Friday, September 28, 2007

Tiny URL

Tiny URL is a website where you can make a long url shorter so that you don't have to worry about it wrapping and destroying the link.

I like it - but wish that it allowed for a better reference of the original link.

You can also add it to your browser for easy use.


While I know a few weeks back I wrote an entry about New Haven Moving supply, I recently was browsing their catalog and spotted another cool product. They are small lifts that are meant for items that are too fragile for a forklift. You can use them in a pair to completely lift an item, but I think even using one miight be more effective than a J-Bar or lever lift bar.

You can see them at:

The major drawback is their price - over a thousand for 1 pair - about 5 times the price of a J-Bar.

I have also been curious about the shoulder lifting straps and the fore-arm lifting straps.

Its hard to tell though cause they have a novelty as seen on TV feel about them that makes me feel that they aren't what they say they are.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Pocket Ref

If you don’t have a copy of the Pocket Ref by Thomas J Glover, you should pick up a copy. It’s a great book and should occupy a space of honor right next to the backstage handbook. As its name implies its pocket sized, and it’s full of handy, but sometimes odd information. From structural info on joists to the periodic table of elements to material, as well as property information (steel wood and plastics), and a little of everything in between.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Theatre meets web 2.0

I have been reading a bit about museums lately, and it has created some ideas that could be very useful in theatre as well. Museums are currently developing more flexible content – stuff that can be used in a web 2.0 format to extend the museum experience outside of the walls of the museum and into the homes of the visitors. One technique is using tags that will encode the activities of the visitor when they go to specific exhibits. Their pictures could be taken, or they could do an experiment that they later check up on at home. The museum exhibit is personalized, a website is create which can be further customized, and the visitor can interact with the museum on a much broader basis than just a couple of hours inside the museum itself.

Theatres are making some advances here – the resources below show some blogs that various theatres have created to start to disseminate information in a looser, internet friendly way. But I don’t think it is enough.

The key is user involvement. The blog is nice, but the blog needs to elicit user response and interaction. Think theatre meets MySpace (and some theatres are on myspace). What if a theatre community had a space online where theatres could post show information (rehearsal blogs, construction blogs, etc.) and audiences could post pages about their favorite productions, could comment and ask questions of the artists. Think of it as an extended talk back. An involved community will help the theatre to prosper both in donations and in ticket sales. The internet offers a low cost way to generate a high amount of involvement, that doesn’t inconvenient the staff overly so as they can control how and when content is published.

Some resources:

What Would MacGyver Do

Technical Direction and MacGyver. Definitely a connection. Which is why I recently picked up a book called “What Would MacGyver Do” by Brendan Vaughan. The book’s concept is interesting – a collection of short stories about how real people got through real situations with MacGyver like skill. The book, however, was at best mediocre. A few stories were genuinely inventive and worthy of the title, others not so much. The plus is that it reads fast and is mildly entertaining (I actually enjoyed the snippets at the end of each story better than some of the stories). After all, I did manage to read the whole thing.

I was thinking though it would be cool to do a theatrical version of the book though- then at least you would have a group of resourceful people would are often in tight situations with limited resources. The book could even result in being an actual technical resource like the tech briefs. Alright so perhaps the expectation is a little high. Nevertheless, MacGyver like skill has real value in technical direction. I have been asked in the middle of interviews how my “MacGyver skills” are. When you are in the middle of an offsite load-in and something happens and you have x, y and z to make it work, its good to have the flexibility in thought to make something work (of course keeping it safe).

At the same time, my philosophy has always been to 1 – thoroughly plan out what you are doing to eliminate chances that you will need to pull off a MacGyver stunt, and 2 – plan out the tools and resources that you have on a project so that you will have useful things to work with when the inevitable snag occurs. Nevertheless, I have to admit that the ability to problem solve and to think flexibly and adaptable to the situation are needed skills, and skills that don’t seem to be as common as they used to be. More and more there seems to be a mentality of “you can only do it this way”, and that if you don’t have the 1 tool, or the one favored material a job is impossible. And since theatre in general has lots of scarce resources, the more flexible and adaptable you can be the better you will serve. To me, there isn’t one way to do anything. There are better ways and worse ways. Ways that I will tend to think of first because of my experiences, and methods, that I will tend to not think of due to the same.

Hardware Cyclopedia

I thought I would mention a new book I just bought called the Hardware Cyclopedia - The complete illustrated guide to everything sold in hardware stores by Steve Ettlinger. Its a nice resource. Its a "pocket size", though it is pretty thick. Each tool or material has a description, other names, uses, and sometimes tips next to the picture. The pictures are in the backstage handbook style - drawn images. The book includes sections on hand and power tools, general materials, general hardware, paints / stains, lumber, plumbing, electrical, masonry and safety stuff.

