Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Library Thing

I have playing around with cataloging my books at work on Library Thing. Its pretty easy to enter books, either by title, author, or ISBN. You can also enter books that aren’t located through searches on the site. You can enter 200 books for free, or spend 25 for a lifetime membership. Since most of my collection resides at home, I thought I would only do my work books to take it for a test run. It does seem like you can import and export (handy if I decided to upload my collection in entirety) as well. You can also share your library with others – my library is here. I also like that you can keep a list on your phone – cause I hate being at a used book store and not being able to remember exactly what I have when I see an interesting book. Lastly, I think its fun to look at your tags - they use a weighted word list, so that the more tags you have in one category the larger the font is for that tag. It makes it easy to see at a glance where your strong and weak points are in your collection.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Exhibit Resources

The following site is a useful resource:
Its called the Great Big Exhibit Resource List, but many of the vendors are useful theatrically as well. I suppose that makes sense as you could look at it as theatre scenery is an exhibit of sorts. They are a variety of fake foods listed, some fake grass places, electrical controls, plus these string pots:

I haven't really used anything line this previously, but it seems cool. What jumps into my head would be tracking something like a line set where there isn't a shaft to use a standard encoder with.

Freelance Blog

I came across a blog that might be of use. Its called freelance Switch, and it has a variety of information aimed at helping people who freelance. I will put the main link with the other blog links on my site, but below are several that I thought were of particular interest.

12 Practical ways for freelance designers to increase Leads talks about various techniques including networking, portfolio, blogging, as well as other methods. I think we sometimes feel that the theatre industry is “different” and real world rules aren’t meant for us. While the article isn’t aimed at our industry, I would argue that all of the techniques could be used to some degree of success.
Art of Email Writing discusses ways to make sure that your emails convey a professional image. The ease of email makes it also easy to not fully develop the content. Lack of body language while speaking and reading can mean that messages can be misinterpreted. Add with all of this the addition of text messages and phone bases email / text messaging systems, and email can get very sloppy. This blog entry gives the readers a few things to keep in mind when working with clients.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008


For a recent project I was quoting I was looking at a product called Lindapter. You can see their site here. They have some cool products that can be used for attaching structural steel pieces to other pieces without damaging the steel. It also means that there is no welding, and that they can be removable. The downside is that they are fairly expensive (50 or more each), and can have a long lead time.

I would think that this would be worth though for critical applications, and would be useful for installing grids.

They also have a product called a hallo-bolt that is used for structural steel. As you tighten the bolt a nut inside the steel expands trapping the bolt securely. While I can see definite uses for this, it is out of the price range for most situations considering the pricing starts at over 10 dollars for a single bolt.

Nevertheless, the types of products they sell gave me some ideas about how I could make some nonstructural connections easily.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Heads & Tales

I recently read “Heads & Tales” by Bill Sapsis (conveniently available here. If you haven’t read this book and you work in a theatre with rigging (or anything else above your head) then you should immediately drop what you are doing and find a copy. The book quickly earned its keep next to the backstage hand book as a must have. Many of the articles are rewritten from HEADS!, some of which are available online, but despite having collected most of these articles, it is still worth the book.

Need more reasons to drag your wallet out and order the book now?
Speak no more –
- The book is well written, easy to understand, and meaningful to us technicians.
- The book is even funny, be careful with taking a drink prior to reading
- Safety is one of the most important aspects of what we do
- The answers to the ETCP rigging exam are all in the book.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Average Salarys

Yahoo linked to a short article talking about the average salary of actors, directors, and writers.

I couple thought I had about the article:

-While is doesn't distinguish, I have the feeling that it is aimed at film / television as opposed to theatre.

-The numbers are, I presume, very distorted by a couple of factors. Some, a few, make very significant incomes. Others, more than a few, make nothing, or very little.

-While they refer to a costume designers job as being unpredictable, an actor's job can be too. Are the hours that they count only working hours?

-The median writer's salary seems low compared to the salary ranges that were surfacing during the writer's strike.

