Saturday, March 31, 2007

Projection Shutters

Video black: not real black, visible, and annoying, the curse of projections. The good news is since this problem is fairly global, there are alot of solutions. At UMKC, the typical CD-Rom shutter is a typical solution (it was also demonstrated in the 2007 Tech Expo), but we have found that it can be temperamental at certain angles. Rope, pulleys and a piece of cardboard have also produced usable shutters as well. We have even used pneumatically controlled shutters (with the dowser on a piston) which worked well (the noise was minimal since an exhaust was used.) However, if you use projectors enough, and fine control is important, there are a number of DMX controlled shutters now available commercially.
400 including shipping. Very lightweight (under a pound). pretty simple system with a shutter that covers the projector.
Slightly more expensive than the above product.
from City Theatrical, much more expensive (775 list)

CAD Software

It doesn't take long in theatre for the great debate between drafting software to rise to the surface. While many will stand behind Vectorworks or AutoCAD (in much the same way that they will PC vrs. Mac), and others will throw in IntelliCAD, Sketchup, and 4 or 5 other programs, I will save that debate for another time.

I am here today to introduce Napkin Cad

Portable, fast, easy to distribute, and easy to use. What more can you ask for? You can download a PDF at the above site.

Materials Resource

MatWeb is a site that allows you to look at a number of materials (wood, steel, aluminum...) and search for specific properties or compare types of materials to each other. For instance for wood you can find the density, tensile strength, and other information needed for structural design for a large number of species of wood. While it isn't a source that I refer to often, it has come in handy in specialized applications.

Thursday, March 29, 2007

Additional Job Resource

A new resource I have just recently found can be found at:

It is educational in nature so positions are mostly for colleges, and they are for a variety of positions (history, technical, and so forth).

While I am speaking of jobs, i have been reading on Yahoo about job searching through blogs. Social networking is all over, and it seems to be more important to be connected. While some of this always occurred (conferences, list serves, forums and such), its a different game. While I think blogs are useful (otherwise why would I write...), they don't replace real news, and I think care needs to be taken about the validity of the information that you read. This is really true for the Internet as a whole, but as more and more people post, create websites, blog and otherwise disseminate information (Wikipedia...) its important to take a look at where the information comes from, whether or not it has face validity (does it seem to make sense), and if there are resources sited, or credentials to demonstrate some authority. While I don;t mean to get sidetracked, I think these issues become a step more complex when you start using these sources as a way to move ahead in your career.

For instance, MySpace now has a number of theatrical companies listed. I think this is good for the site as it is good publicity, and it tunes them into a generally younger audience. however, who is posting for the company? It is a person authorized by the company to display the site or is it someone who works there that took some initiative. If you comment on their site, will that really make you more hire-able to them, or will they not even notice. Secondly, if a person blogs in the name of a company (with or without consent) what is appropriate? How much can you tell about a specific process? I think about some of these issues even when writing this blog. I want to be sensitive about others intellectual property, their privacy and such. And I think there are some very fine lines between discussing issues relevant to technical theatre that are also touchy subjects that can be sensitive. Second, if you rely on a casual site to network, then they will have access to your casual site as well. I use myspace, and I enjoy the site. But for me that site is for those who know me personally, who are interested in photos of my last vacation, or my pets, and don't feel the need to see what I am doing professionally. And for me, that idea would make me weary of specifically trying to network through myspace for jobs. Though I suppose I could create a "professional" site.

However, there are other sites to consider as well. Note that I am avoiding facebook, and all of the other MySpace like services. Linked in is one . This site is geared to be a professional network. Also there is JigSaw . There seem to be some important differences. Linked in you choose to participate, and have your information posted in a similar vain to MySpace. Jigsaw however, you can be put into the system without your own awareness. You can points by entering accurate names, positions, and contact information. I could go there and enter my address book and gain X number of points. If I put in inaccurate information someone could challenge me and I would lose points if the information was indeed incorrect (there is a time limit though, as over time it is reasonable that some people will move on). I could then use my points to "purchase" contact information and names of people that I may want to have for business or hiring purposes. You can also outright purchase names. Because of this, I am not as sure about joining Jigsaw. I am uncomfortable about putting my contacts information out publicly, first, but second, it seems as though it would be very easy to misrepresent your company using the site. but as always, these are my thoughts, and I encourage you to explore the sites, and decide for yourself. And, if you want- come back and comment and share your thoughts as well.

