Wednesday, January 30, 2008


For lots of information about plywood (and other lumber products) check out:
They have lots of reference information available for download (you do need to create a free account). It is handy material to have on hand - especially if you need to do any engineering or structural design.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Painters Pyramids

After repainting the house that I moved into a few months back, I can say from experience that these would have been helpful for some of the pieces. They are small plastic pyramids to set objects on that allow you to paint edges and the top at the same time. Found in Lee Valley, the catalog mentions that the “old timers” used nails or screws to provide the same benefit. For me the bit of info is as cool as the objects themselves!

Tools for angles

Hartville Tool has a couple products that I thought would be a good add to any toolbox.

First was the “bevel boss”. It’s a 3” x 12” steel rule that allows you to set angles with your bevel gauge to a .25 degree. The reverse side is a ruler. It’s selling for 34.

The other product that caught my eye was the “angle fix gauge”. You can measure your angles and then it will divide the angle and you can use it to help line up your saw. Seems like it would be handy for molding work. And, as it sells for 15.00, it won’t hit the pocketbook so hard.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Mounted roller lifts

The link below offers a variety of small scale roller mechanisms. The site targets photographers, but the rollers (and some of the other pieces) could be useful as well. The units they sell can go as long as 12' and can be stacked (up to 8 rollers)

Monday, January 21, 2008

Quick releases

Check out the following site for their quick releases:

A person I am working with was speaking of them recently and highly recommended them. I like that they (depending on the version) have such a significant load rating.

Also the following site is interesting. They offer varying type of quick releases used for hot air balloons. I could definitely see some uses for them theatrically.

Curved Plywood

Source for curved plywood:

The have 1/2 rounds and full rounds. A good replacement for tight radius and where the grain of wacky wood won't work.


The following is a link to a resource that supplies acrylic domes.
pricing ranges from 40 for 5" thin wall acrylic, to well... much more, though my pricing isn't current. At any rate, funky acrylic shape sources are always good to have on hand - and they have some other interesting products as well.

Friday, January 18, 2008

How dark is dark

A new carbon / nanotube carpet like material reflects .045% of light. Would be great for scenery / masking!

Read the article at:

Monday, January 14, 2008

Cool Knee pads

Check out these knee pads:

Not only good for cushioning - but would make getting around fun and easy.

New product

I cam across a new product the other day: Paperstone.

We were using a piece for a museum project and we cnc text onto the surface of the product.

The material is very heavy and hard (multiple bits were used to cut the engraved text), and oil / water affected the product - though it is to be used as a counter top surface.

It's interesting that its 100% recycled - but at a rumored 800 a sheet, I doubt I will see it for theatrical purposes. Regardless - I thought it was worth a mention as it is different than what we normally get to play with.

Safety Information

The following website caught my eye this morning:

Its a safety guide regarding working at heights produced in the UK. It leaves much out, but I though the risk assessment, precautionary measures and bibliography is worth a look.

Friday, January 11, 2008


Perhaps a little off topic, but then again somehow almost everything is useful somehow or another in technical theatre.

I have been planning an itinerary for a weekend in Chicago for some friends who are coming. I wanted to map out the locations with markers and no driving directions (or the lines that map quest puts on the map even w/o printing the directions.

The place that I found that I ended up using was:
You can make a list and they will put markers on the map for you. You can link to it from another site, but if you want a PDF they want to charge you for it. I used Print Screen, and put it into word....

There is another site called community walk ( I haven't played with it too much, but it offers free and paid services, and alot of ability to customize content (audio for example). I could see multiple uses for this (touring for example) that might make it useful.

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Planning Roller Coasters

I was reading an article about Maurer Rides – a company that build roller coasters in FunWorld, and I thought I would pass on a few points that I found interesting and relevant. Their approach to design development and implementation is divided up into 4 phases: Explorer, Artist, Judge and Warrior.

The exploration stage is where all the information is gathered. Collecting available data, looking for information that isn’t readily available, requirements of the ride (especially requirements that are in apparent conflict), restraints, and all other pertinent information occurs during this stage. This allows the artist in the next step the ability to come up with a diverse amount of creative ideas.

The artist stage uses all of the gathered information to generate a variety of ideas for the coasters design. This phase generates the best ideas when the team is diversified and resources are used from every angle. A wide variety of participants discuss ideas before being fully developed.

“Judge” is the next stage. During this period evaluation occurs regarding ideas and current achievement within the project. It also matches the ideas against the specifications to confirm that the proposed ideas meet requirements.

The final stage is implementation which is where the warrior comes into play. The Warrior realizes the idea from the designs to a finished product. Schedules, budgets and planning are among the tools used here.