-Who do they consider the crew (the ones doing it for the glory)? Most of the crew are union, and likely, compared to union wages in Chicago, that they are making alot more than 12 an hour.

At any rate it was an interesting article, I just think that you should always think about what you read, because there are alot more details missing than appear.


"George Clooney may earn $20 million per movie, but he's a rarity. Overall, the median wage for actors in the U.S. is less than $12 per hour, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. As for the rest of the crew, they're clearly doing it for the glamour, not the money.

The median wage for a movie or television writer is just $5,000 a year.

A costume designer or makeup artist can earn more than $2,000 a week. But since work comes on a project basis, year-round employment is not guaranteed.

Production assistants typically earn just $8 an hour.

TV show directors can earn upward of $35,000 for a single one-hour episode -- if they hit it big."

Friday, April 11, 2008

Capturing thoughts when reading

I was reading this blog entry about a new way of keeping track of the insights gained while reading, and thought it was great because it was so like me. You can read it here: Novel Ideas I have tried every option listed, and even more (I tried voice recordings as well), but there was always some ways it wasn't effective. I think faster than I write, type, speak. You inevitably have insights when you can't write, type, or don't have a voice recorder. And, even if you manage to catch most of your ideas, good luck organizing that mess! Typed documents could be scanned for context sensitive entries. Voice recorded segments can be transcribed, and written pages could be scanned, but that's way too much work....

Glad to see that he came up with a way that works for him. This blog, my answer to some of those same issues, seems to work well for me. As I write more, I have been pleased that when I am looking for something and I do a search of my blog I can often find the link to what I was looking for! Hopefully this resource has been working out well for you as well.

Blogs Posted

I have added a new section on the right listing blogs. As I find new sites, and link to other's blogs when writing my own - I'll try and link to them on the side as well. Figured it would be better than just creating a blog category in the archive section.

If you have a blog that you think should be included, let me know!

Innovation in the Theatre

Innovation Versus Funding
One of the topics in theatre that I find interesting is how theatres are, and can be innovative. There are two main ways to be innovative, in my mind. The first is to use innovative techniques in production, and the second is to produce innovative works. You can have one without the other, but they do go hand in hand. Theatre scale (Lort A vrs Lort D) difference is another item of interest to me, relates to this issue very closely. It seems to me that the larger the theatre (leading to the conclusion that it is also better funded), leads to a theatre that takes less risks. Programming must not be potentially offensive to the season subscribers or the donors. Mistakes within the productions must be minimized. This leads to an environment where innovation is low. You can’t try new materials or techniques because there is little time (and other resources) to experiment, and to correct issues prior to impacting the show. The result is ironic – where you have the largest scenery budgets, you take less risks. Larger budgets are quickly used up with the larger scenery demands of course, and automation systems are built up. But there isn’t money to experiment with. It almost seems like I have been able to experiment more when working in smaller places - when you don’t have the money to use in the first place. Then you take what resources you do have and create something that will work. Smaller, more flexible, avant-garde venues then seem to impact the following:
Time – there isn’t enough time in any production it seems, but in a small show there is less scenery, meaning that each piece may use a larger piece of the pie. Secondly, as pay is also smaller or nonexistent, it’s more about the desire to create and do than work.
Fear of failure – without as many patron expectations, trying something new doesn’t have as many ramifications if it fails. I remember working on a small show in a LOA theatre about a decade ago where we really wanted a trap. We designed a system, and worked for days to get it to work, but ultimately the show didn’t need to have it, and the show when on without a trap. (The trap was only being used to lift a piece of scenery into place). It was hard to let go for all of the people involved, and looking back to that event, I know I could have made it work if I knew then what I know now. But because of the environment we ‘could’ fail. It didn’t hurt the show, it didn’t hurt the bottom line of the budget, and everyone involved grew a little. However, there have been a lot of other places where I have been where if a desired technique didn’t work out as expected, even if it was a new idea, technique, or process – it was a major issue.

