Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Rigging - Hangers

Mutual Hardware has a product that they manufacture that is fantastic for rigging. Once you use the delta hanger (with a delta link) instead of the normal D-ring style, you will never want to go back. I know some companies form the cable eyes around the d-ring, but then you have to cut it off to salvage the ring, or you need to add in a shackle. With the link these hangers are easily reusable without the additional cost of a shackle. They are load-rated. You can check them out here.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Roll Drop / Olio Rigging

I had a request for a manual roll drop from a client today, and I started to think about alternative ways to build one. I decided to do a search and found a few sources online for the traditional rigging techniques. I will make a distinction though - there are labeling issues. A roll drop tends to roll down - and only has enough weight in the bottom so it hangs / moves correctly. An olio drop, traditionally, has the roll at the bottom and its top is fixed. On olio drops you see the rigging mechanism (rope)on each side as the rope coils around the tube as it goes up and down.

Check out the links for more information:
How can I make an Olio Drop
Rigging a Roll Drop
Stage Rigging 101 This sight doesn't tell you much about rigging a drop, but it does have a nice overview of the subject.

Friday, March 27, 2009

Woodworking Resources

The following link has a huge list of suppliers for various woodworking products including plans, tools, furniture pieces, and carving / turning blanks. The list includes Klockit, Rockler and Van Dykes Restorers, all of which I have previously enjoyed working with.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

The Shopbot

At USITT there was alot of interest in cnc machining. Several people there was using a ShopBot. Though it was rumored to be very load, and needed 2 passes through 3/4" plywood, they seemed to like the equipment. Where I work we use a MultiCam for the bulk of our work, along with a Gerber machine. Our machines are no louder than any other shop saw, but easily cut through 3/4" material in one pass. Its amazing to me how much, and how fast technology changes. I think as more machines come out, and they are affordable for scene shops to own and operate, it will really change the way we build scenery, and will allow designers to create organic three dimensional shapes in a way that we have never been able to do economically and efficiently before.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

USITT Resources

I wanted to plug a few resources available through USITT. If you don't visit the commission pages through USITT you are missing alot of good archived information. I do wish that they were a little more "equal" - Like the Technical Production sight has links to past conference session notes, which many of the others don't - and it is a great resource.

First is the Technical Production Commission run by Patrick Immel. There are alot of great resources, including past session notes. The session notes have not yet been updated, but the slides from my session will be included there as well. The other great resource that I want to point out is the Technical Source guide ONLINE! I encourage you to submit your cool projects to the site. It doesn't need to be ground-breaking - there are alot of cool processes out their that we assume is common knowledge that really isn't written down anywhere, and that really is common knowledge when you have worked with X person in X shop.... Plus there are often variations on a theme. For instance, Eric Hart on his Props blog, talks about a process using glue and joint compound to create a skim coat for coating wiggle wood. This mixture seems to be one of many that I have heard over the years, some with additions for other textures, and uses. It would be interesting to me to have some place where everyone can right in their recipes, and what they are good for (much like I have seen lists of blood recipes online).

The education commission has resources available for Creative projects for teaching technical production.

The Costume Commission has an active page here.

The Engineering Commission has information about codes, standards, dmx and ETCP certifications.

The health and Safety Commission has a variety of resources available.

The Lighting commission has information about the recommended practice for lighting design graphics here.

There are also sound, management and other commissions as well - so visit USITT to check them all out. And don't forget to submit an article to the Technical Source Guide ONLINE!

USITT Ursula Belden

USITT also did an exhibit honoring Ursula Belden who passed away early this year. USITT Sightlines published an article about her, and her webpage can still be found online.

The picture below is from The Dyybuk, which she did at Syracuse Stage during my last year there. She took it to the PQ 2003 exhibit as well.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

USITT Ohio Valley Exhibits

USITT had a variety of exhibits worth mentioning. The first picture is a truck for the Grapes of Wrath from Ohio University. Each prop had a description about the process of design, development and the parameters the prop had to fill. It was very interesting to read.

