Monday, March 31, 2008

Travel networking site

A common thread on the stagecraft mailing list is announcements regarding where people are traveling and on tour too (as well as food in those locations). I had remembered hearing about a site that allowed people to create networks similar to Linkedin or Facebook that revolved around traveling. If you put in where you were normally, and your trips, you could see who was coming to where you were, and who would be in the city that you were traveling too.

I think this is an interesting idea- it could be great for business, but also good with meeting up with friends who travel alot.

One site that does this is:
The link goes to their intro tour.


I often find anedontal bits about theatre interesting, and the more historical the better - so the opening to the following caught my eye:

From The Times
March 28, 2008
God of Carnage falls prey to theatrical gremlins
The production isn't the first to have an opening-night nightmare
Michael Simkins
According to theatrical legend, the shortest run in showbiz history was The Lady of Lyons in 1838. The curtain got stuck on the opening night, the audience went home and that was it.
I offer this historical titbit as comfort to the cast of God of Carnage, whose opening night on Tuesday was nearly ruined when a workman in a nearby side street severed power cables, plunging the theatre into darkness. At least they were in modern dress: I was once caught onstage during a power failure, and as the show was Mamma Mia! I had to grope my way into the wings in platform heels and a gold Lurex codpiece.

First nights are ghastly ordeals for actors. A recent study indicates that the stress endured is equivalent to being involved in a minor car crash, and that's without the intervention of the utilities. Everybody there is willing you to succeed or fail, and the only reaction from the darkness of the auditorium (or as the actor David Haig perfectly describes it, “the abyss”) is the forced laughter of friends and family or the equally deafening silence from critics and bitter rivals.

And if things are going to go wrong, they'll do so then, when everyone is shot through with adrenalin and the only expression is a collective rictus grin. Recent first-night gremlins have included a rogue sprinkler system drenching the stage before The History Boys, and a recalcitrant revolve at the Adelphi Theatre - ensuring that while Joseph may have had his dreamcoat, he had to manage without his troupe of Ishmaelites, who were supposed to ride on but were marooned in the wings.

Perhaps a hardhat and Day-Glo jacket should be the thesp's accepted attire, not doublet and hose. Walls descend without warning, doors jam and Cinderella's ponies pulling her golden carriage panic, defecate and bolt towards the orchestra pit.

No, what really matters is how the beleaguered actor deals with such crises. During a production of The Scarlet Pimpernel in which I appeared the guillotine that was meant to be severing the noblemen's heads jammed halfway through its descent, causing the executioner to improvise with a nearby sword. So horrifically successful was his resultant mime that three members of the audience fainted, an ordeal that continued for one punter when a St John ambulance man tried to revive her with a glass of tomato juice from the bar.

But perhaps the best example of the ways in which actors deal with alarums and excursions is from the 1996 NT's staging of Ibsen's John Gabriel Borkman (pictured). One ravishing visual moment, a gentle descent of snowflakes on to the main characters, had to be aborted when the snow machine broke down, and a tremulous stage manager was dispatched to break the news to the three principal actors: a Vanessa Redgrave, Eileen Atkins and the late, lamented Paul Scofield.

While Miss Redgravewas said to have responded in the best traditions of the Blitz by suggesting that tiny pieces of paper be torn up by stagehands secreted in the flies, Miss Atkins allegedly confined her reaction to a coruscating critique of stage machinery and its chronic unreliability in general. Eventually the stage manager reached Scofield's dressing room. the latter's four-word response was as poetic as it was damning. “No snow? No Sco...”

Thursday, March 27, 2008

Design in 5 ingrediants or less

As I have mentioned here before. I like Top Chef. The new season takes place in Chicago which is fun. I was reading Tom’s blog about the episode last week (where they were limited to only 5 ingredients) and thought that it was an interesting connection to theatre. Basically, his premise is that immature cooks will use a multiude of flavors and ingredients to cover up sub-par cooking.

“It’s very tempting for cooks (especially here, in a competition setting) to want to dazzle us by loading the plate with numerous ingredients and a complicated presentation, but that can be a sign of immaturity. It takes self-confidence to select just a few great ingredients and cook them in a way that allows their very essence to emerge.”