And I think the major issue really is failure. If the show flops in some way that the audience can see, people won’t buy tickets. People who see the show might feel that the show wasn’t up to par. It seems like here in Chicago movie tickets and theatre tickets are often comparably priced. I certainly don’t expect movie quality sets, transitions, or the like in a live performance, yet when I do spend 100 per person to see a major show I have expectations that increase to reflect what I have spent.

I guess the perfect resolution would be that as funding, tickets and scale increased that there would be an increase in the amount of time and funding that was available for innovation. New materials could be tested prior to the need in an upcoming production. A mock up or a prototype could be built for a scenic unit for an upcoming show could be built and tested prior to the real design / production phase for testing.

The other challenge that enters here is the need for time on both the production side and the artistic side. Directors want time to play, and to be able to introduce new ideas at any time. Technical directors want the set to be created as far in advance as possible so that they have the most time to work on solutions.

There’s a lot of rough ideas here – what do you think?

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Curtain Weights

Secoa has information on their website both explaining how to determine the weight of a curtain as well as giving the weight for a few common products. That information can be found at:

Monday, April 7, 2008

Alternative Rigging Block

While I was gathering information today regarding Stainless Steel rigging hardware I found an interesting alternative to the standard block and fall. It's called a fiddle block, and it is often used for sailing. The way that it is rigged makes it slimmer in use, but also less prone to twisting. It also has a cleat installed that makes the move more controllable.

The above pictures, as well as additional information can be found at:

For more information about rigging a block and fall check out:

Ver Sales also carries a variety of rigging hardware including verlocks, stud fittings, and other useful hardware.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Lighting History

The following link: is an old New York Times article from 1908. Its about Maude Adams and the creation / installation of a lighting bridge. It's definitely worth a read.

Friday, April 4, 2008

Golf & Planning

I read an article in Retail Construction Magazine that I thought was interesting this morning. It’s called “Strategies on the Golf Course Similar to Construction Planning” by David Corson, in the Jan / Feb 2008 issue. The basic premise is that even when we approach things for fun, we plan,
visualize, overcome obstacles, and achieve. In a sense, a game of golf is a project with a concrete beginning and end, and milestones along the way. The author breaks this down even further.

Pre-game you warm up, think about what’s ahead of you, spot potential problems on the course, check to make sure you have what you need and so forth. As you get to your first shot, decisions need to be made regarding which club to use, how to approach the shot afterwards – and set it up, and then visualizing how the shot will occur. Then, when the ball isn’t perfectly shot, you work to adapt and overcome the obstacle. Then you make the last putt, complete the hole, the first milestone, and repeat for the all of the remaining milestones (granted not all projects are as linear).

I think that this is an interesting point of view. While I don’t golf, and probably wouldn’t approach golf quite this analytically, there are other activities that I do enjoy, that are approached in a similar manner. It doesn’t always seem so – but I think it’s because when we enjoy the activity, we don’t think of the planning as work – indeed, it is part of the fun and the overall experience. The second takeaway I have from this article is that since we develop strategies for planning for personal recreation successfully, with reflection we should be able to translate the positive actions of that process to other situations.

I should admit though, that on the first glance of the article I thought that I would never think that far through a round of golf – or even putt putt, which is about the closest I come to golf. It wasn’t until I thought about it and realized that I do go through these actions, with the hobbies I enjoy – like traveling.

Thursday, April 3, 2008


I received an email from playbill that was about the Roundabout Theatre Company's production of Sunday in the Park with George. They are running a great marketing campaign revolving around pointillism and connecting the dots, blending the marketing campaign and the show in an unique way that I think is a great idea.

You can check out the campaign at:

You don't need to buy tickets or contribute money to join in the fun. They ask for a name, email, and 5 things you like to do on Sunday. You then get a dot which is part of the overly picture.

And while I am a fan of the show, seeing George Seurat's original work "Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grand Jatte" at the Chicago Art Institute is a great experience as well.