You can check it out on amazon at:

Friday, September 21, 2007


Instructables .com is an interesting site that I see good potential in for stagecraft. Its a web 2.0 type site - sort of like you tube meets DIY. For example this link:
shows a step by step guide on how to build a homemade lathe. While this article has photos, others have video.

A couple of reactions:
1 - its in some ways part of my hope of what I can do here (like the LED star post or the pneumatic caster posts), but I like the idea that multiple people post to it.
2 - it reminds me a user friendly version of the tech expo, tech briefs or the USITT resource that is online. Or the high school theatre tech page also has some of these ideas going for it.
3- TD's, and theatre people in general have a tendency to not document process or product very much. Sure, people try to take down info / pictures for their portfolio, but step by step processes aren't detailed. On one hand, people feel like the information is too common to make it necessary, or too much of a one time only type of thing. I think either way is useful - common tasks help new people in the industry, and one time projects can sometimes be applied to other tasks in the future to build on the previous knowledge, or could be referenced in future productions (some shows have very specific technical challenges for instance).

Random Resources

The past few days I have traveled quite a distance with regards to topics I have been thinking about. Its a good thing, and I have much to write about here when I have a little time to sort out how each thing relates.

Until then, a few small bits of information and resources: is a link to a company that has "magic tape". Of course my first thought went to glow tape. While glow tape (and even glow paint) used to be the coolest thing around, LED's have quickly become very useful backstage, and even in select places onstage - or in the back of the house for dancers. I see the magic tape being most useful backstage as well, perhaps in competition to rope lighting as well. However, though no price is listed, I suspect that until the litepad, cee-lite, and similar products are around a little longer they won't be priced in an affordable enough range for most theatres. is a blog I have been reading lately. While written with a exhibit point of view, some entries are useful theatrically speaking as well. One blog mentions (an adhesive web page that gives you advise on the proper glue dependant on what 2 materials you are using) as well as cool tools, which is a, well "cool" site as well. The site also has a link t o an article about prototyping:

Prototyping is something that doesn't occur as often in theatre as I think it should. More often we try something, and if it appears to work, we use, it or start over, but he don't often mock something up to test prior to the start of building the "real" object. While time and money are always factors, it can be argued that the time spent in development (research and design and prototyping) would be worth labor and material costs later in the process when time is more precious and money is already being stretched tight.

Another interesting blog (though even I will admit that it is a stretch to be a true TD resource_ is at But, museums and theatre share some things in common, build techniques, patrons, culture and so forth.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Cut Awl

The cut awl is a pretty nifty tool, in my book. I really enjoyed using it the few times I have used one. They aren't very cheap, but alot of the theatres I have worked with have one - usually tucked away and buried unfortunately. And really, between jigsaws, scroll saws, routers, and the roto-zip, there isn't much need for a tool as expensive as the cut awl. But I like it nonetheless. Its great for small detail scroll work, inside cuts and it can do sharp corners (unlike rounded roto-zip edges). It takes a little time to get used the control, but thats part of its charm. If you haven't used one take the time to check out what it is at least and if you ever see one try it out.

Besides the fact that the cutawl has earned itself a museum is pretty nifty in its own right.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

10 ways to make a difference

I was just reading this on yahoo's hot jobs and thought I would re-post it here as I liked the message. It is so easy, at least for me, to get bogged down in all the day to day stuff that needs to happen. Yet its important to take time to do do some of the things listed below. Just because something isn't listed in the job description doesn't mean it isn't important. Instead it seams sometimes to me that doing a good job involves lots of little activities / and tasks that aren't listed anywhere, but that you need to search our and discover.

Ten Ways to Make a Difference This Year
Debra Davenport

If you want to make 2007 your most satisfying year yet, consider this checklist of 10 ways to inspire you in your career and enhance your work-life balance. The simple suggestions below are meant to generate new ideas, stimulating you to think and act in ways that will not only benefit you, but our world as well.

Raise the bar. Expect more and deliver more. Speak up! Dress up! Raise your own personal standards. Don't settle for the status quo and don't accept mediocrity.
Get connected. Get out of the office, turn off the Blackberry and spend quality time with people, face to face.

Live true to your values. What's really important to you? Are your actions and communication in keeping with your core values? Clarity of purpose and intention catapult individuals to the pinnacle of their success.