How is this relevant to theatre? In regards to design, (and perhaps to technical solutions) I think. Special effects, towering scenery, lots of set pieces all relate to a lot of flavor and ingredients. One of the questions I ask when a show is over budget and we need to make adjustments to the scenery to get it into budget is what is the essence of the show and the design. And, it amazes me how many times this question is very hard for the designer to answer – and “it all is”, is not the answer. I think in some ways it’s why good designers can often create fabulous sets when budgets are very limited, and why too much money can be a problem. And why this step in learning is necessary. If nothing else it helps creativity, and helps to boil own what is truly essential for the design for a particular production.

Of course the experience of working with adequate budgets, products, and materials is necessary also.

You can read the blog at:

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Paper lampshades

I saw this today and thought it was interesting:

I could see it being used for props. I have been known to have use for a Chinese lantern every now and then in a show.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

NY Crane Failure

If you have ever read"Why Buildings fall Down" by Matthys Levy and Mario Salvadori you know that discovery through previous failures can be very illuminating. I think the crane incident in NY is true to this idea.

This is a link that has a good illustration on the failure:

one of the thoughts I had on seeing this is that it is a situation where it looks at first like there are multiple points of failure needed (which is true), yet, the failure of one puts the other elements at risk of failure due to the design.

More places to look into things that have failed is by watching Engineering Disasters, and by checking out this blog:

Monday, March 24, 2008

Router bit guides

Toolmonger has a blog post about 2 different types of router bit guides that you can check out:

I think these could be useful in the shop. However, I also wonder if it would be possible, or rather worth the work to create one in house that used common router bits, with common depths. It might not be as slick as a store bought one, but could be handy. It could be made on a per project basis - I have often routed an extra piece when I knew I would need to match it in the future to test the depth on.


I thought this was an interesting post:

I fully agree with the idea that teaching should be relevant to your audience. During my own AutoCAD courses that I taught, a class full of TD's got a different experience than the classes I taught to stage managers.

I also thought the idea of reading lots of articles but retaining the same about of knowledge gained as the person reading half as many articles. I am not sure how true this is, but I can identify with it in some ways. Additionally, I often file away information away for future sources if they aren't relative to what I have going on at the moment. And there are definitely times when I will come back to that. It's one of the reasons that I enjoy writing this blog - it provides a path of sorts of what I have been thinking about, and articles / information that may be useful that I can then backtrack to as new information comes about.

By the way, the site also has alot of good cad info.

USITT Day 2 Take 2

While I was on the topic of John Huntington's show control session, I should have also pointed you towards his blog:

His site also features a variety of articles he has written, and a multitude of show control resources.

ZFX's Go-No Go Gauge

Check out this gauge made by ZFX. I saw it on the show flow, and its pretty useful.

Thinking too hard?

Check out the following article on problem solving:
I think the concept is interesting, and understandable. I will freely admit I that I think too much. Lets take traveling to USITT for instance - I will calculate the best way to go - close hotel, hotel within walking distance, hotel far enough away to need a car or cab. In Phoenix I rented a car, in Houston I got a closer hotel and walked.... But then again, this can be fun for me - and I can save some dough on top of it - which means I can buy more stuff (like books) when I get to USITT.

Yet it is important to understand the "Take the Best" process. This speeds up decision making, and often leads to satisfactory results. Also, I have read that this type of problem solving increases with skill level, and that the accuracy also increases.

Thoughts from USITT

It seemed like a lot of the people I talked to at the conference was interested in getting out of the traditional theatre. The reasons all were very similar, and not surprisingly. They centered on time and money. Student loans are costly, and after all the education (and theatre / entertainment technology is an over-educated field) you need a certain level of job to be able to pay back loans. Every theatre wants an MFA applicant – but no-one wants to pay the necessary salary, particularly for a recent grad. The jobs out there that do pay well enough to live on tend to have people in the position that aren’t going anywhere soon – but, I think in about 10 years there are going to be a wealth of great positions opening up – from all of these people retiring. Theatre used to be a place where you paid your dues, worked for practically nothing and worked your way up. Sure some went to school, and thus tended to enter in a higher position. But then more and more went to school, then you had to get an MFA to distinguish yourself. Soon, the MFA will be only the starting point. And by that point you’ve invested way too much money to take a low paying job. Thus people are looking at commercial scene shops, selling products, cruise ships, and academia so they can pay their loans. The few positions in LORT theatres that pay well they can’t get because they don’t have enough practical experience. They have paid some dues, but not in the places they historically needed to pay dues. So it’s an odd situation.