Adhesive Resource

A simple recurring challenge that TD's often face is choosing the best adhesive for the job at hand. That's where This to that comes in. The website has 11 different materials (including paper, wood, plastic, Styrofoam, fabric, metal....) which you can choose from to name the 2 objects you are attempting to glue. For instance, When I entered plastic and metal it gave me three choices, and some tips for the best adhesion. While it is limited in terms of materials (different types of foam and fabric may have different adhesion capabilities), this is a great place to start when you are gluing object together that you don't work with often.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Grand Opera House

The Grand Opera House (on the corner of Walnut and 7th in downtown Kansas City) operated from 1891-1921. While it made 5 million in ticket sales during those years, it closed its doors, and by 1927 the insides had been removed and a parking garage was installed inside the building. A tower was also removed from the building. The picture below is the outside as it stands today.

Led by Dr. Felcia Hardison Londre, a group of UMKC theatre students explored the now empty building. This landmark is in such a state of deterioration that it is slated to be torn down.

In the below picture you can see some of the class gathered around a section of brick. This area of brick is where we suspect that the proscenium wall joined the exterior brick. the next picture is of the steelwork that would have spanned and supported the proscenium opening.

One of the best features of this trip was that some of the rigging equipment was still in existence. The first picture is of some of the sheeves.

The beam shown in the next picture was where we believe the linesets were operated. The wooden sheaves seem to be bolted through the grid and through the joists.

You can see these holes better from above the grid. There is ladder that goes up to this area of the building.

Below is a picture of the wiring box for the telephone.

The last picture is of the electrical boxes.

the building was a fascinating look at old technology, it is a shame that it could not be saved or restored to the splendor that is obvious in its exterior architecture.

Job Search Resources

As I search the Internet for job listings, it occurred to me that it might not be a bad idea to make a list of places here.

Art Search through TCG is probably the biggest resource. While it is somewhat expensive, I have to admit that there is always a copy I can use somewhere in the company, so I don't routinely purchase the subscription.

Stagecraft mailing list (address in the resource blog) will sometimes post listings,
This has been a great site for a number of years. You can now post a profile. And even better the profile works, I already made a contact through my profile.
A paid site-about 35 a year for a student, but that jumps to 75 for an individual. This used to be a free site, which I would often refer to, but I haven't been a member since they changed their policy. You can look at the job postings (title, and state), and these seem to correlate with ArtSearch. However, the site offers some services to job seekers (resume help, promotion, ect) if you are actively looking for work and had the dough this could be for you.
I just joined this site so we will see how it goes. You fill out a description about yourself (basically your resume) and employers can search your information. You can also post pictures and your resume. Site is set up to be international, and is not very specific - there is not a TD category for instance, so I listed Technical Manager. You do have to have 3 professional jobs to list your profile.
jobs in the Philadelphia area.
The company that is at USITT.
Playbill, and yes, I have gotten a job from there, and hired from there.....
Has job services for summer work
Has a few listing, but listing I have noticed in alot of other sites.
Another site I haven't registered for, but looks interesting.
Not geared only to theatre, yet they do have tech theatre listings.

SETC, and other conference sites often have job listings, as does USITT

Friday, March 23, 2007

TD Resources

As the topic of resources have come up quite a bit lately, I thought I would take today's blog an mention some of the resources that are available.

The Stagecraft Mailing List
This is one of may favorite sources of information. It is an active list, and the subscribers have a wide range of backgrounds. While the list does go off-topic occasionally, it is a great tool.

Yale Tech Briefs
While the information isn't available online, you can subscribe to it. If you are able, I would suggest finding the back issues, as there are alot of good ideas in the issues. each tech Brief is based off of a problem encountered in production, and a solution to solve the issue. There is also 2 volume set of technical solutions that pull from the tech briefs. While there were minor revisions for clarity, if you have the entire collection of tech briefs, the books would be repetitive.

USITT Tech Expo publications
Very similar to the Yale Tech Brief collection. Every other year USITT hosts a tech expo on which ideas are submitted and chosen that help create solutions to production challenges. The last edition came out a few weeks ago at the last USITT conference in Phoenix, AZ.

USITT Technical Production Commission
This site has 2 things of interest. First, they publish an online version tech briefs/tech expo types of solutions called the Technical Source Guide. Secondly, there are notes listed on the site from a few of the past USITT conference sessions.

