Friday, April 27, 2007

Slightly off-topic, but handy....

As I mentioned in an earlier post it's that time of year - the end of the semester and a flurry of papers that are due. Below are a list of links that make that job somewhat easier, at least in terms of doing the bibliography.
Has a blog and learning / curriculum information. Note that on the blog was a mention of EBSCO putting blog content into their search engines for research. sites from a website cites from an isbn number

I have to say that while the last one only does books, which is a drawback, I LOVE that it uses the ISBN number to pull the information. It minimizes error, and makes it quite fast.

The website of the day

I came across a good site today while I was reading the stagecraft mailing list and surfing the net on related topics. It is:

I found it in a search for information on cnc milling, but they have alot of introductory information on alot of metalworking processes. Unfortunately, you can get into the site through the backdoor via yahoo, but surfing around the site outside of the area you enter in requires a password. On the positive side, membership is economical. 6 a month, 60 a year or 36 for students. If I get a membership, I will keep you posted, or if someone has used the service let me know.

And by the way don't try this at home:

Monday, April 23, 2007

International Bibliography of Theatre

Its been a few days.... between job interviews and the end of the semester, its been a busy couple of weeks. 2 more weeks, and I am not sure I will know what to do with myself.

I have many things on my mind that would be applicable to blog about, however, I don;t have time to do many of my current thoughts justice. So in light of that i thought I would share one of my favorite research resource: The International Bibliography of Theatre. One of these days I will have enough dough to start trying to buy some of these (the only one i have found for sale is for sale for almost 100, which is still about 60% off list....), point being that they are great - but you have to have a decent library.

IBT (its abbreviation) was published from 82-99, and basically is a bibliography of every article and book that was published related to theatre during that year. From TD&T, Yale Tech Briefs, America Theatre and many many more are there. You can reference through articles in several different ways. And, it isn't just American research - it includes Germany, Russian, Sweden, France, England...... There are some interesting articles about technical direction listed from Germany and Sweden.... Unfortunately I don't know either of those languages, and my french is way too rusty to try translating something as specialized as technical theatre terms.

Anyway, if you need some info, and don't know where to look, find a library that has the IBT and take a look, there's some good stuff inside.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Klockit Magazine

One of my favorite catalogues is Klockit
As the name suggests, most of its inventory revolves around clocks in many different styles, they do have other merchandise. They have a good selection of specialty wood working books, as well as project pieces (hinges, wooden accents, coatings) that I have often found useful. Best yet, they are always great to work with.

Saturday, April 14, 2007

Vannillacryl / foam coats

Add Vanillacryl to your list of products that coat foam. Its in the same price range as more typical products, but it seems to be marketed towards the special effects / haunted house crowd as opposed to the theatrical industry. (By the way, the haunted house industry and model railroad industry often produce some great products that are very useful for theatrical purposes). You can find more information about this product at

A few notes: Its water based, weather resistant, you can mix texture into the product, and it may be thinned slightly. It doesn't achieve maximum hardness for several weeks, though it can be painted prior to that.

It would be interesting to do some side by side tests on the various coating products and various foams. Of course then the next step would be to have a wear test for them to see how they hold up after a month of use.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Graph Paper

When I budget a show, I sketch out each element as I budget it. I do this for several reasons. First, it helps to make sure that I have thought through the element. It gives me a preliminary idea of a construction method, and it is easier to budget once it is broken down into pieces. I am currently using a modified version of the Cornell note taking paper layout. I have a large area where I sketch, a column down the side for materials, and a space at the bottom for construction notes.

The links above offer a plethora of pdf's for every type of graph or specialty paper that i could ever imagine using. Some of the sites even allow customization for colors and sizes.

The Cornell note taking system by the way is pretty interesting. And while it is meant for classroom note taking, the ideas of using questions, key points and short summaries would be useful for production meetings as well.

Ghost Lights

One things that all TD's will agree about is that safety is a huge priority. One element of running a safe theatre is making sure that the theatre is safe when it is dark, and everyone (or most everyone) has gone home for the night. I am not sure (but would be interested in hearing) about where the origin of the ghost light came from. Regardless, making sure that the theatre space has light is a good idea. Between changes in the space from one show to the next and the assorted dangers of a set (lefts, open pits, ...) a little light wont hurt. Especially when the person coming onstage could be unfamiliar with the current set up. I have also seen about as many types of ghost lights as I have seen theatres. One of my favorites though is the Wobble Light as in weebles wobble but they don't fall down.... Durable, fun, and safe. Those aren't words you can always combine so easily.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Plyron & Other Specialty Sheet Goods

Plyron is an exterior grade plywood that has a hardboard surface. You can also buy it in a tempered condition. Despite it's costs it works well for stage decks, particularly since you can lay one floor. One theatre I worked at made its own with a sheet of plywood (I think they used 3/4" cdx) glued between 2 (one on top and one on bottom) sheets of masonite.

