Creative Conners develops technology that takes center stage

SETTING THE STAGE: Creative Conners Inc. Operations Manager Brian Belfer works on a project at the company’s Warren facility. The company specializes in manufacturing controls and chain hoists to aid in moving set pieces for theater productions. / PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY
SETTING THE STAGE: Creative Conners Inc. Operations Manager Brian Belfer works on a project at the company’s Warren facility. The company specializes in manufacturing controls and chain hoists to aid in moving set pieces for theater productions. / PBN PHOTO/RUPERT WHITELEY

PBN MANUFACTURING AWARDS 2020 | Product Innovation & Design: Creative Conners Inc.

IF YOU’VE SEEN recent plays or concerts involving set pieces as an integral part of the show, you’ve witnessed the ingenuity and enterprise that built Creative Conners Inc.’s perpetual reputation for creative innovation.

The company’s genesis was the engineering solution that founder and President Gareth Conner employed to soup up a common piece of theater machinery: the chain hoist. The simple chain-and-motor hoists, roughly microwave-sized, are commonly used to move set pieces, raise screens, or lower platforms during shows, said Peter Veal, Creative Conners’ head of business development.

Conner added electronic controls to them, allowing stagehands to fine-tune the movement of various set elements within inches, he said. The upgrade to the usual setup allowed hoists to not only move set pieces and performers into place but to also move around during the performances – in essence, becoming part of the show.

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Conner’s solution enables LED walls and scenery panels to move with performers and help them tell the story in their shows.

The innovation was largely marketed to theaters and colleges, and smaller venues and productions, and that worked well for the company for years, Veal said.

In 2017, Conner said, he attended the Goldman Sachs 10,000 Small Businesses program at the Community College of Rhode Island, which helps entrepreneurs by improving access to education, capital and business support. He started thinking about new opportunities and markets for his business.

“In 2019, we decided to compete with some of the bigger competitors in the field,” Veal said.

It seemed the electronic controls the company had been selling to smaller venues and shows were in demand on bigger stages.

Creative Conners then started seeking and producing more-complicated automation for big-venue concerts and shows. The company built hydraulic lifts to raise Eminem and Rihanna during their performances in 2015, tracking LED screens for The Eagles, elevators and hoists to launch consumer products, and turntable machinery for Broadway and hundreds of other theaters in North America, China and South Korea.

When John Legend performed his new single, “Preach,” live at “The Voice” Cross Battles in April 2019, Creative Conners’ electronic controls were behind the scenes moving a curtain of LED lights to reveal the performer. The panels had to move precisely and smoothly.

“Our smart-chain hoist was able to do it,” Veal said.

However, don’t try to spot the hoists while watching the performance on YouTube. You’re only going to see what they were moving.

“They’re not meant to be seen. They hold up the pretty part of the show,” Veal said.

By comparison, he said, the regular hoist used for this work gets the job done, “but it is rough around the edges.”

If a show needs a set piece or a screen to rise 32.75 feet, Creative Conners’ software and controls can move it there.

“And it can land on that spot exactly,” Veal said.

“We’ve transformed it into more of a creative tool,” Conner said. “So, you can weave the motion into part of the show. Your microphone stand can ascend into the heavens above as part of your big finale.”

Conner said the company is currently sought by performers and artists looking for a way to work the movement into their shows.

“There has to be a visual impact with the performance,” Conner said.

More frequently these days, he said, Creative Conners is seeing more customers come to them for custom solutions to work into performances.

“We’re now integrating custom controls,” Conner said. “They basically want to tell us what the end product is going to be, and we design control parts to guide all of that together.”

When Creative Conners develops a solution, it will add it to its catalog, which in turn inspires new ideas among the company’s potential clients. Then the process repeats.

Because of the company’s blend of high-tech expertise, user-centric design and keen intuition for developing product ideas from customer needs, Creative Conners’ revenues grew 2.7 times in the past three years, creating 11 new jobs in the same time period.


CREATIVE CONNERS INC. founder and President Gareth Conner said the company responded to a 98% COVID-19 pandemic-related drop in business by pitching in personal protective equipment and pivoting to marketing “Off The Shelf,” their in-house inventory tracking software, to fellow manufacturers.

Business began to dry up in late January, Conner said, and eventually all their customers in live entertainment closed. Using a U.S. Small Business Administration Paycheck Protection Program loan, he kept staff working to improve the operation so they’re ready when live events return.

Meanwhile, they used their laser-cutting capacity to cut fabric for Rhody PPE – the organization coordinates volunteer stitchers to sew the pieces into masks.

“We cut pieces for just under 1,000 masks. A drop in the bucket for sure, but a way to help,” Conner said.

Creative Conners is readying Off The Shelf for public release. The software streamlines manufacturing by tracking component inventory, sales and purchasing, Conner said.

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