Friday, October 31, 2008

Making floors that are quiet

I found this site while looking for information about homasote or Celotex:
The link has two things going for it – information regarding several different types of underlayment and sound characteristics. While we frequently don’t build stage floors the same way that we build homes, we do run into some of the same problems (sound), and with the prices on some of the flooring alternatives out there, using the real thing for the floor is a very real option.

Halloween Tech

Halloween is my favorite holiday, and one of the reasons why is the amount of technology that decorations can include. Haunted house often use a variety of low tech automation that can be borrowed for theatre use.

Design news has a variety of articles that are fun for Halloween, and even potentially useful!

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Keep Them On Your Side - Book Review

I just finished reading “Keep Them on Your Side” by Samuel B. Bacharach. It was an interesting book. It was the second of two – the first being about how to get people on your side in the first place. I thought a variety of things were interesting about this book.
-It was almost like a mini version of half the business classes I took in grad school. It was a good reminder of many of the things I have learned.
-While it was not a called out reference, it utilized a four frames framework similar to Bolman and Deal. These frames; Structural, Human Resource, Political and cultural, are different ways to look at a challenge or situation and will help determine the best approach. This book essentially moves through 4 different areas that you have to navigate through to maintain momentum.
-This book speaks of managerial competence and political competence. A politically competent leader may be able to gather many supporters, but unless they are managerially competent, they won’t be able to implement their plan. A successful leader needs to be both.
-To sustain momentum you must: Maintain (resources and capacity), Monitor (evaluate or develop) and make adjustments, Motivate (direct or facilitate), and Mobilize.
-What you want to accomplish must take all the variables into account. A situation where there are no resources may actually spur great amounts of creativity, and may spur ideas that are very cost effective. Yet a different situation arises when they have ample resources. Either can produce good ideas, and either carries risk. The ideas here are very applicable to theatres. Many theatre operate with very scarce resources, spurring innovation and great technical solutions with low cost (especially low materials cost, since labor in these situations can be a dramatic variable in cost of it is hourly and not salary. Yet on the other hand, in a commercial scene shop, resources are adequate, materials are available, and labor is available. Innovative technical solutions arise out of this situation as well, but aren’t as cost effective.
-Autonomy versus consistent processes. Turbulent times require more autonomy, but the more standardized the process is the faster and easier the task can be. Theatre, by nature, requires a certain about of autonomy. Technicians need to be skilled enough to analyze a situation – paired of course to their skill level, and make a decision on what is required and follow through. A job lead on the job or a TD needs to have good problem solving skills and be able to have the authority to do what needs to be done. Yet, a series of consistent processes will help that individual make a good decision. The more the solution is of the “text-book” variety, the easier and faster it will be to implement. Where I work now has a series of “shop standards”. They don’t apply to every situation, and shouldn’t – but it is a standard of how we typically build a standard flat, platform, and so forth. Why reinvent the wheel on everything – save the innovation for situations that require it.
-Quality versus productivity… and then there is value. Here are three different ways of evaluating. Is it quality that is require or quantity? What is quality? Quantity is easy – I need 30 flats in two weeks. Easy to define, easy to measure, easy to check off when complete. But how do you determine quality? It is very subjective, what is great to one person isn’t good at all to another. Then there is value. Value might be a decent product for little money, or a higher price, but full service. Something low quality to one person might still be valuable to someone else. Value is not always based on economy.
-Criteria for evaluation and expectations is very important to sustaining momentum. Without criteria spelled out there is no way to effectively evaluate progress or process.
-While you need to be able to jump in and make a correction, over correcting can stop momentum, it can lead to an expectation that another change will be coming soon and lead to poor work.
-“A culture of motivation addresses three critical sociopsychological needs: the need to learn and problem solve; the need for affiliation; and the need for reaffirmation.” P 150.
-Another subject the book touches on is single loop versus double loop learning, though not in that terminology. The author refers to it as reflexive versus reflective thinking. A reflexive thinker is more reaction based, and will tend to make small refinements in the process. A reflective person may redo the system and really look at the project globally and rethink what it is all about. There is a place for both. Once a system is in place, minor adjustments should be made. However at a certain point minor adjustments and refinements don’t do the job and a reorientation is needed. They key to know when to use each method.
-Politically you should look out for support, dissent, opposition, resistance. This is a scale to judge where people stand against your idea or project. Once you determine where they stand, you can determine an action plans to work with those members of your team or business.