Load span tables are available at:

Another Simpson Product is Skidgaurd. While I have not used it, I would be curious about the theatrical use of the product, particularly on rakes, or where masonites slippery surface is a problem. The surface would not have the same finished edge of course, but the safety factor would make it a worthwhile material to test. More information on that can be found at:

Another nontheatrical sheet product is Arborite. It has a high strength to weight ratio, and has good electrical and mechanical properties. A PDF describing its qualities is available at:

Troubleshooting Today

A few years back when I was still running 2002 on my laptop, everyday when I opened AutoCAD I received the following error:

Troubleshooting Today

A problem has been detected in Today.
Choose one of the following options to fix the problem:

Analyze Today
Use the Diagnostics tool at Point A to help you fix the problem. If you do not have Internet access, use the offline diagnostics tool.

Restore Today
If you can't fix the problem with the diagnostics tool, restore Today to its default settings.

Get Product Support
If you can;t fix the problem using Analyze Today or Restore Today, visit our product support web site. You may need a detailed error message.

If none of these options works, turn off Today. Then try turning on Today at a later date to see if your problem has been fixed.

Monday, April 9, 2007

A Collection of List Serves

The above list offers a large collection of list serves related to theatre. The stagecraft list is included, as is French language, and German language lists, theatre sound, and historical lists. While lists always tend to vary in culture and frequency of posting, I have always enjoyed both the ability to learn from others, and to talk to such a wide array of fellow theatre people through lists.

Thursday, April 5, 2007

I have been browsing alot of project management websites and blogs, hence alot of these new ideas lately. is one of those sites that you can't believe you haven't already seen it, it makes so much sense. Cell phone services was one of the hottest topics in my entrepreneurial boot camp class because the rate of cell phone users are so high, and still growing. And this service complements that trend well.

Basically what Jott does is that you call jott (after you have registered of course) and you talk into your cell phone and it transcribes what you say and emails it to you, essentially not just working as a voice recorder, but delivering it to your inbox. But, there's more.... you can use it to write blogs, or send messages to other people on your team. Even better, its a free service. You just need to deal with your regular cell phone usage fees.

While I don't see myself quite jumping on this bandwagon (I'm am not nearly as much as a cell phone junkie as many others I know), I can easily see how this could be a popular service.

For a little bit of fun...

The site of the day is for ToonDoo
The site (registering is necessary but painless) allows you to make 1-3 pane comic strips that you can then share or blog. self contained within the site is a variety of figures (humans, bears, stick figures, and such), a variety of backgrounds, balloons, and props. You can even upload graphics.

What does this have to do with Technical Direction or stagecraft? I think it connect in several ways. First, humor in any form is just plain necessary. Secondly, I could easily see custom made comic strips to remind people to do things in the shop.... Like wash their brushes out, or turning off the lights, etc. Places where you could perhaps need a sign posted, but using humor would be better than the alternative. Third, I think the role of story-boarding in drafting is something that will become more useful as a technique. This technique to me is more or less the theatre version of sauder's how to build you desk kit. Useful for stock components or standard set pieces, a story board would walk someone through each step of build or assembly for an item. Perhaps, if well crafted, these comic strips could be used for that, or for notes on plates.

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

Drafting Standards

In theatrical drafting standards are not nearly as developed as for architectural drafting. Furthermore, the advance of CAD drafting, other visualization software and the different uses for the end product all make the development of a standard difficult.

My stance on drafting, whether it be design plates, shop drawings or anything else, is that it is a form of communication. Thus using the perfect line weight is not as important as communicating what you wish with what you have drawn. The other side of the coin is that using correct line types have communication value, so it is important to know what is commonly expected.

Since I teach drafting, many of these thoughts have been swirling around in my head. So these are the things that I think it is important to think about while you are drafting (though I am sure this will be a partial list).