For something different I though I would post about a fog machine I used a couple of years ago.
A PDF of the unit can be found here:

There are 2 nice things about the fogger made by Mole Richardson. First, once it is heated up you can disconnect the unit from its cord and move it to where ever you want to disperse the fog. Second, it's essentially adapted from a pesticide fogger, so the unit will spray other things than fog like fog chaser or room deodorizer. I haven't used these features, but I could see how dispersing a fog effect could be useful.

Mole also produces a few other effects and a range of lighting equipment, including a few unique pieces like a Molegator grip:, and a molevator: they also have a nice variety of stands.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Rigging Products

I was looking up some information on Verlocks when I came across a few interesting rigging products located at this link:

This is one product they have - and I think its an interesting concept. There are definitely a few times something like this would have been handy.

They also have a variety of glides similar to vera locks, and others that will connect the cable to a threaded end:

These can be seen at:

While I would be hesitant to use these for standard theatrical rigging, I think they could be very useful in non-critical locations.

Working in the theatre

Expanding on thoughts I wrote about the other day regarding education and theatre, it seems like the more experience you have the more likely one will end up in commercial theatre. I think there are several reasons for this:
1- While there are good, even great, jobs for TD’s, there aren’t an overwhelming number (how many LORT theatres are there? Under 100? Not to say that only LORT is good though). People want to make a living wage, thus as they grow they move out of theatre when there isn’t jobs available to match their own growth
2- Commercial theatre can pay more competitively; have larger budgets, and more toys, relatively speaking. The downside is that there is often less “art”.
3- Commercial theatre has a great need for skilled technicians (theatre does too), but commercial theatre can do things to help that need (like pay higher salaries).

Lastly, despite all of what I am saying I need to be clear that I do believe that you can earn a decent living in theatre. While money and benefits are only one element in a happy life, an income healthy enough to live on can be possible. No, you won’t be a millionaire, but not every TD is starving, and truthfully, good TD’s are hard to find and can pull in more. Working currently on the commercial side, I sometimes get a little aggravated about this attitude that the only reason not to work in the commercial theatre is for the sake of art, and that you can’t make a decent living. Thus the choice is art versus sustenance. Yet, my standard of living hasn’t changed much since moving in the commercial realm. The pay is marginally higher, yet I have a new degree to pay for, and higher living costs due to locations. Thus, it is essentially a wash, from much of the work I was doing before grad school. Should I have skipped the additional education? No – while I plan on discussing the educational state more some other day, the fact is that currently it is difficult to get into some positions / places without advanced degrees. While part of the reaction towards theatre is that in many situations, particularly if you have been in the commercial arena for a while there is a financial difference. But also, it seems like many of these people have started in theatre and have not been able to provide for themselves in the way that they wanted to.

Nevertheless, I believe in one thing: what we do, weather onstage or off is a job. (I am excluding amateur / community theatre.) Just like in any job there are tradeoffs. Smaller companies offer different experiences and benefits than large companies. Some jobs pay better than other jobs. If you want to make a million by the time you’re 30, there’s a variety of jobs that probably won’t get you there. Is theatre art – sure, but I don’t think you need to suffer for it. But for another view check out the following blog:

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Moldable Plastic

One of the projects that we have in house right now needs a couple of small pieces made and we chose to look at moldable plastic to accomplish the job.
The first link: is used in the medical industry for splinting. It comes in sheets and when soaked in hot water can be bent to the desired shape. Sheets can also be easily cut into the desired shape.

The next product, shapelock, comes in small moldable beads. You can heat these in water or with a heat gun. The resultant piece can be machined and painted. I have some of this in multiple colors, and it really is a fun thing to play around with. I think it would be great for prototypes, and special props, as well as specialty connectors. I wouldn't use it in critical situations, but the finished piece is as solid as you can expect a piece of plastic to be.
The link to the shapelock is here:

Project Management Cartoon

An old cartoon, with many different interpretations. As there is truth in the joke, it is enduring.
You can find more information at:

Ancient Mechanics

There is an article in the New York Times today that talks about simple machines and some of the ancient texts that discusses these "machines". You can check it out at: