Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Hemp House Rigging - The 'old fashioned way'

Dawn Wilfong, 24, works the fly rail and hauls a piece of coiled rope during a performance of “A Christmas Carol.”  (c) 2010 Photo by Thomas Slusser (For The Virginian-Pilot)

Check out this great story about one of the few remaining active rope rigging houses.  http://hamptonroads.com/2010/12/behind-scenes-wells-theatre-rare-find

This wooden pin-rail is in a theatre built in Texas in the 1920's.

One of the most common scenarios this blogger sees is equipment like this that has never been serviced in 50-70+ years.  The Loft Blocks are sometimes made of dry-rotted wood or sand-cast pigiron, either of which could fail under load without notice.  The ropes need constant review and regular replacement, too, as they weaken with age and abrasion.  As you can see in the second picture, the facility operators in this building don't understand the concept of counterweighting the batten loads, so everything is stage-heavy.  The battens are dead-hauled (bull-dogged) up, and if the tie-off fails or the fly crew looses their grip, then the batten and load will will come crashing to the stage.

Other potential problems are retro-fitted belaying pins:   I've found rebar, conduit, gas pipe, broom handles, steel spikes, and other odd items used in place of the correct items.  Some hemp-house facilities are 'hand-me-down' theatres that started-out as the High School Auditorium, then was the Middle School, and is now part of the Elementary School facility.  Not only is the equipment MORE DANGEROUS, but it is located where young children not familiar with the hazard potential can pull-out the belaying pins and/or untie the rope lines.

It is extremely important that the operators and staff fully understand how the fly system works and what safety precautions must be taken when loading and operating the system.

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