Lastly the article relates a common message: the better your initial requirements, goals (requirements for a successful outcome) are, the better you can evaluate your outcomes. If you don’t define what is a success is – you will have a hard time creating a successful end.

I will leave it to you to draw your own conclusions – but it seems to me that these phases relate to theatre and projects pretty well and is a useful way to look at the project cycle.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Tax / Self employed sites

As 1099 forms are prevalent in theatre I thought I would post the following two sites as there seems to be some useful information.

Techniques for Seams

I have run across a couple of techniques that are useful when building theatrical scenery to reduce seams. The first is leaving a slight space between the luaun sheets. The second is routing a v-groove along the seams. Both of these techniques allow the Bondo or putty to fill the whole- and this reduced the amount that it mounds over the seam.

A couple of ideas for mounting double sided flats:
Keyholes and pucks. Similar to the method for wall hangings – you would cut a keyhole into one side of the flat and on the corresponding flat attached a round piece of material (Sintra or PVC sheet, steel, etc.) with a spacer to the style with a bolt. Lift the piece into location and slide down to secure. Hold the pieces together – but does not include any compression or help with seams.

Z-clips work a little more like picture hangers. A picture hanger include a mounting plate and then a clip and is usually a little loose, but they can be very useful. Z-Clip use compression to snuggly fit too pieces together.

**For outwater check out item numbers alu111, alu211, aluhac22 and aluhac23.

Monday, January 7, 2008

On time

Being in theatre we have all heard that being early is on-time and being on time is late - but heres another way to think of it.

the time that your "called" is really the time your supervisor will start calling to replace you.....
(heard in terms of IATSE, but a good way to think of it nonetheless)

Shop Standards

I have been reading through the shop standards book where I work. It is an interesting idea- to create an in-house standards guide that is distributed to the carpenters and drafters and project managers. I could see its use in large theatres and in graduate school. Not that each piece has to be built by the standard – but it gives everyone a base to start with. New people know what the shop is used to, repetitive information can be reduced, and it will help communication on all parts. Of course the book would have to be updated as new technology or methods evolved. I also like that is sets an expectation about what the carpenters should be versed in – and that it can be used as a training tool. The book that I read also had a nice section on shop math and materials (common sizes, layout guides, charts, and various other reference materials).

Standards can be an interesting topic. Some (such as rigging standards) should be adhered to carefully as they are there for obvious reasons. Others are not as rigid, but depend on where you are and what you need to have accomplished. There are lots of ways to build a flat or a platform – but if your new in a place and you build a platform out of 1x6 or 5/4 (which I know some places do) and the shop your in only uses 2x4 – it won’t go over well. (I am, by the way, but aside debates on the structural suitability of the various materials). At the same time, depending on where you work you may receive a highly detailed drawing for that platform – or only your outside dimensions, depending on the scale of theatre, staffing, level of knowledge required from the carpenters and so forth….. (I even worked in one place as a carpenter where I built from the design drawings with fairly little guidance regarding construction from my TD at the time, and yes, it was a pretty reputable venue.) The key is for me, and its hard to achieve – I still try to balance – is the middle ground of enough structure to make the process easy, but not too much – to stifle out ideas or opportunities.

For instance I choose a grad school very specifically that would allow me to have flexibility, yet while I was in school I often wished it had more structure. But going to a school that would have provided the structure that I craved would had made some of the lessons I learned in grad school impossible (though I am sure they would have been replaced by other lessons).

However, the other thing I have noted is that without structure, people will create the structure they need. Like anything, sometimes it is helpful to reflect on your assumptions, and reflecting on what is and isn’t a standard (and who the standard relates to) can be a good thing.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

New Year's Goals

While it is slightly past the new year, I thought I would post a few of my goals for the upcoming year:

Increase knowledge & skill in project management
Increase knowledge and skill in technology:
New materials
Alternative construction techniques
Increase knowledge regarding technical theatre history
Increase knowledge regarding arts administration, innovation, problem solving techniques, and other management techniques useful for technical direction. Technical theatre and project management
Continue to blog, and hopefully provide useful information for my readers.

Friday, January 4, 2008

Quote of the Day

"every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up." - Picasso

Thursday, January 3, 2008

industrial erector sets....

80/20 is an unusual sort of company. They offer a couple different systems that allow fast framing (even creating structures without fasteners. For instances they show some interesting ideas for workstations using their system.

Also they have a beam calculator (for their pieces of course) but they do allow users to import user defined beams.

Check it out at:

Quote of the day

"I agree that the set designer does and should need to take things like fire curtain limitations into account. Fire curtain rules are every bit as much apart of the theater as where the walls are and how much weight the floor will hold and and how many linesets there are, and all that. Designers DO need to worry about stuff like that. Designs are plans for building. They are not artistic drawings with no real world application."

