Bentley Meeker, Bentley Meeker Lighting & Staging
1. Where were you born?
2. How did you get involved in the crazy world of lighting & staging events?
I started off working for a phenomenal photographer called Peter Vaeth, who lived across the hall from my Dad, when I was 14 years old. $15/day. My next job was loading trucks for a rock and roll lighting company in Queens in the mid 1980's. Big improvement financially, up $5/hr. That was followed by a multi year stint as a house lighting tech @ the Palladium, back when Steve and Ian were running it.
At the Palladium, we, the house crew, were working with and setting up shows with many artists who were regulars including Warhol, Haring and Basquiat, along with many others. Doing those late night shows in the Michael Todd Room and on the main stage, (I know a lot of you were there...) I learned an incredible amount about lighting and light as a medium rather than as functional visibility.
Concurrently, I also had a very short lived career in lighting for film & television, which ended for good with a Writers' Guild strike in 1988. Luckily, however, right around that time I met Preston Bailey. With everything I'd been learning in both clubs, rock & roll and film, along with Preston's profile and backing, even 25 years ago, it was a natural leap into the event world. I loved it and still love it, so I've never looked back.
3. What was the moment when you said – ‘Wow, I really made it’?
Hands down - Melissa Rivers' Wedding at the Plaza in 1997, with, of course, Preston again. Melissa's Mom, Joan has a very, very strong voice, and she shouted how awesome that wedding was it from the proverbial, and actual, rooftops which, in NYC, are pretty high up there. The ceremony was an incredible melange of white birch and blue light. It remains to this day one of my greatest collaborations and events. The photographs went viral long before there even was a viral. Demand for our services increased exponentially immediately following and we've been fortunate enough to be able to contimuously build from there.
4. What do you love about The Plaza & our collaboration with Bentley Meeker Lighting & Staging?
I love, first of all, how legendary the place is. There are a lot of Plaza ______'s, but there is one Plaza. Period. The Plaza is one of the most famous places on earth, and also, in my opinion, one of the most beautiful, at least in terms of manmade places.
I also really, really like the diversity of events. The rooms lend themselves to so many different types of parties, conferences, weddings and galas and that diversity keeps it interesting. It's new every day, yet so familial and familiar.
Controlling the video and audio as well as the lighting gives us the ability to blend all 3 disciplines into a designed environment. So often at events that I attend, the video will blast white light into the room demolishing a finely crafted lighting and decor environment. With our having total control of those elements, we can modify as needed to have the sensibility be right and the room feel good.
But (and you knew this was coming) I really love you guys, Rob. I feel like there's a real partnership between our Plaza teams that make it one cohesive Plaza team. That more than anything has me loving our collaboration with CPS & the Plaza.
5. What is the most exciting event that you have done to date?
We just did the African Summit dinner @ the White House with Susan Holland. That was pretty exciting. We also did the German State Dinner awhile back that we did with Rafanelli, also @ the White House.
Eddie Murphy's wedding, that of Catherine Zeta Jones and Michael Douglas, both @ Plaza and designed by Anthony Ferraz and David Beahm respectively, were amazing. Bob and Grace DeNiro's wedding @ their house in New Paltz designed by DeJuan Stroud and planned by Ted Kruckel was a real treat, but probably the most fun one of all, and also one of my absolute favorite clients, was Chelsea Clinton's wedding to Marc Mezvinsky at Astor Courts, a mind bogglingly beautiful event in a mind bogglingly beautiful house in Rhinebeck. That also was done by Bryan Rafanelli.
Lastly, putting up the H in Harlem, my first large scale public works art sculpture, was a real undertaking. It ultimately proved to be an exhilarating experience, but dealing with the City was a long, tough process. Check it out: www.thehinharlem.com
6. What are your three golden keys to executing the perfect event?
1. It's super important to understand the objective of the party thrower. Is it fun, is it about communication, marketing, fundraising, blowing off steam, launching a product or film? This information helps us better understand our role in helping them achieve their overall objective.
2. We need to understand the creative objectives of the client. If we know how they want it to look, and more importantly, how they want it to feel, then we can, especially with the lighting, really play with the intangibles. That has a very large role in pushing the process forward.
3. The best of a plethora of things that I ever learned from Colin Cowie: Timing is everything and it's free. Timing is the difference between real momentum and a fun time at an event vs. an event that drags on and on... And on. Keeping us completely in the loop on objectives as it relates to timing enables us to participate in making the event seamless and to keep the momentum. Very important - thank you Colin.
7. If you could have dinner with three people tonight, who would they be?
For the convenience of my guests, we'll stay in Midtown. Best way to knock out all 3 dinners in one night. I'll work out twice and not eat all day prior.
6PM - Ronald Reagan for a green salad @ Peacock Alley. I would love to see if the world today is the one he intended for his policies to create, or if there were a spate of unintended consequences that have altered his vision into what the we live in now. Were he and his staffers aware of what digital would become and how it would transform everything? Would he consider himself (posthumously) hawkish is history proving him to be the ultimate dove...? So many questions...
7:30 - Reverend Al Sharpton for a quick chicken satay @ the Grand Havana Room. We both love that place. I'm intensely curious to know how he has managed to so effectively harness the hopes and dreams of the actual disenchanted, and the Perceived disenchanted. I'm a Harlem resident and he has his finger on the pulse of that part of the world better than anyone I know. If Reagan was how I would get a global perspective, Sharpton would be my local. I may not agree with everything he does, but he figured something out and I want to know what, how and to what end.
9PM - Jack Welch, former head of General Electric, over a crackling pork shank @ Moloney & Porcelli. If you haven't had it and you eat pork, get it. Today. It is the holy grail of dishes and is already David Burke's lasting legacy.
LED light is taking over the world. While in events it can be annoying to guests to spend prolonged periods in environments crafted with that kind of light, event environments are somewhat transient.
In our homes, however, I firmly believe that LED lighting will be patently dangerous over the long term. Especially over the long term. The difference, I am convinced, is in the spectrum. We, as creatures, need full spectrum light, hence our proclivity towards daylight in all environments.
As GE was and remains a mover of these types of product on a global scale, I'd love to see how he would come up with a marketing plan to create a global appetite for full sprectrum alternatives to "mono spectrum" light sources such as LED and fluorescent, which, anecdotally, have almost identical properties to one another.
8. What do you love about New York?
The best in any market who aspires to play among the best in the world has to come to NY. Culture, arts, media, advertising, high finance, low finance, real estate, restaurants - and on and on. It is a city of absolute superlatives which dominates the landscape in almost every way. Except film & TV, which LA still has. For now...
The energy of the City is so different from anywhere on earth that it makes the most international of cities, even London and Paris look somewhat parochial. And then we still have plenty of grit to go around. Tough, but magical place, New York...
9. Tell us about the process of writing your own book.
Thank you Kim Swink for pulling all the raw materials together and making it happen. I love you!!!
I wrote my book on a BlackBerry and holed up for 3 months to do it. It really forced me to look at my processes, both in how I was approaching the book, how I was approaching lighting as an art and a practice and even how I approach running the company. I had to break down how we were doing an individual project and how we were building the phenomenal team that we are today. The book was a great thing to have, but what I loved most about the entire process is the level of introspection and self examination that it forced me into. Those lessons are still with me today and probably will be for life.
10. Is there an event you haven’t done yet that you are still hoping to do?
Never did a Costume Institute Gala. One of these decades. Anna...?