One of the things it means is that theatre is going to have to pay better to retain the best individuals in the theatre. This is something that I have already seen to a certain extent. And, truthfully, I have been able to make a decent living in theatre. Even in some of the smaller places I have worked, because often perks such as subsidized housing leave money in my pocket that wouldn’t have been otherwise. But, on the flip side, is the fact that there will always be people who are motivated by the art, who believe that the lack of pay is okay, and that are willing to make the sacrifice to pay their dues. So when you have 1 person who won’t work for x amount of money, you still have someone else who will –albeit, probably less qualified. But that also goes back to the point that every TD doesn’t have to have an MFA.

One of the things I wonder is what happens in the long run. The commercial theatre will support a lesser qualified individual in some places (selling gaff tape perhaps), and highly skilled people (creating new technology), but not the amount of people that come out. However, in 10 years, when some of the more sought out positions may open up due to people retiring (you do have to watch, the great positions open up at odd times) who will fill them – people entrenched in the current theatre scene or people who come out of the commercial scene. I could see where the people in commercial theatre may come back to enter into some of these positions – and I think it would be interesting to see what happens. Because when / if that happens, theatres will change to reflect a more commercial environment. Yet, the real problem is – how does this effect art. I have seen great art where loads of money was spent and salaries where high, and I have seen crap at the same spending level. The same can be said in the reverse. Though, this is probably a topic for a different entry!


A cool group to belong to is Free Cycle -

The basic gist is that you can give away practically anything - or in turn get just about anything for free. It can be great for props. But it's also nice to get rid of useful stuff without filling a landfill.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good can be enough

I just read an article on Life Hacker. I often forget how many good articles are produced on that site. You can read the one I just read at:

Basically, the article aims to show that perfectionism isn't helpful, as the end result will not be perfect. Past a certain point increased effort leads to lessor and lessor gains. I can relate this to grad school- it wasn't enough to get an A on a test, I had to have a 100% (or more if there was extra credit available). While grad school isn't a critical situation, and putting in another hour or so of study couldn't hurt, there are many other situations where those extra hours of effort don't necessarily translate into a better product. But it can contribute to other unintended consequences (like lack of time on another project). At any rate I thought it was an interesting read.

USITT - The Pictures

Pic of the Design Exhibit

View from the top of the PQ 07 exhibit and towards the expo floor

Set Design by Donald Oenslager for Tristan Und Isolde from the Tobin Collection
Set Design by Norman Bel Geddes for AIDA from the Tobin Collection

Set design by Jo Mielziner for A Tree Grows in Brooklyn from the Tobin Collection

Model for Pericles designed by Daniel Ostling, presented as part of the PQ '07 exhibit

Another shot of the PQ '07 exhibit

The Conference Center

Design by Tony Straiges "Marquette for Boys Bathing Unit in Sunday in the Park with George. Part of the Tobin Collection

Model for Wicked designed by Eugene Lee. Part of the PQ '07 exhibit.


Sensors and Encoders
This was a good session presented in part by Loren Schreiber which covered the various types of encoders and sensors. The bulk of the time was spent on encoders. And he gave away good swag – booklets called BEI Industial Encoders for Dummies.

The last session for me was Scene Shop Structures: Commercial, Regional, Educational, with David Boevers, Joel Krause, Shannon Nickerson, and myself. David Boevers has the power point of his slides online on his blog, which you can check out here:

The session was interesting. While there was a comparioson done about how the traditional lort structure is, the opera structure where the TD is over props and paint, and then the commercial structure. The rest of the session was about CMU’s “crazy scheme” where they adapted to a commercial structure in their educational setting. It was interesting, and it made me wonder if such an experiment would be good on a larger scale. For instance, handling multiple projects in the “real world” is very common, yet academically, you may not always be in a position to handle multiple theatre assignments, or when you do they are in different positions or departments.


Simple Machines
This session went over the various simple machines – levers, pulleys, wheels and axels, and the wedge. The session coupled first presenters with more experienced panelist which created a good opportunity for students to get involved.
Each pair demonstrated how the simple machines worked, provided a few examples and the math involved.