How will the result be used? Will you have the user a series of plotted pages? Will they receive the file? Will they be transferring your drawing into a machine such as a CNC Router? If they are using the file in addition to the plotted pages, what are they using the file for? Are there things on your plate that could be better laid out, or in more detail so that they can see it on the plate. I consider my self in ways to be a "file" drafter, meaning that I want my plates to be nice and clean and complete, but I also want my end file to be clean and complete. Yet, it still makes me a little nervous when people reference a file over a plate. I think there is more of a chance for an error to be made. I would rather someone come and ask me a question about a plate than try to look it up in the drawings. On the other hand, using the file can be an easy reference for dimensions when a dimension was dropped from the plate. Yet, there could be a reason for the dropped dimensions. there are objects in which there are multiple ways to lay them out (a funky platform lid for example). Depending on how the unit is drawn out depends on the measurements: it could be drawn by using arcs, it could be drawn my plotting points, or by using degrees. By controlling the information you can control the way something is constructed. There is a fine line between two much information, and not enough. The second danger that you face is the lack of engagement of the carpenter. I believe in running a shop where the carpenters are engaged and involved in the work, not in button pushers. I want a carpenter to be able to notice when something doesn't seem right. I feel they should know some of the big picture, and be able to participate. While I think TD's should have hand's on experience, a carpenter who spends all day, every day on the floor may have a method of constructing something that is more efficient than the TD's simply cause they do it day in and day out. In this case it is the TD's responsibility to manage the most effect method of construction versus the overall project. Sometimes a cut corner saves alot of time and money, sometimes it does it at a cost to the production values. But if the drafting disengages the carpenters, I think the shop loses all the way around.

The next is also related; how should the plate be laid out? This depends on how it is being used obviously. I think 1 plate should be inclusive as much as possible. I like to reference other plates in the series or the designer plates. I grew up in the camp that technical drafting was done in 1" scale or larger, and design drafting was done in 1/2" scale. I personally don't feel like most objects drafted in 1/2" scale for building conveys enough information unless it is a very simply object (a standard flat for instance). Also, If 1 plate = 1 object or 1 unit then 1 person deals with the plate. if you draft small, and put lots of things to build one 1 plate you either have to plot multiple copies or the plot gets divided between 2 people. I believe that if the shop is tearing your drafting into sections, then you should probably look at the way you layout your plates, or switch to a different sheet size. And as far as that goes, I have worked in shops where 8.5x11 or 11x17 sheets were used very effectively. Bigger isn't always better.

At any rate, the other thing I wanted to mention was a website that has some standards related to CAD (USITT also has a published set of basic standards). The link is:
It provides links to the Canadian division of USITT and an English version, as well as information about drafting within the site posted as well.

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Free AutoDesk Software

AutoDesk has decided to make some of their software available to educators for free. You do have to sign up for the service however. The link to the site is
You do need to have a school issued email address.

once you are registered you can download software (not AutoCAD itself), exchange files, and talk to other users. There is information for faculty as well as students. Curriculum information and forums are available as well.

College Learning Courses

If you have been interested in learning a new skill or developing skills that you have but don;t have the time to take an official course you should check out MIT's open courseware at:

What you will find there is a large number of programs (non-profit management, theatre, Architecture, engineering and so forth) that each have a good amount of courses that you can download and use. For each course, when you choose one you see a highlights page. You can then go to the syllabus, the readings, calendar, or you can download all of the course. However, some of the files will link back to the MIT site if they are video related.

There is alot of great information if you browse through the site. There are some engineering classes that have interactive programs for examining loading conditions that is useful for structural design for the stage. There is information on intellectual property, basic stagecraft, and a hole host of other information. To get the most out of it, you should look at all of the departments, as there are gems in some of the classes that aren't "just" theatre.

Monday, April 2, 2007

More Choices for Curved Scenery

Neat Concepts has some nice lumber products very useful for theatrical uses. Their Website is The site has alot of information, and downloadable brochures on their products. While I have not used their products the Neatform and the neatflex seem to be good, if not better products than traditional bending luaun (bendy board / wacky wood...) that we often use. The surface would also be better as it would be MDF as opposed to plywood. And, this material will bend into a tight radius than other types. The only drawback I could see would be price. I haven't had the need in the past couple shows to purchase Bending Luaun, so I have not yet compared prices.

The neatmatch and neatrout materials are also worth checking out.

Sunday, April 1, 2007

Non-Profit Financial Resource

Guidestar has been a site that I have come back to multiple times in the past couple years. Every non-profit must fill out a 990 tax form. At Guidestar (you must register but it is free) you can search for any non-profit company and look at its 990 form.

While there is obviously large amounts of useful information for art administration jobs and theatre managers, why is this useful to TD's? There are several reasons. First, the forms includes some salary information, which can be helpful if you are looking for a new position, or to provide insight into your own organization. Secondly, I thought it was interesting to compare my theatre company with others that I was associated it with. It is also an interesting check, as the financial side of a company looks very different sometimes from the financial paperwork. And, lastly, since multiple 990 forms are on the site you can look at trends (are they gaining or losing money, are salaries going up....)

IATSE Resource

Mick Anderson has a great site at
It is for IATSE Loca 470, but the information within the document is a good resource. The site is very true to the title "Stagehand Primer", with a very diverse amount of information. While many items are geared towards newer technicians, the rigging section is a useful reference for those that do not work with chain hoists very often. It is also a useful look into the structure of IATSE for those that do not often work with the union.