By April Miller | Photo by McKinley Wiley
“The lighting in each space reinforced the theme while drawing focus to features such as auction items, presenters, and performers,” Maureen Patterson, lead designer and co-owner, says. “We partnered with NAC Technologies to handle the sound needs in each space from general announcements, a turn-of-the-century San Francisco style jazz band, award presentation, and high-energy DJ. ArtCares is not only a gala supporting a great cause but also one of the liveliest parties in the city.”
You don’t need to host the most dynamic affair to benefit from the power of lighting. Even the simplest of corporate meetings and events can benefit from a little luminosity. “Lighting creates the world of your event and helps tell your story,” Patterson says. “The proper lighting will pull the focus of your attendees at the appropriate time.”
Patterson and her business partner, Beth Reyes, both have backgrounds in theater and believe that every event—even a meeting—is a show. The two founded Solus Lighting in late 2010. The company is nationally certified as a women’s business enterprise and woman-owned small business. Having spent more than two decades as a theatrical lighting designer and technician, Patterson finds many similarities to the world of stage and her work today.
“Theater is a collaborative art, and collaboration is critical for any event. Producers, directors, designers, stage managers, and many more come together to create a show for the audience. The titles vary in the corporate world, but all the same roles exist,” she says. “Working in theater develops skill sets and reflexes that you truly can’t learn from a book or any other environment, and all of these reflexes translate seamlessly into the world of events.”
The company provides lighting design and production management services for a variety of organizations, including corporations and nonprofits, as well as for social events and weddings. Solus Lighting has worked with TOA Technologies on its open house to showcase the company’s state-of-the-art headquarters in Beachwood; Old Republic for its company holiday party; Bagavagabonds for a beer fest; provided lighting for a concert series at Horseshoe Casino; Hard Rock Rocksino; the Cleveland Museum of Natural History; and many others.
During the 2014 Gay Games 9, Solus Lighting partnered with Oven Productions for the Hot Time in Cleveland, the GG9 All Womyn’s Dance Party. Solus converted the hundred-year-old, gothic Trinity Cathedral in downtown into a festive, rainbow-themed dance club atmosphere.
For each event, Patterson talks with the client and conducts a site survey as well as discusses the goals for the event, before she and her team put a plan in place. “Since we specialize in lighting, we have built relationships with many other specialists in different areas of production — sound, staging, AV. We assemble the right team based on the client’s needs and budget,” she says. “By collaborating with experts in each area of production, no element is an afterthought, which results in the highest-quality product.”
Getting clients to be transparent about their budget is an ongoing challenge. “All aspects of planning run more smoothly,” Patterson says, “by knowing the parameters we need to be mindful of as we begin the process. I’m an incredibly resourceful person. As Gail Palmer, an event planner friend, once said, ‘I have a million dollar imagination, so I need you to ground me in your reality.’”
Another challenge is the winter, when many Northeast Ohio corporations avoid planning large meetings and events. Fortunately, Patterson notes that her clients have events across the globe to help fill the potential seasonal gap.
The novelty of the job — new people, spaces, equipment, challenges — means there is never a boring week. “Our clients host events that run the gamut from posh and formal to casual and relaxed and everywhere in between. One of the most fulfilling areas,” Patterson says, “is reinventing a recurring event so the attendees are engaged and are excited to see what happens next time.”
Turning her passion into a career and being able to do so in her hometown has been particularly rewarding. “You can feel the momentum the city has right now,” she says, “and the energy is palpable.”
In the predominantly male entertainment world, Patterson has found hard work, tenacity, and experience to be undeniable. Taking advantage of local resources and networking opportunities has also been invaluable in running a business.
“SCORE (Service Core Of Retired Executives) is a free service and was instrumental in helping us start up,” she says. “Although not from the entertainment or events world, the mentors we were matched with helped us navigate putting together a business plan, financing options, and marketing strategy. We couldn’t have done it without our SCORE advisers.”
Patterson also encourages women starting out or even contemplating the leap into entrepreneurship to attend National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO) events. No matter what organization you find, she recommends taking the time to really build relationships: “If you join a networking group, you need to get involved. Merely showing up from time to time is no way to build relationships.”
For more information: soluslightingltd.com