Stage Directions
A magazine which you can subscribe to for free, now features a monthly column on technical direction and focuses on innovation solutions.

Also put out by USITT, this focuses on the wider industry, but has a range of information that is valuable to a TD.
A website that has links for different areas of technical production. The amount of information varies by what you are looking for, but still a useful site to check out.

Theatre Crafts (magazine)
If you are connected to a university library you may be able to find an older publication called Theatre Crafts. They went through some minor changes, and older editions seem to be more useful than they newer versions, but it is still a valuable resource. This magazine became Theatre Crafts International, and then Entertainment Design
The above site talks about how to use the library for theatre research. While it is geared for a specific library, call numbers, the book and periodical lists are still very useful.
These sites are a source of a variety of links to additional places to look for information.
This Site is run by Scott Parker, a member of the stagecraft mailing list. While geared for High School, there is some great information on the site.

Other magazines include:
Live Design, Lighting Dimensions, American Theatre

I am sure I have missed a few, but these are the major sources that I look at other than product catalogs, books, and material research . Let me know if I have neglected to mention a resource that you find useful.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Visual Thinking and Problem Solving

There are several strands of research that I find fascinating with regards to problem solving. first, what are the steps of problem solving. Heather with Jumpstart uses a 6 step approach , that really amounts more to conflict resolution than it does a more measured research approach. There are visual methods - sketching out various solutions. The scientific, classic view of determining alternatives and weighing each one. There are processes used by people in high stress positions where a single option is weighed, searching for a reason why it wouldn't work, and when 1 solution is found it is implemented without ado. Most of these are more based in the process of decision making though- and problem solving and decision making, aren't precisely the same thing. Really, the decision is really only 1 step of the problem solving process. It is also interesting to note that some of the best problem solving techniques I have seen have come out of resources devoted to ethics, and ethical decision making. At any rate, for me the start of problem solving starts with defining the problem, taking stock (gut reaction, what I know, what I know others know, ect...) then taking action steps to gain more information, and so forth. What is important to note here however is that problem solving is a great way to look at double loop learning as your assumptions are very important in determining how you respond to a challenge. For someone with a history of automation, the easiest solution may be a pneumatic cylinder, for someone else, that might be a last resort, simply because of prior experience.

At any rate, it often seems that problem solving visually is often practiced by scenic designers, and often not tended to as much by TDs (though they occasionally do it without thinking about it). This can be done in multiple ways, physically through the manipulation of items (mock ups, tests, models) or by drawings both by hand and in CAD. CAD in particular helps identify cable paths, fleet angles, travel paths and the like. If you draft in 3-d you can see the object from multiple views to check for errors that way. Layers can be adjusted and/or locked to plot only what is needed, while saving your work for future reference. It can be a powerful tool - and one I believe is underused.

While looking for more information on this topic I came across the following website:
It has alot of good stuff. I particularly think that transferring shapes to flat pictorial drawings and back are useful to develop spacial / visual skills. It is ironic that in an age with such computer savvy-ness that spacial relationships are sometimes so hard to teach . Also on the above site if you go to the schedule section and then click on 'electronic reading pack' there are some good pdfs. I think a class like this would be interesting to teach, and if nothing else, could be an good intro to drafting.

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

House of Invention review

House of Invention, by David Lindsay, is a book similar to some of the others that I have reviewed on the topic of inventions. With this book the author takes the approach of going through a home to discuss inventions through-out. There are some gems of information, not necessarily paramount to technical theatre, but interesting nonetheless. The section on breakfast ceral, the pencil, and the universal screw thread were perhaps my favorites. However, on your future reading list, I would rank this lower than Invention by Design by Petroski, the readability is lower, and it wasn't as entertaining.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007


I came across Hardi-Plank and Hardi-Panel several shows back when a fellow TD student used it in a production he was doing.

The material is a fiber compost - cement material. You do need special saw blades, as they dull regular blades very quickly. The plank is used for siding and the panel is used for flooring. It is good for waterproofing, and fireproofing. It paints well (it requires paint for finishing) and is very durable. It is less expensive than lumber and come in several different textures so it can simulate real planks.

In use it was found to be better than comparable OSB or hardboard products.

For more information:

Another product that was discussed was boxcar siding. Its basing stick lumber with tongue and grooves meant to be joined together for siding, often used in the older box cars. There are many types available (lumber, widths, ect).
For more information:

Also, I should note that some of these materials are used for wainscoting.