ETCP Rigging Certification Information Session. This session discussed who the certification was aimed toward (the top third), and how to apply. They also took audience questions.

Postering Session. Here 4 different individuals presented “posters” regarding information they had been researching. One was about the plastic PETG – PolyEthelene Terephtalate Glygol, Copolyester sold under the brand names Vivak and Spectar. It’s available in .20 to .236” thick sheets and runs about $34.00 for 1/16” thick sheet. The samples passed out were pretty durable. The cool thing about this plastic was that it could be used for vacuum-form.
Another topic was presented by C. Randell Newton about the Physics of Water regarding creating pools on stage.
The third was presented by Heather Hillhouse-Deans which was about simple projects for teaching Lathe work.
The forth was about TTR – Technical training on the Road. This is a 4 hour workshop that can be taken to colleges and high schools. It comes in two varieties- a pneumatics and a motors and drives workshop. It sounds like a great program and will allow a variety of people to work with valves and motors and cylinders and such without having the equipment on hand, or under the pressure of a production. Secondly, I think it’s a great way to create a learning environment. It reminds me of a portable station like can be found here:
I really believe that innovative classroom hands-on learning is necessary for learning automation in particular, and helpful for classes such as rigging.


First, I apologize for the multiple postings. The hotels wireless network, and my laptop didn’t play nicely together. Hence, I am now posting the remaining posts.

The Expo opened today, and the floor was hoping. Lots of good books have come out, that are being offered – Heads and Tales by Bill Sapsis, the new version of John Huntington’s Show control book. They have the new automation book, as well as the normal offerings.

Integrating Show Control into your system was the first session I went to today, presented by John Huntington. It was a good session. I thought the session was very though and well presented. One of the things he said a couple times, and true in many more ways than just show control was if you can’t afford to do it right / safely, then you can’t afford to do it at all. He had a bit on value engineering that I thought was interesting. It is true that after deductions, somehow most designers still assume they get the fully functionality and ease of operation after cuts. I have never been quite sure how they that occurs, but I have been a victim of it – I’ll admit. At any rate, I enjoyed the session.

Next was the Physics of Rigging, presented by Eric C Martell and Verda Beth Martell. It too was very well presented. They started with a simple situation (a bowling ball hung from a cable / rope and showed the forces mathematically. They also demonstrated this with load cells. They moved on to moving forces, then multiple points and bridles. For more information about the information they presented you can check go here:

I ended the sessions today with the Technical Production Commission reception. It’s always great to put faces to names – people on the stagecraft list, people who design this or that from the tech expo and such. It’s also interesting see all of the commissions and a bit of the inner workings of USITT. It’s an avenue that I would like to get more involved in, myself.

Thursday, March 20, 2008


I arrived in Houston today for the first day of USITT. The flight was good – the weather was good (for once I am glad I didn’t try to come a day early. Took in a view sessions, and ran into a lot of people – which is always one of my favorite things about coming here. Thought I would take a few minutes and write down a little about the seminars today.

Designing and building simple performer flying systems Presented by Dilbert Hall and Johnathan Deull.

The seminar was good for the most part. They present systems I haven’t used before, and variations of ones I am familiar with. I wish for seminars like this one that the power point outlines were made available, as it would be nice to have a copy of the schematics. Though I suppose, that publication creates a risk (presenting does as well of course). He covered straight lifts, pendulum swings, interdependent pendulum swings and some tracks. Most drawings showed variations – direct pull, mechanical advantage, and counterweight situations. The danger in a seminar such as this is that I belive it is a little deceiving. First, there is a great debate about whether or not flying effect should be done in house – or if you should bring in a reputable company. Second, calling it simple is deceiving. There are terminations and connections and working load factors and design factors that are important – even vital for the piece to be done safely. As they say – the devil is in the details. Many of these weren’t mentioned or glossed over. And as questions from the audience clearly indicated a low level of rigging proficiency, I wonder if seminars like this increase risks. You know have 60 or so people who just watched how you could simply “safely” rig a performer to fly, and who are in an age range that won’t often question the deeper intricacies of the situation.