Ohio State University presented a variety of design work and models from the Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee Research Institute. OSU also exhibited a collection exploring the London Notting Hill Carnival. Click here for more about the Research Insitute.

There was also displays showcasing regional theatre design and entries from the Peggy Ezekiel Award competition.

Monday, March 23, 2009


OnThere are no bad ideas, the recent entry asks about what is missing on the USITT expo floor. I think I would ad to his list the Hossfeld people, and perhaps hardware / caster suppliers.

The Daily AutoCAD blog had a tutorial for getting section views from 3-D solids, relating the the 3D Studio Max comments I made the other day.

The track that I liked from Thern can be seen here:

I like the built-in alignment system.

Thoughts on USITT's Cover the Walls Exhibit

I think that the Cover The Walls exhibit is a great way to share designs (lighting, costume, scenic and technical. It's open to everyone at a relatively low cost. It allows the viewers to see what shows are being done, how they are being approached, and generate new ideas of their own. Its also a great way for acedemia to get out the word about what they are doing at a location where they are recruiting, and for people who are looking for work at USITT to exhibit a portfolio piece.

Despite what reasons people choose for participation, there are a number of ways to approach the final appearance. This year I would say the exhibits were either the traditional pages pined (or attached with double stick tape or velcro) in an artistic array over the space, prearranged foamboard displays attached to the wall, printed / plotted displays, and 3-demensional works. There are some that mix - Mine was plotted, but with full color photos and bluelines attached, and some used a fabric background, with applied works.

There are a couple things to keep in mind when designing the display. They supply pins and hammers, but it's better to design in an attachement method, as the pins are a pain. Make sure your double stick tape is hefty enough to hold your stuff (I made this mistake the first year and needed to resort to pins). They say no 3-D, people do it, but make sure you bring what you need to support the element on your panel. Panel design is important. No matter how nice your work is, if it looks sloppy, it reflects on you. This is like a temporary portfolio review that hundreds of people look at - while not being able to ask any questions to clarify what you were trying to convey. The design needs to supply all the important information in an eye pleasing manner that uses the provided space well.

The pictures below reflect the variety of the displays. The first was done with foamcore boards.

On the one below, I liked the center one with the fabric. The one on the right that was printed was nice, but might have been easier to read if it took up a little more of the panel space.

I liked the 3 demensional elements on this one.

The bottom two was my favorite display. It is obvious that the design took alot of time with the display.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

USITT - Saturday

Today's excitement on the floor was Foy, ZFX, and Hall Associates flying people. The above picture is the ZFX rig.

Besides spending a few remaining minutes on the show floor, I saw two sessions today. The first was "Technical Design / Direction - In a Disney Theme Park". Chuck Davis gave an interesting view into the scale and process that goes into creating a major park element. I think what was interesting to me was the degree that they come up with an idea, but they have to internally sell the idea to get funding. Since these projects are worth millions, they spend hundreds of thousands of dollars proving the ideas and methods as they proceed. While we certainly don't produce on the scope of Disney, we also often don't invest in enough time planning and determining if something will work before we are well into the process and committed. I think sometimes we would be well served to remember that spending some preliminary funding to investigate a technique before commitment allows for a smoother process, and money saved in the long run.

Next I went to "Draw Me a Picture: Collaborative Problem Solving through Digital Storyboarding". It was chaired by Robert W. Johnson, and the presenters included Gregory K. Bell, and Greg Stump. The session was an interesting view on how technology is improving and growing as a communication tool. Some of the packages that we receive are fully storyboarded, and 3-D rendered, and I suspect that much of that is to sell the product, not really for building, but it helps on the build side as well. In 3D Studio Max they showed off the section tool to get 2-D sections from a complex 3-d shape. That is a handy feature, but not enough for me to buy the program. They also talked about modeling a complex 3-D shape (a bust for Mozart) and then doing a section about every 1/2, which was then used to machine the shape. After that they did fine tooling, and made a mold from the piece to make multiples. As great as cnc machining is, I take from this, that it still isn't to the place where it is easier to simply machine something than it is to make a mold and cast duplicated. (Which for complex 3-D items is true where I work as well). The other design they talked about was a structure used for Jesus Christ Superstar where the cross was on a cantilevered beam, and after being crucified, the cross slid back, leaving Jesus hanging against a black background. The set was cool, and the 3-D software helped them animate the sequence to make sure that everyone knew what they were looking for and to help start the technical discussions. The middle part of the session was about how they accomplished the effect. The last part largely revolved around SketchUp. having heard and seen alot of the program, I fully agree to its usefulness. The presenter showed using it to define the structure, and building off of drawings created by SketchUp. This is certainly intriguing, and though he said the tolerances were much more precise than what we need in theatre, I still am suspect. For instance I know some people who routinely use it for preliminary design development, but when it comes time to build, the tolerances are usually +/- inches - far too big to use for build.