Monday, March 19, 2007

USITT Part 2

Well now that the conference is over in Phoenix, it is time to get back on track. While most of my time was spent interviewing, I did catch a couple of sessions. Also – there were some great products on the expo floor. So while what follows is a conglomeration of info, there is some good stuff.

At the Digital Swag Session these were some of the finds. A more complete list is available at the presenter’s homepage:

Automation Sites: a computer animation site

Drafting Programs
Sketch Up

Others: Mostly has lighting calculations, but includes some rigging information planning software as well as storyboarding they do fire curtains and borders, but the cable guides caught my eye.

Thursday, March 15, 2007


USITT is here again, and this time it is Phoenix, AZ. Hopefully, now that my display in the Cover the Walls exhibit is up and the conerference is open, I will get back to more regular blogs!

This is the display that has been keeping me so busy - the portal actually lights up - I put LED's in the inside of the frame. As always for me, I am already thinking of how I can prep for the next display, and make the process (build and load-in) easier, as well as maintaining my design choices after a trip through the airport.

Anyway, to move on... Most of my first day (wed) at Usitt was registering, doing the job search thing, and installing my display. However, I did manage to checkout Stump the TD. They busted a few myths, and then took questions from the audience about technical problems they had incurred. There were a few good ones, and a few not so good questions, but I suppose that it to be expexted.

One question was: a bird needed to fly up, then be shot, then fall and hit the ground. However, it was an outdoor venue with no "roof". Answers ranged from disguizing a remote control helicopter to spring loaded birds to using the element of distraction.

My question was that I needed a piece of aircraft cable to be rigged horizontally, with a curtain that changes positions, that needed to fly out on a lineset, and not have deflection. They suggested I hand the designer a book on physics. At least I negotiated my way out of the unit at the time! Though we did talk about the potencial for trussing, but it would be costly, and time consuming.

At one point they said that a TD's job requires 2 skills: Imagination and Negotiation.

Last but not least, some products that were mentioned:

Floor Strippeds - used for linolumn, put good for paint blobs as well:

For information on Hazardous materials:

Quotes of the day

"When in doubt build it stout, with things you know about"

"How many TD's does it take to come up with 2 ideas? 1"

Sunday, March 11, 2007

LED Stars

For a recent production of the opera Susannah the set design called for the use of stars. The main scenic elements was a series of 3 portals, and a drop which would all incorporate stars. The portals were stock units, so we only needed to modify the structure for whatever technology we decided to use. Also, the theatre owned a fiber optic curtain which we used for the backdrop.

We discussed and evaluated a series of techniques and methods for accomplishing the effect including wiring LED's, using addition fiber optic cables, and among others. the final method was chosen to meet the following criteria:

- We needed to be financially cautious. We had around $300 to do the effect.

- Time was a major consideration, labor for build was limited, but available. However, the load in period was short, and labor was tight.

- The final result needed to replicate the look of the fiber optic drop. There were 2 components to this. First, the illuminator on the drop allowed the stars to "twinkle". Second, we wanted to match color intensity as much as possible.

- Operation - would they need to be controlled separately, would they be dimmable, could they be controlled by the board....

Our solution was to use bright white, wide angle LED Christmas lights*. On AC current LED's give a very slight twinkle. The lights were controlled by the board for ease of operation as well as being able to control the brightness easily. Thigh it would still take time to install the lights, we would not need to spend any time wiring. We determined to have 3 strands on each portal header to facilitate twinkling. Each strand could be on a different dimmer and the intensity could fluctuate throughout the cue.

To install the lights we pre-made blocks about 1.5" square with a whole wide enough to accommodate the lights drilled through it. On the front of the portal 1 carpenter drilled holes placed according to the paint elevations in one of three drill bit sizes (the different sized holes allowed different amount of light through, making it seems as though some stars were closer than others.) To install we put the LED through the blocks center hole and then gaff taped the whole thing to the rear of the flat. We then secured the gaff tape with a couple of staples. The below picture illustrates this.

In this picture you can see the multiple strands of lights used. We ran the lights in odd patterns to try to eliminate the look of lines of stars. once the effect was installed and working, you could not tell which was one what line - they looked random between using the three different lines and the three different hole sizes.