Mentor someone. Reach out to a student, a budding entrepreneur or a new employee and support their efforts any way you can. They'll never forget you!

Ask for help when you need it. Cull an advisory board, get a mentor, work with a coach or hire a consultant. The most successful business people are surrounded by the best and brightest. Find them and bring them into your circle.

Take care of yourself. "Use it or lose it" is absolutely true. You can't climb the mountain to your personal pinnacle if you're out of shape, so resolve to get healthy so you can enjoy the journey as well as your ultimate destination.

Learn. Expand your knowledge and skills by taking a class, getting a degree or simply reading up on topics of interest. Every time you learn, you create new neural pathways in the brain. Not bad for just reading a book.

Get passionate. Get fired up about something -- a cause, a project, a new business venture or a political issue. Let's banish complacency in 2007.

Innovate. If you're stuck in the "we've always done it this way" mentality, there's no better time to get out of the quagmire and change your thinking. Try something new, even if it's just a different route to work.

Assess your career. Do you love what you do? Would you do it for free? If you can't wholeheartedly answer "yes," perhaps it's time for a change.

Here's to your success!

Debra Davenport, PhD, is an Executive Professional Mentor and the president of DavenportFolio, a licensed firm with offices in Phoenix and Los Angeles that mentors entrepreneurs and professionals. She is the creator of the Certified Professional Mentor designation and certification program and the author of "The Ten Commitments of Highly Successful People" and can be reached at

Monday, September 17, 2007

Resource for novelty items

When I am looking for that odd item, or bulk of an odd item one of my favorite sites is the Oriental Trading Company. Add to that another resource:
Rhode Island Novelty
They have the same type of product and at competitive pricing.

Check them out - its always kind of fun to see what odd stuff they sell in a gross.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Artful Manager

The artful manager is a blob by Andrew Taylor about arts and culture management. Link: He offers tidbits, almost every weekday about different things relating to arts and culture. The comments are often based off of things he has read, or other current events, and are often tie ins to other information all of which often give me some insight or a different point of view. While not always relevant, and not really stagecraft related, I think he has some good things to say.

This for example - is a good example:

I also have to say that his blog was one of the reasons that I choose to start doing this blog. I admire his dedication to what he does and the need to pass on ideas that might be helpful. An electronic mentor if you will.

While a TD doesn't directly deal with many of the management topics he discusses, a TD is a manager, and the culture of the organization and the surrounding area / audience, affects the production. The more aware of how this can influence whats going on in their own shop the better prepared the TD will be to handle the results.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Rigging Resource

Checkout Wesco for some good rigging information. Especially their guide to wire rope termination is nice. (link:

While the information offered is available at other locations, some of the stuff here is unique, though ment for objects much larger than we use in theatre.

But I still think its kind of cool and fun to look at some of the huge rigging hardware that they can make.

Also has alot of great resources as well.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007


CNC machines have fascinated me for a while. I think they are a great asset to a shop, and they are almost reasonable to build one in house if you follow the tech brief (the cost was around 2k if I remember correctly). While still too costly for some shops to build, I have been able to get parts cnc cut from local vendors pretty reasonably as well. At any rate, since I have access to 2 different machines now, I have been doing a little research into their capacities. One article
I thought I would pass along since it talked about how the machines worked. While the article does get into alot of programming (which we eliminate by using CAD drawings to show the path), there is alot of information on the site.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Flexloc Locknuts

Unbrako offers a product called flexloc locknuts. They are completly made of metal offering more strength than nylocs. I thought these fasteners might be useful in rigging and automation. The link above also links to some information that they have created about fasteners (fasteners facts) and a white paper on fastener fatigue.

While it isn't something that occurs everyday, misuse of fasteners has caused, or been a factor in several incidents that I know of. Modern Marvels engineering disasters shows some of these, as does the book Why Buildings Fall Down.


While I was reading Machine Design today, I noticed a supplier that has some products that could be useful theatrically speaking.
Its the Pacific Bearing Company at

What caught my eye was the redi-rail. Its a track in which the slides are wheels /rollers that run horizontally in the track instead of vertically like most common track. Testing / more information would be needed before using this overhead, but for tracking scenery at deck level, I see this as not only an interesting product, but a product in which adaptations could easily be made to use in house.

They have a range of other products as well, including some meant to be motor driven.

Check it out.


Below is a link to a page that features knots.

Its nice because its a theatrical site.
The rest of the site has quite a bit of information as well, particularly for high schools, but Scott Parker (the site creator) has done a great job accumulating relevant information.