Friday, November 30, 2007

Stage Lighting Primer

This site offers a primer for learning lighting. Good for people you need to know a little about the subject – its enough to allow you to talk intelligently about the subject, and to know when you need to ask questions, get more information, or to leave the person doing the lighting do their thing.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Online Beam Calculator

So in my quest this morning to find some steel design information so that I could run the math for a beam I was working on, I found the following site:

It's a nifty calculator to calculate some of the forces on simple beams and cantilevers. Easy to use, though it would be nice if it had more loading conditions.

After browsing the web there are a few other locations that are of use as well:
Allows several different tests for simply supported beams and cantilevers and a purchase seems to allow more scenarios.
a variety of solutions including ones for automation. some are available online, some you need to download. It is free for 30 days, but the cost is reasonable.

Monday, November 26, 2007

Finger Wrench and Pocket Levels

Finger Wench: This tiny little tool sticks on the end of your finger and lets you put in a nut or a bolt in an awkward position. And it holds all nuts up to ½” so it is even practical for some of the stuff we do theatrically.
Pocket Level: The same size as a credit card it shows level and slopes. While as a true level, the small distance means that it isn’t wonderful for what we do, I like that it has the 45 and 60 degree slopes.

Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Power Options

Power Strip liberator: This cord plus into your power strip and provides a 1’ extension cord to facilitate plugging in wall wart plugs. It allows you to plug in large plugs without using adjacent outlets. Also, it has a pass through plug.
Squids: This type of cord looks like an octopus – hence the name. The unit plugs in and then separate cords branch out each ending in an outlet.

Two-fer style connectors: like the lighting plugs – one cord branches off to provide two outlets. Available at: Also available (from lee valley) are cords that allow 3 instead of 2. The squids mentioned above allow for 5.

Multi-Outet cords. These cords have staggered outlets along the length of the cord. You can check them out at:,104,53212&ap=2.
They are convenient to string around a shop or location where not enough outlets exsists. A great use for this is back stage for clip lights.

Rockler Products

It’s that time of year and as always, the catalogs are on overdrive arriving in your mailbox. Today I was flipping through Rockler woodworking and hardware and there were a few notable things I thought I would mention.

First, Topcoat. It’s a spray “lubricant”. It can be used on saws and hand tools and repels rust and moisture.

They sell prevals. Prevals are great for spraying custom colors, and it seems like I can never find them when I am looking for one.

They have these nifty little do dads (I actually saw a similar product in Lee Valley but they call them tape tips) called square check. They are tools to help you hold your tape on the corners of a frame to check the squareness of whatever you are building.

T-Jaks. These are adjustable height tubes that help to support weight while you attach what you are hold to something structural. They resemble roller support stands used for saws, with the support being solid as opposed to being a bearing.

EZ-Mark Cords. This is basically two clips tied together with an elastic clip. You can indicate lines on a piece of wood without marking it (say for the internal fasteners on a flat or platform). Simple, but useful.

Speed Dolly:I thought this product was interesting, and potentially very customizable for theatrical use. Its basically a dolly with a back that tips – you tip it up to load it and then set it back on its wheels. From the picture in the catalog its pretty small, but again, I think customization could make it useful for material handling,

Lastly, they carry a variety of rare earth magnets. While rare earth magnets aren’t “rare”, it always seems like whenever I need them, I can’t remember what catalog I have seen them in.

Poly Clips

A while back I blogged about the wide variety of clips available for stretching fabric. Most of these are sold as tarp clips, but Rosebrand does market versions to use for for theatrical use. Today I ran across another type used for netting: poly clips.

The link above takes you to a PDF about them. I wonder if the teeth would effectively grip webbing without damaging fabric. I liked that they incorporate a wire guide, but I can also see this as being ineffective- the way the pull is orientated it could be difficult to get enough stretch - you would have to be able to tension your cable enough.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Cars that Drive Themselves

I have been reading about the race in California for robotic cars.

While it seems off topic, I think it has an interesting tie in. There are a variety of engineering competitions out there that can bring a little fun into a fairly studious program of study. Yes, theatre is fun. But I think technical theatre is pushing the envelope of technology more and more everyday. I have heard that in Europe they are replacing counterweight systems with all motorized systems due to safety concerns. In the US, rigging went from hemp systems to counterweight systems, and many locations do have automated systems of some sort, even if just on a few lines. Automation is making more scenery move by itself, and projections and other special effects are becoming norms rather than the exception in many places. Yet, how does technical theatre education handle all of these new technologies. I firmly believe in training for tomorrow, yet it seems most places are barley keeping up with training for today. One of the ways that I would propose to help that situation would be to have more competitions. To encourage more inventiveness, for instance. Too many times, one place does a show, and then the show does the LORT circuit, and the shows are way too similar. The effects are copied or passed around. While an education in technical theatre needs to have a sound basis of common techniques, and knowledge of technical theatre history, a student needs to be able to take this knowledge and merge it together in new ways.
I realize that we have difficult parameters – there isn’t a lot of time (or budget) outside of a show, and the show has various needs and a TD only has limited options according to designs, space, time, and so forth. But perhaps if we had more outside interactions – above and beyond USITT, and the Tech Expo, perhaps we could generate new technology instead of getting it from outside sources. I suppose this ties in to my thoughts on elegant solutions and my blog about reality shows, but I think it is important to start integrating more technology in a manner that learning can occur outside of show pressure.