June Abernathy on the stagecraft mailing list, 12-30-2007.

I particularly agree with the concept that design must work with the space not against it. The quote in context comes from a discussion about whether a designer should redesign a show because the deck breaks the fire curtain (and who on the team should participate in the decision). While there are options for this scenario (always working with the AHJ) and I don't necessarily agree that any design that crosses the fire curtain line should be refused, I do believe that both the TD and the Designer must work together to find a way that meets both aesthetic and safety needs.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008


In the Exhibit Builder Sept / Oct 07 issue there is an article about entrepreneurialism called “The ‘Entrepreneurial Spirit’ in the U.S.” I thought the article was interesting for a variety of reasons. First – between taking the entrepreneurship boot-camp (4 weeks from first meeting to exhibiting a feasible idea to funders) and innovations in nonprofit management in grad school I have heard more about entrepreneurship in the past year than I have in the past decade or more. And there are always certain thoughts that seem to stem from the idea:
Can it be taught? Is it inborn? Is a personality trait? It seems to get linked up with passion – most great entrepreneurs that come to mind all have a great passion for something and are driven. They are have good emotional intelligence and don’t just have a good idea put can pull together a variety of resources to actually make something happen. Yet, I have often thought that anyone can act in an entrepreneurial way – that you don’t have to be the boss, or open your own company. That’s what made this article interesting to me. Read on for a few quotes:

“Being entrepreneurial means that one looks for problems and the means to solve them.”

“they look for a problem…deduce a solution to it, and create a business to fill the need.”

“Every employee could look for ways to do his or her job better”

The author compares this to initiative, but creativity and “outside the box” thinking is the separation for the author.

Ideas that work respond to a “perceived gap between what is and what ought to be”

“someone who is truly entrepreneurial understands that it’s not just about new ideas, its about making things that exist work as well as possible.”

A/V Design

A/V Designer:
Able “to navigate the vast array of products out there and select the combination that will best achieve the desired end result within the budget…Put the job out to Bid, evaluate the bids…and oversee the installation”. From Creating Immersive Audio Environments by Steven J Thorton, PE in the Sept/Oct 2007 edition of Exhibit Builder.

I thought the definition was interesting – while we don’t have A/V design (projections tend to fall under lighting not sound if a projection designer isn’t involved), I wonder if it will eventually come into theatre. It seems like the design elements become more and more merged into each other. Historically, we used to have production design as opposed to element design (meaning sets, costumes, lights etc.). Many other places outside of the US still tend to design productions as a whole following the historical model. It makes sense in some ways – costumes and scenery are the first areas, then lighting, then other pieces. Sound, as always underrated, is historically there but not considered a design element (though other elements where there prior to being a designed element also as they were actor provided). Any way – I digress, my point really is that I wonder if we will come full circle and start to look more at production design as a whole instead of individual elements.

25 Things Every TD should know how to do.

Through the month of December a thread on the stagecraft mailing list revolved around the idea of what 25 skills are the most important. It started as 25 skills everyone should know, then went to technician, and it can easily then go into individual skill sets. So here is my rendition of 25 things a TD should know how to do: (not in a particular order)

1. Manage time efficiently (shop scheduling work flow through shop etc.)
2. Manage / maintain (and create) Budgets & finical records
3. Have a knowledge of structural engineering for the stage
4. be able to draft well (communication through graphics...)
5. Have a knowledge of welding & steel / alum construction techniques / and tool usage
6. Have a knowledge of wood construction techniques / and tool usage
7. Have a knowledge of fabric, plastics, and other random materials useful in theatre, and how to work with them. (and relevant tools)
8. Seek new Knowledge (be able to research)
9. Have an inner MacGyver (creativity, willingness to try new things, resourcefulness.....)
10. planning (shop, season, show.....)
11. problem solve - creativity, efficiently....
12. Communication & collaboration
13. how to have fun
14. How to have a life outside of theatre
15. Know how to rig safely
16. Safety issues (and MSDS, HAZmat, fire, life safety codes)
17. Know a little about every department (focus a light, run a mixer etc.)
18. know a variety of knots including a bowline, clove hitch and other common theatrical knots.
19. be computer literate
20. have a basic electrical knowledge
21. be able to make basic repairs
22. mechanical skill set (automation, maintenance)
23. Be able to drive large vehicles (and drive a manual transmission)
24. know theatrical flying (how to rig, hemp and counterweight systems, spot lines)
25. know when to get more information

The list is certainly open for input - comment if you have ideas.

Also I should say that I believe that the TD will not be the best carpenter or the best welder - and that the skill set that makes the best carpenter, welder or stage hand is not necessarily the same. The TD needs, in my opinion the knowledge behind those positions plus a great amount of knowledge about management and people and problem solving and so forth.