The picture below shows the header and stars being lifted into position so we could start the installation of the portal legs. We used Genie Tower lifts to raise the portals since there is not a fly system in this theatre space. You can also see that we only used some of the LED's. At the end of the cord we bundled up the remainder and put it in a bag to mask the light out put from the bundled LED's. In retrospect the only thing I would have changed would be to cover the rear of the portals with some masking because in the scene with the lowest amount of light the stars did bled somewhat on the front of the portal behind it.

The below picture shows the final set. It doesn't do justice to the effect however. The LED's worked very nicely. The different sized drill holes was a great method of varying the stars.

*We purchased the lights from The prices were competitive and shipping was low, and the service was fast. What more can you ask for in our line of business?

Saturday, March 10, 2007


What is innovation? This concept is a topic that is on my mind alot lately, for several reasons. First, USITT is right around the corner and this year will display their biannual tech expo. Secondly, one of the current things I am learning about is innovation in non-profits. And, third, I recently completed what the University of Missouri - Kansas City calls "Entrepreneurship Bootcamp" - a 4 week long intensive program where you learn global aspects of starting your own business including law and financials and many other aspects. The culmination of the month-long experience is to compete in an idea competition over the development of an innovative product in which the successful team takes a way a grand, and the potential for funding offers to develop the product or service outside of the program. Nevertheless this loops back to USITT as some of the student chapters that also offer idea competitions which revolve around theatrical uses, and ultimately ties back into the Tech Expo- which showcases technical theatre innovation.

So what is innovation? What is the qualifiers? can the definition depend? Can it be innovative in a specific location, but within the industry as a whole? Theatre is innovative by default - how then, do you make it more so? I was looking at a vitae the other day that listed the development of a stagecraft class in a certain college as an innovation in teaching. While the class may have been an innovation for that specific college, introducing a stagecraft class now would be hardly innovative in the industry, or in colleges globally. Furthermore innovation in theatre is complicated by the fact that often the technique or method is being used in another industry prior to use in theatre. So it is innovative in the transfer of technique but not always in the development of the original technology.

Another challenge to innovation in technical theatre (especially props, paints and scenery) is tracking the history. Our innovation is constrained by show choice, style of production, and design choices, however, those could be innovators as well. Communicating what worked, and what didn't over time is very difficult in a theatre setting. We have several theatre magazines that can help track these ideas (TD&T, Stage Directions, Stagecraft list serve, Theatre Crafts, Yale Tech Briefs). Each of these (and other publications) have various advantages and disadvantages. Each of these usually focuses on a success, which is good, however, there are many factors that created that success that are under the surface. particular design choices, theatre setting, budgets, labor, available resources in the shop, time are just a few variables that mean that even these published successful ideas often requires adjustment.

The questions becomes is where does innovation start. How much does a process have to change to be innovative? How innovative must an idea/technique/object have to be to be acclaimed as innovative? Are their different levels that define innovation: is it different for individuals than for institutions? How can innovation be bench marked? How do you determine if it is innovative (research?). What quality standard must be made for an innovation?

There aren't easy answers, but I think that for an industry that is constantly evolving, they are necesssary questions to ask.

Friday, March 9, 2007

Shop Magnets

A few weeks ago I discussed a site that offered a quick release magnet useful for picking up or transferring screws. Now I would like to broaden that category to a few other products.

First is a product that operates very similarly - its main difference is reach since the tool is long and slender. It can be found at:

The other links that I have for today are for various magnetic brooms. These are a great way to clean the shop or stage floor, as picking up all metal objects is as easy (actually perhaps even easier) as sweeping. They are similar to push brooms, except that they have a wheel on wither side of the "broom" and the broom is a magnet. The brooms are faster than the quick release, and are usually more thorough, particularly important when metal shavings need to be picked up. This is another tool that you should pick up for your shop.

Thursday, March 8, 2007


You can't be in theatre long before a show comes along that takes place in a setting full of rocks. While there are many ways to create rocks (and I have a few examples of methods I have used), today's entry is a few sites where you can buy rocks - or rather fake rocks.
This site sells pre-made fake rocks in several materials. many of their designs are created to hide something visually unappealing though they have other types as well (pet houses for example). They have a few tree stumps as well and they are able to custom make rocks for your unique purposes. While the rocks aren't inexpensive, depending on how close the audience is, and your financial and labor situations, this could be a possible solution.
Much bigger scale for the rocks on this site, and I am sure the costs reflect that. Since they handle costs through quotes, I imagine that this would be a pricey option. However, the selection of what is available on this site is pretty interesting. What intrigued me the most was the tree and the flex bark that they sell. While rocks can be difficult, they usually turn out well in the long run. Realistic bark is difficult to make.
This company id most similar to the first, specializing in smaller rocks to hide eyesores. They are based in Wisconsin, though you can search for a local distributor (multiple came up for my location).