The last session of the conference for me was "Tricks of the Stage - Stage Magic". It was nice to see so many prop related sessions this year, and I enjoyed this one as well. John M. Lavarnway chaired the session and went through, with input from his other panelists, how to put together the effect. He stressed defining the effect, research, covering liability concerns, reliability concerns, and how to work with the Actors with the trick. They then showed a variety of effects such as using solenoids for Blithe Spirit, the throwing knife trick, and turning wine into water.

By the time that session let out the expo had been closed for about 45 minutes or so, and the strike was quickly proceeding.

Friday, March 20, 2009


(TD) Squared has a blog about their trip to USITT. Check it out for some session info on sessions I wasn't able to attend.

Friday at USITT

Another good day here at the show. I spent some extra time on the show floor today talking to people and manufacturers. I met Jacob Coakley from Stage Directions, who finally got me to go to www.theatreface.com/join and sign up. At the USA booth I ran into Susan Crabtree. At Thern I took a look at a track I think would be very useful for where I work, as it has alignment pins that keep each section of the track together. Checked out Bad Dog Tools for cnc router bits, as well as talk to loads of others. The floor seems large this year, especially with the extra exhibits around the Expo.

Session wise: I came in late to the Hands-on Pneumatics session, and while it wasn't a "talk" like I had expected at first by reading the session info, it was great!. There were panels of pneumatic effects set up, and you could play with the parts to make them work. There was also a variety of technical solutions that involved pneumatics that you could manipulate as well (Like an air caster out of an older edition of the Tech Expo). Kudos to the organizers.

The flip side of this session - is that I think something like this ought to be in every classroom teaching automation!

The next Session I went to was Partnerships and Co-Productions Chaired by David Grindle. Since I have worked for a variety of Co-Productions it was interesting, but wasn't very new to me. One good resource they pointed out was that Opera America has a Co-Production Handbook. The catch - you have to me a member of Opera America to download it.

Then, with David Boevers (CMU) and Roy Harline (Texas Scenic) I presented A Project -Based Approach to Technical Direction. It seems to go well except for the fire alarm. But we got an audience back and the session continued. I will put a link up for the presentation file.

Then was the Distinguished Achievement in Technical Production Award which was given to Ben Sammler.

Thursday, March 19, 2009


The Stage Expo is open and there were lots of things to see. The way the day worked out for me I only went to 2 sessions. The Technical Production Reception was great, and I got to hear what some members are thinking about. Cirque Du Soleil's "Behind the Proscenium" was disappaointing to me. I had heard such good press about their past sessions, I thought I would go (despite numerous other enticing options), and it was really just a "how you can work for us" session.

The Sky Hook from the Tech Expo

Low Profile Drop-Stop Wagon from the Tech Expo

Tech Expo Shot

A Snapping Hook

The expo floor

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

USITT Cover the Walls

This is my Cover the Walls exhibit this year. While the exhibit is marketed towards designers,but I figure technical design counts. Actually, despite the terms on the exhibit form, they welcome the TD's into the fold, and I would like to encourage more of you to show your work in upcoming years. I hope when the exhibit opens tomorrow to have some exciting shots of the Expo Floor, Tech Expo and the finished Cover The Walls exhibit.

USITT 2009 Day 1

Greetings from Cincinnati!
Day 1 has gotten off to a great start - through a long one. This year promises alot of great sessions, and so far so good. One of the things I really like about teh Duke Energy Center is that the second floor has large windows that overlook the stage expo space. So though I was able to see some of the set up when I was putting up my cover the walls exhibit and helping with the Tech Expo, I could also see how things were progressing in between sessions.

I managed to sneak in a full day of sessions as well. I started off with the Automation 101 - Brakes. Chair Alan Hendrickson and presenter Aaron Bollinger did a great job defining and explaining types of brakes, sizing, and control. One of the resources they pointed out was Accident-Prevention Regulation for Staging and Production Facilities for the Entertainment Industry.

As the Stepper Motor session was canceled, I instead went to "Period Style in the Smallest Detail" discussing period furniture, and the collaboration between the designer and director and the designer and prop master. The panel was chaired by Elizabeth Popiel and the presenters were Barbara Craig, Pam Lavarnway and Karen Rabe. They provided alot of production shots showing how they solved period related challanges, and talked about ways to achieve the effect without rebuilding the units historically accurately. They also talked alot about the process of communication. I think one of the best takeaways was that they stressed visual research and communication - not just terms or verbal discussions. They also had a variety of reference materials that they suggested, and I will try to post that once I get back to chicago and can sort through all of my notes better.

I managed to slip into the education poster session at the last minute and check out a little of that as well. I think the two things to note there was a project discussing the uses of facebook for production work, and a poster on using cad and the photocopier to make wallpaper for white models and model period furniture.

The next two sessions I went to was the Technical Production Leadership Meeting and the Managers Forum. I will admit I was a little disappointed in the managers forum. It seems like the only good question the can answer is where to look for a job. It was nice to think of some arts admin stuff though - I don't think in thos terms very often anymore. There were several questions dealing with staff that aren't up to par, but with hiring freezes, they can't be replaced, sexual harrasment as it relates to the costume shop and fittings and so forth. It was probbaly one of the few sessions I have attended in that commission, so it was interesting to see some new faces.

Last but not least was Ben Sammlers / Amanda Haley's "Bringing Order to the Chaos". It was a good session. I liked the first part best, because alot of the later part talked specifically about the Yale Budget Template, and I have been using that process for a number of years. What was more interesting to me was some of the ideas behind the template, and how he viewed his job as a Production Manager, and was he expected out of a Technical Manager. I actually have quite a few notes / comments to share with you regarding this session- but will probably be after the conference when I can get back to this.

For those of you reading this who are here in Cincinnati as well, what were your thoughts about the first day?

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Welding Plastic

Delvies Plastics has a PDF about welding thermoplastic materials. They also have a variety of plastics and tools such as engraving equipment and vacuum forming machines. The welder sells for $240, and supplies are relatively inexpensive making the start up cost for experimenting possible.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

What’s the difference between a project manager and technical director?

It depends. A few years ago, before choosing to go back to school to get my MFA I saw, or felt that there were two types of TDs, or at least one type on one end, another on the other end, and a lot that combine everything in the middle, but I felt the differences between the two types was diverging not getting closer.

Type 1 tended to work in a small shop, was very hands on and were truly jacks of all trades. Not that they dappled in everything – but were very skilled in a lot of areas. They were 1 man forces of nature. Sometimes they had a few people to help, but sometimes they didn’t. They don’t tend to “manage” they do.

Type 2 worked in a large enough shop where the scale of the show(s) demanded an crew, and management became necessary. The TD isn’t as much as a craftsman, but tend to still have most of those skills because they worked them self up to the TD position. At a LORT or regional theatre, this type of TD may do little hands on work in the shop. One TD I know once stated that if he was in the shop swinging a hammer he hasn’t done his job properly.

This is the nutshell of course – I could expound much more on the subject. And obviously it isn’t clear cut there is a lot of grey area.

I felt myself moving toward the later. More people around me means more ideas and new challenges. Also, I felt that the second type of technical direction was moving even more into a management realm because of the increasing amount of technology, materials, and complexity of stagecraft. We do a lot more things in a small scenery budget today than 15 years ago. But the draw back (or good thing for me as a TD) is that I get to research and develop and prototype and experiment with new things. But that changes my job as a TD from someone swinging a hammer and dealing with the things that need to happen right now for the show that opens in two weeks, to someone who is currently working on a show or even two in the future, while managing the show that is open, and managing and coordinating the current build.

So as I worked in this type 2 environment, and then even more so when I worked as a production manager, I found myself looking to develop my skill set, and the place that offered the most information was project management (see my earlier posts for why I thing a building a set qualifies as a project).

The tough thing about the question is that the answer to the question depends on your definition of a TD and project management. Even when you have two people that can stand there and agree on the definitions, watch them work. I’m sure that they manage and work differently. Plus, I am sure that my duties here as a PM differ from what they could be if I worked in another shop.

So for sake of brevity (what’s that?) I will leave it to you to define what a TD does. I’ll tell you what I do, in my current job, as a project manager.
-I estimate a project (set, exhibit, trade show or whatever). I do this on my own, or with others, including shop personnel depending on the scale of the project and the amount of time available. We price materials and labor, and use a variety of techniques to arrive at the estimates.
-I get price quotes / work with subcontractors / talk to the client about information and ideas, research materials and alternative solutions and have a good idea of how we can build the project for the price quoted.
-I write a proposal that tells our client what we can offer to them for what price. It will also often include onsite supervisor or labor and shipping – additional services as required.
-Then I work with the client to answer questions and may revisions based on value engineering.
-Once we get the job I order materials (or coordinate all of the following) get the drafting started, talk to the job lead and go over the job in depth, and get the calendar planned out.
-I then continue to check in, monitor, make corrections, and keep everyone in communication with each other making sure that the guys building it have all the info they need, and anything I need from or communicated to the client is done. If we have outside contractors I monitor that as well.
-The build gets moved into assemble, then down to paints and finally ready to be loaded on to the truck. I have maintained communication, schedule, scope of project, and costs, if I have done my job well.
-I plan the truck pack and load in (often with the lead supervisor who will be onsite)
-I facilitate the transition between the transfer from shop to onsite.
-I make sure everyone one has what they need when they need it.
-I remove roadblocks.
-Sometimes it feels like when I do my job the best I am not doing anything because everything goes smoothly!

The difference can be in the details. I can draft something myself, or have the drafting department do it. I can purchase materials, or the shop lead will do it –or our purchasing person will do it. I can be very particular about how I want something to be built, or I can use the resources in the personal working on my team to find options and determine the method of construction.

Beyond having more of a management point of view and the ability to use fun materials, I think the biggest difference is having a client who has chosen to use your services. While I think the idea that maintaining a good client relationship could transfer to interactions between a TD and designer / it is a very different relationship when the client can walk away from the job.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Hardware Resource

While looking today for brass hardware I came across LookInTheAttic & Company. They have a wide variety of modern and classic hardware. Take a look!

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Cable Assembly Measurements

I am planning on ordering a few stainless steel cable assemblies, and I wanted to make sure that I was specifying the lengths correctly. I found that Loos & Co had a handy reference picture. They also have a stretch calculator.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Document Sharing

I have been browsing online document storage and sharing websites and saw two that I wanted to note.

The first is docstoc. This site has a variety of "professional" documents that you can view and download. These are are both useful for the variety of content, but can also offer a template for your own use. Case in point - while browsing the keywords "technical theatre" there were a variety of theatre specifications that came up.

The second is Scribd. You can find a variety of documents/papers on different subjects that can be downloaded, shared, or commented on. There doesn't seem to be as much relevant to theatre here - but there was some interesting project management documents.

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Matte Clear Coat

One of the clear protective products we use is Modern Masters Dead Flat Varnish. The floor for "Don't Dress for Dinner" was done with 1/2" MDF cut on the CNC, covered with a little texture, painted and then finished with the dead flat. The show opened about three months ago, and the floor still looks great. The other perk is that it cleans up with water. I would definitely recommend it.

Monday, March 9, 2009

AutoCad Randomness

I learned a couple things today about AutoCAD (2007). First, if you have an ole object, for it to print you need to have the plot set to wire frame or as displayed. While that is fine for what I am working on - I could see where this could be a problem if I had a 3-D file.

This same variable also effects your text. I am printing something that has large text for the Cover the Walls diplay at USITT. When printed full size (3/4" tall), if the "hidden" option is toggled in shade plot, the text prints as outlines. Along with the ole objects, to get the text to fill, it must be set to wire frame or as displayed.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Rivets Take 2

While looking through images to send as part of our past project portfolio for the job I am currently bidding, I saw a piece we recently build (handled by a different PM) which used rivets as well.

They used these "rivets":

These came from architecturals.net and were about $4. for a dozen.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Board Foot Calculator

For no good reason other than being a little lazy, I have been using this calculator to do the job for me. There are, of course, tons of versions out there. And frankly, the conversion is pretty easy, so I probably should just do the math...
or you could refer to a chart:
1” x 4” x 1’ = 0.33 bd. ft.
1” x 6” x 1’ = 0.50 bd. ft.
1” x 8” x 1’ = 0.67 bd. ft.
1” x 10” x 1’ = 0.83 bd. ft.
1” x 12” x 1’ = 1.0 bd. ft.
2” x 4” x 1’ = 0.67 bd. ft.
2” x 6” x 1’ = 1.0 bd. ft.
2” x 8” x 1’ = 1.33 bd. ft.
2” x 10” x 1’ = 1.67 bd. ft.
2” x 12” x 1’ = 2.0 bd. ft.

Check here for a more inclusive reference list. And here for a version available for excel.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Fake Rivets

It seems as though it is always the weird things that take the most time to hunt out. This time I am searching for alternatives for fake rivets. I believe the last time I did this the rivets were on the smallish size, and I think we made them by sculpting them around a bolt head. They looked nice, but were time consuming if I remember correctly.

One option I am looking at is upholstery tacks. The size I am looking for current is around an 1 1/2" and there are a few that come close, and look good. DIY Upholstery Supply has a number of decorative nail options larger than an 1". Such as:

The other option is mushroom plugs or buttons. I can get these in hardwoods that will match the rest of the construction, but do not come in the current size I am looking for. While these are pretty common, Bear Woods has a variety of wood parts and pieces. They also have a variety of wooden game parts. Cherry Tree Toys has a similar stock of merchandise, which I have used before.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

Molding References

Looking through molding resources for a current historical project I am bidding I found a few resources I thought would be useful to post here.

First, Hyde Park Moldings, has a variety of useful moldings. They also have an article describing the different materials molding is made from.

Balmer also has a variety of moldings available, as well as custom and made to order pieces. They also have pricing available online and cad drawings.

Focal Point also has some pieces available online, but I think the most interesting thing about Focal Point is their Quick Clips. This item is a faster system where brackets are installed to the walls, and then the cornice snaps into the previously installed brackets. They are also reusable if adhesive is not used, which means that they could be used for theatre work.

Since we are on the topic of molding anyway, Lee Valley has a tool that is also useful for mounting molding. In this case its a jig that helps you keep the cornice at teh correct height / angle, and then slipps out from behind the piece so you can move on to the next piece.

Monday, March 2, 2009


Freeman Manufacturing Supply has a video library that is a free how-to regarding mold making, casting and laminating. They also sell a variety of sample kits and other supplies. Their video collect has over 2 hours of content, plus their technical library has some useful resources as well. These resources include a glossary of plastic tooling terms, shore hardness guidelines, viscosity guidelines, and conversion tables. Another section of their site has a variety of users guides, such as one on selecting the right adhesive.

One line of their products is called Renshape and is polyurethane foamboard for machining. This line seems intriguing for machining via the CNC machine.

Last but not least they have some alternative lumber products like a pre-primed white Masonite sheet and "armorboard" an exterior grade plywood with hardboard faces.