All in all, I thought it was easy to read, and very informative. It contains lots of information. I think it is a useful read for a TD because within a production everyone is theoretically on your side, and what we really have to worry about is getting the show moved through the shop. Momentum is important. Many books seem to talk about getting started, but I liked that this one focused on keeping the ball rolling.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008


I was browsing the Sceno:graphy site today. It is a UK based site and has articles and information regarding design and technical theatre, though it isn't very active.

They address the question of what is Scenography and why it seems to be a title / function in most places except for America.

The question is an interesting to me for a variety of reasons, including history and the function of theatre structures and so forth. Since scenography is the historical standard it is interesting that America didn’t continue this tradition. I also, unfortunately, don’t know if it did come to America and then we evolved out of that tradition. One of the reasons that is offered is the difference in funding between the countries, which of course could be probable, but I’m not sure that it is the “right” answer. Intuitively, I would say that America was found on individuality and in a sense that affects our jobs also. Even our unions have evolved individually. These issues have been involved in most of the research I have done for the many theatre history courses I took when I got my MFA. Who was the first TD? When was the TD first recognized as a TD. What did the TD evolve out of? When did design and fabrication separate? How do technical theatre traditions and practices vary currently and historically between cultures or countries? Why is the American system so much different on the surface than some of the European examples? It is harder to unify a vision when you use 4 different designers than when there is one sceneographer. In that vain, did some of the split occur with the growth of a director? At any rate, the site is worth a look.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Speaking of Carpentry Blogs

Evenfall Woodworks is another interesting blog regarding carpentry. The link below will take you to an entry regarding the "foibles of tape measures", which isn't a bad thing to be reminded of!

Monday, October 27, 2008

Blog of the day

Looking for something new and interesting regarding whats current in the world of carpentry I came across this blog:

Given my like of historical building techniques I particularly like the blogs about the roman tools. Also there are tons of photos that illustrate the steps he took when he was building something - like the feather boards that he details.

I hope you check it out!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Lessons Learned
The above link will take you to a brief blog entry about lessons learned. It makes a distinction between lessoned learned due to failure versus ones learned when something goes right. Unfortunately I think that we don’t spend enough time thinking about what went right, and analyzing why it worked. Instead we focus on the wrongs. Things don’t go right by accident, and it may not be the obvious reasons that the task went well – I planned it out – it went well – if you look and think, there are many factors that govern each process, and paying heed to both successes and failures, and passing that on to others will make the most of each lesson learned.

Friday, October 24, 2008


A few days back I was talking about cleats. Today I stumbled across a video from "ask the builder" that shows how to make one. Check it out at:

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Hardware Link

The above link will take you to a variety of catalogs from C R Laurence. This company does windows - doors, shower doors, and other glass related products including hardware. Not necessarily our normal realm, but there are some nice parts that could be useful - like flange covers that will hide the bolts on a flange in their railings catalog.

Tuesday, October 21, 2008

Sandblasting Fun

One of the current projects I am working on involves sandblasting. I had originally planned to job the task out, but for a variety of reasons, we made the decision to do it in house. Below are a few pictures from the project. The first is the set prior to being blasted. Since the set was being teched up prior to leaving the shop (or to go to paints) we decided to blast it in place so that the joints would match and it would fit back together in the same way.

Next we set up out pole and drape poles, and draped heavy plastic over to help contain the dust. We rented a sandblaster, and an air compressor that would run it and bought a ton of sand. Literally. (And bought more the next day). I am sure there is a formula to calculate how much sand to buy somewhere, someplace, but after this experience I would say that you can't buy enough sand! Even with over a ton we still recycled the sand through multiple times. The issue becomes, even in a cleaned environment, that the sawdust you remove with the blasting gets recycled into the dust. We used "Black Beauty" an iron slag to do the blasting. This produced a rougher texture than the sample our vendor provided, but was adequate to do the job we needed it to do.