So, for the next show that comes along that has a pile of rocks, add rock shopping to your list of possible technical solutions.

Tuesday, March 6, 2007

The Art of Construction

The art of Construction is a book by Mario Salvadori published by the Chicago Review press in 1990. Salvadori also wrote Why building Stand up and Why Buildings Fall Down. The Art of Construction is actually geared to a much young audience (10 & up), which actually makes it very appealing. Salvadori covers alot of the basic terminology and theories behind structures in the book in easy to understand language, pictures, and simple projects to try out (folding paper into I-beams for instance). The book actually covers much more ground than I expected when I picked it up - it even goes into bridge and truss design and assorted other designs (including showing how you can stand on an egg without breaking it. While the book doesn't go into very much detail it is a quick and painless read (and even fun). It also Serves as a great introduction to his other two books mentioned above.

These books also combine well with Structural Design for the Stage (Holden and Sammler), Invention by Design (Petroski) and the building big series of videos. With in this conglomeration of texts and videos there are similar repeat themes, and each build on similar ideas, examples, and locations.

Monday, March 5, 2007

Resource: Letters

The above link is for a company that makes sign letter. They can make them from several hundred fonts, and out of foam, plastic, and metal as well as other - just about everything you can want.

I used this company a few years back to make a sign for H M S Pinafore. We bought 18" tall by 1" thick letters from 2lb foam. The sign was a 2x4 rectangle with the sandwiched in between. the exterior decorations was 3/4" plywood. A couple of 1/4" threaded rod held the unit together and provided safe rigging points.

The price of the letters was within our budget, but though they were a little pricey, the quality was much higher than the shop could have produced, and the labor savings combined with the quality made purchasing the letters the right choice.

Sunday, March 4, 2007

Book Review: AutoCAD Onstage

AutoCAD Onstage: A Computer-Aided Design Handbook for Theatre, Film, and Television was written by Rich Rose in 1990.

Why, you may ask, am I reading a book about a drafting program that is currently coming out with yearly updates that is 17 years old? Well, honestly, when I first purchased the book I didn't pay attention, and it wasn't till I read the description on the first couple of pages about the computer system that it was truly obvious. But, I have other books from Rich Rose that are useful, and frankly I have an interest in the historical view of stagecraft. I thought that there might be some use in understanding the early start of AutoCAD, since many of the older commands are still buried within the program.

While obviously, many of the commands are easier to get to, and often more complicated (there seem to be more ways to enter a line for example), it is surprising what was around in the 1990 version of AutoCAD. It is interesting to note that while things are drafted in Full Scale, the limits, and such are all set up to be representative of 1 piece of paper, and each drawing would be 1 sheet. There are obviously alot of changes made in this area of AutoCAD. There are even a few commands that are still in AutoCAD today that I didn't know about! For instance, in the Undo command, you can type the number of step you want to back up, or you can mark the location. Once a position is marked, you can easily undo to this point.

I often use the clique that AutoCAD is like an iceberg, and that most users (particularly theatrical users) use only a very small part of what AutoCAD is capable of. It is interesting to note that within the book, even Rose alludes to that as well- he will point out several options of a command (such as Arc) and then list the other ways and tell the reader to play with these and learn them, but that they won't be as useful generally speaking, as the 2 methods he pointed out in the text.

While certainly, the Rich Rose text is too far out of date to actually learn the program from the book, it is useful to flip through and gain a sense of the history of CAD, and perhaps an insight into command development. First to understand current commands better, but also to understand why some commands still exist (limits for example, are no longer very useful, and relative and absolute entry aren't used directly as often today).

Book Review: The Memory Jogger 2

The Memory Jogger 2 is a small pocket book that is a great resource. The book is a quick reference guide to a variety of project planning tools. Tools include brainstorming, flowcharts, affinity charts, fish and tree diagrams, gantt charts as well as many others. The tools are useful for three different types of situations: working with ideas, working with numbers and teamwork, though the tools can be used in groups. This is a great companion for the Thinkertoys book that I introduced last month. While the last book was more focused on idea generation, these exercises advance ideas through the various stages of planning, increasing detail as different tools are used.

The book is available through Goal/QPC
The books is also available through services such as

Friday, March 2, 2007

Platform Pneumatics

The Pirates of Penzance, a recent show I was TD for required a platform to rotate 180 degrees between Act 1 and Act 2. Since singers would need to climb, jump off of, dance, otherwise subject the platform to alot of use and movement. It was important, therefore, to have the platform be very stable. However, one of the greatest challenges was that the performance venue did not allow any sort of attachment into the stage. What we decided to do was to use pneumatic cylinders (pancake cylinders) attached to casters that were mounted within the steel frame. When the cylinders where retracted the unit sat on the floor. When air was applied, the casters picked the unit up off of the floor and it was easily movable. Below are more details and photos of the process.
The above picture shows the cylinders with the hoses prepped. The hose ran from the tank (co2) and regulators through a valve that controlled the system then to each caster in a row. Since the shift happened at intermission we determined that the casters didn't have to fire at the same time so we ran the hose sequentially. The first three casters used Tee push in fittings (threaded to fit into the cylinder), and the last was a straight fitting. The air pressure was open, the regulator was adjusted to 80psi, and the valve was opened. The cylinders pushed the casters out, lifting the platform. The shift was performed. The air was turned off, the valve opened to exhaust the system and the weight of the platform pushed the casters back into the cylinders, setting the frame securely on the floor.
Above: The system set up in the shop.

Above: the platform with the system in process of installation.

Above: interior view of installed system

Above: exterior of platform with flats attached.

Quick Release Magnet

This magnet is a must around any shop-whether you work with steel or not. At the end of the day during clean-up, after strike of a show - or even just moving screws from one storage container to another, this tool is very handy.

here is a link to one supplier:,42363,42356

The magnet basically attracts while it is in it's normal position, and you squeeze the handle to raise the magnet and release what you have picked up with it. very simple to use, and very effective.

Lee Valley, the vendor above which sells this contraption is one of my favorite non-theatrical vendors. They have good prices, high quality, and alot of useful and unique products. Surf their site and get a feel for what they have - their inventory has come in handy to me more than once in my career as a TD.

Google Docs & Spreadsheets

Google Docs and Spreadsheets is somewhat like Basecamp, the service I used recently on a project and blogged about here last month.

The advantage of Googles service seems to be:
You can create documents online (rather than only uploading them)
You can edit with others real time online
You can export your files in a variety of formats.

While Basecamp allowed others to edit, it wasn't real-time - it was controlled by version numbers. You could, therefore, potentially edit something at the same time causing errors.

Also, My biggest difficulty with Basecamp is the way that it exports. I can't use a web based pdf maker that uses the URL because it is a password protected site. The formatting is lost when I copy it into an office document. And their only export option is xml which I don't have the software to translate into something more usable. It allows you to archive it on the site, which is good, but leaves me with no soft copy of the project. I can easily download the files that where shared and revised - it is the to-do lists, messages and such that are more problematic.

Google, on the other hand, uses files for all activities - to-do lists, contacts ect. It is not specifically formatted to be a project management software, yet can be adapted into that quite easily. I also like that Google allows you to publish the file to a web page or a blog.

To learn more:

Insta-Snow Powder

Instant Snow is an absorbent polymer that greatly expands when it comes into contact with water. Once the water evaporates, the powder can be reused. It is realistic to look at and touch. The snow can be spritzed with water to maintain its fluffiness. It has even been used for indoor snowboarding.

Some other facts:
-It is slippery to walk on
-It is non-toxic (and 99% water)
-It can be used on any surface except untreated wood
-It feels cool to the touch
-The snow can be colored
-It can be used outside and on plant life
-Kids love it

1 pound runs about $35 and covers an area 20"x30"x4" deep (about 8 gallons of snow).

While this may never completely compete with plastic fake snow, I think it could be useful when the audience is very close, or for set dressing. There are some pieces of set dressing that never looks quite right, no matter what kind of fake snow is used. While the price is somewhat high depending on how much you would need, If you were careful to minimize losses, you could save a significant part of the powder for reuse.

To get more information check out the below link. The site also has some other great products as well.