well, and I graduated in 1970.
RF: But your career was put on a temporary hold…
TL: Yes. I was immediately drafted into the US Army. That’s where I spent the next three years – mostly in Monterey, California, and Germany. It was a relatively good experience. After the Army, I went back to graduate school in technical theater. During that time, a friend’s cousin worked for a company in Dallas called Showco. They provided large-scale lighting and sound systems to rock tours. I was bored with graduate school and Showco offered me a gig, so I dropped out of school intending to do a tour or two and then go back and finish the degree.
RF: It’s never just “a tour or two,” is it?
TL: No. I did a tour or two and was ready to go back to school until I was offered a lighting technician gig on Paul McCartney’s Wings over America 1976 tour. That tour…uh…set the hook, and I stayed at Showco for another four years. I toured with Led Zeppelin, The Who, Genesis, Linda Ronstadt, and others.
I got bored (again) in 1980 and was ready to go back to school when the Showco engineering types came up with the first modern-day moving lights. They were automated lighting fixtures called Vari-Lites. They asked if I’d help with that project so I delayed going back to graduate school one more time.
RF: You were part of the first moving light development team? That’s quite impressive!
TL: I was lucky to be in the same room when some brilliant engineers came up with the idea. It was 1981 and instead of grad school, I went on the road with Genesis and the first Vari-Lite system. I programmed the moving lights and operated the console for the tour, including their first show in Barcelona, Spain.
I continued to work at the Vari-Lite company for the next twenty years and continued to tour with Genesis. Additional tours also included David Bowie, ZZ Top, Hall and Oates, Don Henley, and a handful of corporate and event clients. Eventually I trained other programmers and did technical product management and marketing.
In 1992 I married Stacy and this year we’ll celebrate our 25th anniversary.
In 2002, Showco/Vari-Lite was sold and I was laid off. By this time, ETC was already well-known as a great company. Anne Valentino, ETC’s current senior product manager for controls, introduced me to ETC’s CEO, Fred Foster, at an LDI tradeshow a few years earlier. The Vari-Lite booth was usually close to the ETC booth so I met Sarah Spencer Danke, Laura Hoepker, and many other great ETC folks.
I immediately called friends at ETC and they happily offered me a job. Stacy and I were more than okay with the idea of coming to ETC so, in 2003 I accepted and in 2004 we moved to Madison, WI.
Stacy and I love Madison – but we could do without the winters. Luckily, my son Jon, from a first marriage, lives in Scotts Bluff, Nebraska and Stacy’s daughter Megon lives in Boca Raton Florida – so that’s a plus. Both kids are great.
As for the future, we will probably stay in Madison and do more traveling in the winter months.
RF: What about that graduate degree?
TL: I never got it… maybe I should go back to school.