For more information:

Monday, October 20, 2008

McMaster Picks of the day

The images above are a few useful pieces of hardware from Mcmaster Carr. You can find them all by using the keyword angle bracket. The first I have used quite a bit on my last show. The second I have used for when something needed to be removable - I have also used "picture hangers" from other sources as well. The third, called zee-clips, is an often used piece of hardware here to attach pieces together that are double sided or that attach flush to a wall. They can also be manufactured according to your own specs in the shop. Sometimes we use something more circular that we call pucks - and then route a keystone into the pairing surface. French cleats - where you cut a 45 degree angle on each piece and they mount into each other works nicely as it draws the 2 surfaces together.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

LEDEX Solenoids

Below is a link to a solenoid company. They have a variety of resources on their page, and are worth a look.

Monday, October 13, 2008


While many designers know about Dykes Lumber, I found another source online where they have regional catalogs that can be downloaded that shows profiles of various mouldings.

Check out Moulding & Millwork at:

Nova Paint

While bidding a show I was came across "Nova Color paints". You can take a look at the product here:

While their cost is higher than most home paint products (we typically use alot of Benjamen Moore, and Modern Masters), it isn't completely out of line of theatrical paint. And the binder in the nova paints makes it a higher quality. The colors can be translucent, transparent or opaque, and come in a wide range, work with tints, and include metallic, pearlescent, fluorescent, varnishes, gels and textures.

Their website also includes PDF's about painting murals, and fiberglass.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Automation Videos

Automation Direct has a variety of learning options on its website. You can find it at:

They offer video options for learning about PLC’s, Operator Interfaces, Software, Sensors, Motor Controls, Drive / Motors, and More. The “More” category mostly talks about Automation Direct as a company. They offer a significant amount of content, that is definitely worth checking out!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

Fantastic Contraption

Fantastic Contraption is my current addiction. You can find it at: The first 20 levels are available online, and I have only 1 or 2 left to solve. I also like that you can share your contraptions with others.

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Designing a Ladder Program

Automation Direct’s recent issue of Automation Notebook has an article on designing a Ladder Logic program. It is an interesting article with many good points. It seems as though I have found many basic programs thrown together for one show. This show becomes the basis for the next show, and 10 years later you have the same program that has been altered 40 times, and which has pieces of code no longer valid or integral, because there wasn’t an overall design to the program. While it is often hard to do in the crunch of an individual production, planning for future incarnations of the program when it is first written will make the process easier in the future.

You can take a look at the article at:

Monday, October 6, 2008

System Mania & Amrmadillo Run

Two for today, or I will be doing this all month!
System Mania combines contraption orientated games with the service genre (Dinner Dash inspired) games. While the ideas (pull a cord, rotate hourglass times, push buttons) is contraption like, it is more of a speed game than a problem solving game

Armadillo Run is a great game, and very addicting. If you buy the game there are 50 levels, and you can create your own levels. Its very fun, and a great way to make you think.

Friday, October 3, 2008

Crazy Machines

Crazy Machines is yet another Rube Goldberg-like contraption game where you complete each level by making an invention work. You have a wide array for tools, and the experiements range from moving balls to target locations to illuminating a variety of lights. There are lots of levels ( 200), and a variety of ways to complete each level. Beware it is addicting!

I purchased my copy off the shelf at a local retailer, but a review can be seen at:

Thursday, October 2, 2008

Tom & Jerry

In the spirit of games here is a link to Tom & Jerry Trap - O - Matic. It follows a Rube Goldberg like play with rollers, shooters cutters and the like.

Speaking of Rube Goldberg, over the weekend I watched the "Goonies" and realized for the first time that they have several great examples of Goldberg like contraptions, even including the use of line animals!

Wednesday, October 1, 2008


One of the things I like to do in my spare time is to play games. There is a wide variety out there that rely on problem solving skills (spatially orientated and otherwise) as well as engineering skills, and other TD applicable skills. Clack, found at:, is the first of the games that I will be posting links too.

Have Fun!