FYI, I have spoken several times about elegant solutions. These types of solutions are ones that are complex enough to do the job, but no more complex than necessary. Simple can be beautiful. They should be the most effective solution for a particular set of circumstances – a great solution for a show in one venue may be wrong for the same show in another venue. In grad school I had a course in which every week we were given a scenario and we needed to come up with a technical solution.

Yale Update

The following links provide some updated information about the incident at Yale.

The event saddens me greatly and my hearts go out not just to the family, but the friends and community of the Yale Drama Department.,0,6692894.story?track=rss

Monday, November 19, 2007

Yale Incident

I heard about the following accident today at Yale, and I thought it would be appropriate to post and ask that those who read this do 2 things: Send warm thoughts to the family and take a few minutes to reflect about the safety procedures in place where you work, and take steps to make it better.

The newspaper write-up:, 26, dies in freak accidentBy Jim SheltonNEW HAVEN — A Yale University graduate student was struck in the head and died Sunday morning while unloading a truck filled with heavy stage scenery and equipment for the Yale Repertory Theatre.Pierre-Andre Salim, 26, was from Indonesia and lived in New Haven.An unspecified number of long, thick pieces of compressed particleboard fell on Salim's head, according to officials at the scene.Although the student was wearing a hard hat, the weight and force of the material was enough to kill him, sources said.Salim was taken to Yale-New Haven Hospital, where he was pronounced dead."The family of the student was notified today by (Drama School) Dean James Bundy," university spokesman Tom Conroy said. "A member of the family will be traveling to New Haven. It's hard when someone so young and full of life dies.Members of the drama school family are mourning a tragic loss."Salim graduated from the National University of Singapore in 2002 with a degree in computer science, according to his Facebook page.Grief-stricken colleagues from the theater and the Yale Drama School stood outside the Chapel Street building Sunday morning, embracing each other and fighting back tears. None wanted to comment on the incident.Likewise, Bundy would not comment when he arrived at the theater Sunday morning.A white truck sat on York Street next to the theater's side entrance,with yellow police tape cordoning off the truck's open back end.Inside, personnel from the police department's bureau of identification examined the stage scenery items that remained there.Meanwhile, workers in hard hats carried items from a second truck into the theater.The Yale Rep's most recent production, "Trouble in Mind," had its final performance Saturday evening. The theater's next production,"Tartuffe," is scheduled to begin Nov. 26.Jim Shelton can be reached at 789-5664 or

TV meets theatre

So I have to admit that after years of not watching TV, I have lately gotten into the habit of watching some of the “reality series”. Not the put a bunch of people in a room survivor type, but ones like Design Star, Tope Chef, and The Next Iron Chef. And it made me think that I could totally see this sort of competition in the theatre arts. Obviously for design, Design Star would easily be altered to be theatrical instead of homes. Project Runway covers fashion design, but could be altered easily to be costume design. But I think it would be fun to create a competition for technical directors. I more of less see it as a “elegant solutions” class that has a real world component. Perhaps one week a challenge could be to design a particular type of effect (say leaves dropping on cue), with a budget, and other resources (only 2 carpenters, 16 hours….). Also shop resources and space restraints could be used. Sort of like a blown up tech Olympics competition. Points could be awards for practicality, originality, function, and such. Who knows, could be fun.

Rigging Resources

Check out Sapsis Rigging for some great resources about rigging:

The articles are well written and informative. The photos are fun too. But I have to say that Sapsis, is to me, one of the most respected people in the rigging industry, so his articles are a must read.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

hinges unhinged

A couple months back I blogged about a book about the history of the screw and screw driver. Now comes the hinge. Check out the link below to catch a little information about the history of the hinge.


I heard about a new thing today called tribolgy. And though it calls certain images to mind it has nothing to do with Africans or Native Americans or the like. Though the roots maybe as deep. Wikipedia says “Tribology is the science and technology of interacting surfaces in relative motion. It includes the study and application of the principles of friction, lubrication and wear. The word "tribology" derives from the Greek τριβο ("tribo") meaning 'to rub', and λόγος ("logos") meaning 'principle or logic'.”

Basically what it comes down to is that when 2 materials pass each other 1 should be soft and the other hard. It doesn’t necessarily matter which is which, but if they are the same the materials will seize and bind. While little of we do is intense engineering or highly critical, it is something to keep in mind.

Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Lunch Time Fun

Need a break?

Try some minigolf at:,21598,22672772-5005375,00.html


Try building an online paper airplane.

Inventions and Gadgets

I have been reading design news lately – the website is definitely one that I would recommend. I particularly enjoy some of the gadget freak articles which describe a variety of technical innovations. They are fun and include build instructions if you wish to build your own.