Cruise Ship Safety for Technicians and Designers
This was geared mostly to people who were looking to work on a cruise ship. The panel discussed who governs cruise ships (and it is interesting that maintenance is handled by an agency that isn’t theatrical in nature), and what the biggest safety issues are. They talked a little of show control (though the automation control and the rest of the show are on different systems), and automation. They mentioned that all soft goods are flame retardant and tested yearly, and that all scenery must be secured when not in use. I was a little disappointed because I was hoping to learn a little about how they make scenery and props safer for the boats. The rigging on the line sets are tracked in a different manner, automation is used a little different, and stuff like that. I had also wondered if any different scenic materials were needed due to the environment and safety issues. Or if things were built in a different manner – say mostly out of aluminum, for example. While it didn’t answer all of my questions, I did like that it was talking a little about commercial theatre, and that it involved outside people (a rep from the Coast Guard was one of the presenters).

Lifting, Moving, and Stopping: Tools and machines that help.
This was presented by a large panel of people, and was perhaps my favorite of the day. Each person had slides of things they had worked on. There were pancake cyclinder feet, the same with casters, Chris Fretts pads that were in the tech expo last year, and a variety of traps, and effects. A rotating step unit was also nicely done. They also called out pneumatic cable guides – showing one small unit as a project browser. I think these units are very interesting, and think that there could be a lot more uses for the cable guides than what is being seen currently.

Tuesday, March 18, 2008

A blog to check out

I came across the following blog from Carnegie Mellon:

It has some great information. I also like the idea behind it. Having been in grad school not so long ago, a community resource like this could have been nice.

Monday, March 17, 2008


Lighting has become a great area to work with when trying to create a good bang for your buck. Plus, there are a lot of products out there that are simplifying processes that used to be time consuming, costly, and never as effective as desired. Though, admittedly, these new technologies don’t come without a price tag of their own.

The following two links over a product that is a flat sheet material. It can be used on floors, and can be bent as well.

Flexible Led Lighting has gone way beyond rope lights and now can give neon a run for the money. Plus the RGB products look nice. I saw a production of Sweet Charity using these, and it was a nice effect. Below is one link – one example, it should be noted that this effect is available in many places – and in many names.

This site also has a glossary that seems to be a good resource:

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Slanted Spacers

I was looking for some spacers today and ran across these angled spacers at

They also had spacers for pipe:

Seems silly, but I haven't used them before - but they could be handy in a variety of circumstances.

Wednesday, March 5, 2008


I recently read that Sencoa is producing a theatrical chain “rated for overhead lifting”.
You can found more information about it at:

Previous chain was often too thick for normal hardware, however there were several available:

Lastly, it should be noted that “not for overhead lifting” is not defined quite as literally as it sounds. It really refers to being used in a chain hoist and not in the situations that we normally

Tuesday, March 4, 2008


Leafing through a sign magazine during lunch today I came across a product that made me wonder if it would be practical for scenery. Its High Density Urethane. Its works like wood, but is much more durable. And it comes in sheets up to 20" thick! It seemed like it could be a good alternative to foam when durable carved surfaces are needed. It also seemed like it would be a great alternative for outdoor theatre.

You can look at the FAQ at:

Monday, March 3, 2008

Looking Around Corners

I recently just finished reading “Looking Around Corners: The art of problem prevention” by Andrew Dubrin. There were points in the book that I really liked and agreed with. Basically the author aims to provide the reader with some tactics to avoid common pitfalls and problems, as well as teach mechanisms that will enable the reader to learn to avoid potential problems on their own.

A couple of the ideas that I thought were particularly interesting was the use of visualization to both picture both potential problems and solutions. Also the author touched on investigating true causes and not fixing the superficial problems or indicators, which I feel is important. At one point he asks the read to ask why 5 times. Each time you get closer to the root of the problem. He also talks about double loop learning. The problem may be in assumptions that you take for granted, and one must think about what underlies the problem as much as the problem.

For groups they recommend starting the team with 3 actions: sharing who they are, what they have to contribute, what they do outside of work (interests / hobbies), and finally concerns and thoughts about joining the group. I thought this was a fascinating way to put the resistance out front – though I think the answers to the last could be very predictable.

Finally, I thought it was good that they talked of unintended consequences. Sometimes a solution that works creates other problems. Have a sale to raise sales in the first quarter, can affect the sales in the second quarter. Choosing a construction method might be great in the shop and next to impossible to transport…. Thinking through not just the solution, but the potential of future problems is important as well.

All in all it was a decent book. Easy to read, though a little dry at times.