Hello and welcome back! It’s been a while, how’ve you been? Really? That’s good. So now that you have a feel for me and what I’m going to be doing here and writing about, let’s light this candle. But we’ll start in the middle, then Tarantino it and go back to the beginning to show how we got here. Nah, just kidding; we’ll start at the beginning, since it’s a very good place to start. When you arrive at Glimmerglass, and really at any place where you will be performing work with a risk of injury involved, you will go through various orientation and safety presentations where you are provided with information so you can help protect yourself in the work place, and really, in everyday life. Interns and returning staff alike have to go through the majority of these presentations, taught by the wonderful Safety Jen (it’s a bird, it’s a plane, its….Safety Jen! Bap ba da ba!). She explained everything thoroughly, emphasizing personal safety over almost anything else, which is reassuring to know. We went over safety procedures for fires, slips, trips, and falls, and proper procedures for falling* (with style) and lifting heavy objects (using the back in a twisting, jerking motion, right?**) Message received Safety Jen; the world continues to be safe thanks to your efforts.
*There is no ‘safe’ way to fall. Try to not put yourself in a situation where a fall would be likely, especially at heights.
**Do not try to lift in that way. It is very unsafe and can cause tremendous back problems. The proper lifting method is using the legs and keeping the back straight. If something is truly heavy, get someone to help you.
Now, let’s look at some of what I actually do. Disclaimer: This is going to be technical, heavy, and possibly a little boring. If you came to read my absurd side comments, there really won’t be many in here. Right then! So as the Carpentry/Rigging Intern, I belong to both departments and to whichever one is busier. I do have some carpentry experience but absolutely zero experience with rigging. So of course, it stands to reason that the first place I’m needed is rigging. Rigging, for those who don’t know, is when ‘soft goods,’ ‘hard goods,’ or, sometimes even people, are hung from a pipe fly system or ‘line set’ running across the stage. Soft goods are fabrics of any kind with either chain or pipe run through the bottom so they hang straight. They are usually attached by tying them to one of the fly pipes, which are called ‘battens.’ There are certain soft goods that stay on pipes no matter the show, such as ‘legs’ and ‘borders.’ These two are all black and work together to form a kind of a picture frame, a backdrop of sorts. The legs are tall pieces, not very wide, usually no wider than 12 feet, which are hung as far stage left and stage right as the pipes will allow. They break the sight line between the audience and the cast, crew and scenery that are backstage right and left. Hard goods are those that have a frame of wood or metal, such as legs or pieces of scenery, and are significantly heavier than the soft goods.
Now, the system with which these are hung, the fly system, is a beast unto itself. In this theater, on the stage left wall, there is what is called the ‘rail,’ which is where hundreds of feet of ropes and thousands of pounds of weight reside. I should note, the fly system is a system of pulleys with a ratio of 1:1, meaning that for every pound of weight hung on the bar, an equal amount of weight is put on the ‘arbor,’ the weight rack for an individual line set. In this theater, there are 49 separate line sets and, thusly, 49 different pipes with which to hang things. Other theaters could have more or less depending on size. Now, at the top of the theater is what is called the ‘grid.’ That is where you can add the necessary weight to balance out the individual line sets. As this is very high, a safety harness is required to work up there, and people on the stage are required to wear hard hats in case anything were to fall. Even something small falling from 80 feet is going to cause some damage, so safety first. SAFETY JEN SIGHTING! (This is just an example of the danger. It is highly unlikely that something would fall considering that anyone working in the grid is required to remove anything from their person that isn’t attached or strapped to their body).
When moving the line sets, there is a spoken cadence to ensure the safety of everyone present. It goes like this:
Rigger at line set: “On the grid, are you clear of line set #?”
Grid: “Clear of line set #.”
Rigger: “OK. Heads up on the floor, heads up in the grid, line set # coming in.”
Everyone on stage: “Thank you #.”
A similar process is done for adding weight to the arbor and for flying the batten out. These calls, which everyone on stage is meant to respond to, serve to ensure the safety of everyone involved. In case you didn’t notice, I mentioned the safety of everyone involved about every third sentence in this last paragraph. I only do so because it is ingrained so deeply into us by everyone we work with and those in charge of our safety orientations (Thank you, Safety Jen) and because, in a way, everyone backstage at a theater is family – granted a very strange one – but a family nonetheless. They toil for weeks on end to present a finished project for public consumption and the last thing they want to see is one of their own injured in the workplace. That’s why safety is emphasized so often and why it comes first in our profession.
OK, I got really serious there; forgive me, but it happens. Not so often but still, it does. If you are some of the few still reading this (how committed of you, 10 gold stars), let me know in the comments if there’s anything you would like to read about or anything you want to read little snippets of up to and including movie quotes, random trivia or little known facts; I take requests. Well, until the next post, fare thee well and in the words of Safety Jen, “stay safe.”