They have a blog as well:

I like the this week in history, and that they have a section devoted to engineering disasters (at the moment the I-35 bridge collapse). The calamites section describes smaller disasters, but are informative but fun to read as well. As seeing how something went wrong can be as helpfulas how things were built correctly, I like to read this sort of stuff. All in all, its definitely a site work spending some time.

Adhesive Resource

Has a variety of epoxies, silicones, contact cements and other adhesives for a variety of situations. The have a variety of information available as technical resources as well (though some of the pages were not working properly).

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

kerf kore

Another alternative to bending luaun or bendy board are Kerfcore products.
Kerfkore comes in 4x8 by ¼”, ½” and ¾” thicknesses. It is composed of particle boar, MDF and plywood. The face paper is a black impregnated paper, and is also available with a brown backer paper. Good for fast and accurate cuts, works well when repeatability is needed, and allows laminates to be mounted flat and then curved.

Ultra-lite is similar except that it has a foam core. It is not available in the ¼” thickness either.

Timberflex comes in a 4x8 or 8x4 (depending on bending orientation and in ½” 5/8” and ¾” thicknesses. It must be formed and then laminated, however, its exterior surface is stainable or paint ready.

Flexboard is the economical alternative. It only does a 10” radius though, so it can’t be bent as tightly as the other choices. It has a hardboard face, and weighs about 2 pounds per square foot.

These also have a new product called foamkore. This is essentially two hard panels (hardboard, luaun, poplar or birch ply, laminated on either side of a piece of foam. You may note that I described this construction in an earlier post, and have been using the technique for a while. Though if labor dollars where an issue it could be worthwhile to purchase the material pre-laminated.

Econokore is a 2 ply material – mdf / poplar ply laminate that is available in 3/8” ¼” and ¾” thicknesses.

You can get more information on these products at:

More on 3-D prototyping is a new online rapid prototyping service offing quick turn around and “low” prices. I have been watching these processes for quite a while because I believe that these types of machines will be very useful in theatrical work. I know that cnc machines have been very useful, and has certainly changed the way work is done in the shop where I work. And, it allow better construction, ease of generating customized pieces more economically, and ease of construction because you can plan your construction into the cut piece (bolt holes, slots, registration marks). And, it doesn’t replace people, indeed these new technologies demand perhaps more time in drafting and planning. 3-D drafting, conceptualization and other design tools are being used more and more as a tool in stagecraft, not just design, and this is partly due to these emerging technologies. I can easily see a point in the future where that special custom prop will be “printed” in a 3-d plotter.

Curves for Carpenters and other tools...

The classic problem – your laying out something with curves and would like a guide to either help with the curve or to replicate the curve.

While I have used thin strips of luaun before to help, there are a couple products on the market that can come to the rescue as well. (Both available at Lee Valley)

Drawing Bows: This works on the same principle as the strip of wood but has several improvements that allows for 1 person to easily do it themselves

Blending Curves: Can use to match a series of points, or for smoothing the point where a straight line meets a curve.

Plastic razors: able to contour around edges, won’t rust, good for paint or cleaning or assorted other jobs, these pieces definitely made it on my home shop wish list.

Bo Wrench Deck Tool: used for position warped lumber on top of joists. Perhaps not the most theatrically useful, but I have definitely had situations where it would have been helpful. This could join the variety of jigs I have seen in use for dealing with warped wood in shops all over. Seems like a good idea for a book – shop build jigs for theater use….

Audels Carpenters and Builder’s Guide: First published in 1923, it’s a 4 volume set that contain woodworking info. As a firm believer in the fact that older technologies may be as good or better than newer (or newer isn’t always better), I like having this type of information around.

IATSE Local 1

Local 1 is on strike, as you might have heard in the news. Rumors are rampant of course, and information is hard to come by and when you do see it you need to read between the lines.

The issue is interesting to me because I have mixed feelings about the union. I don't think that the inclusiveness nature of IATSE serves the whole of theatre production, and that it actually may promote more abuses than it protects. In my ideal world, the union would be much looser, much broader and service more technicians - much like equity does for actors. Is it weaker then? Some would argue yes, but I don't agree. I see people as the strength of the organization. And theatrical practice isn't the same as it was when IATSE first started. Indeed, I think IATSE is most suited now for events that aren't as theatrical in nature; film, TV, corporate events. The places where technicians don't have steady work, and are often subjected to shorter bursts of long work hours (and thus break and meal penalties are needed - though many producers are willing to pay them - the allowance of a penalty sells your soul! Its okay to not eat as long as you give me more $).

Point is I guess, that I see valid points from both sides. has some info about the strike. The theatre sound list also has some information at

Monday, November 5, 2007

Flexible Molding

A recent project I have been working on involves some flexible molding. I thought I would post some of the sources here:

It should also be noted that Outwater Plastics carries flexible moldings as well.

I have used them a couple times previously and they are pretty nifty.
A couple of things to keep in mind:
-you can order off the shelf profiles, or match existing molding
-the size can be slightly different than off the shelf profiles, and may vary slightly in the curve.
-some curves can be produced off the shelf, others have to be ordered - so leave time in your timeline to accommodate

The moldings do create some nice results!