Friday, July 22, 2011

UPDATE: Auditorium Fly System Renovation: Steel Your Resolve

For those who have never watched anything with a sizable amount of steel being assembled, or who have no idea how it's done, take the opportunity to see how something gets built. We're lucky that we have men and women who are known as steel workers. These people are the experts at taking large, impossibly heavy chunks of metal that have been fabricated to a certain size and shape, reading the construction drawings, placing the steel at various heights, and securing it. They also have an arsenal of tools, lifts, ropes, winches and sometimes plain ol' brute strength to get the job done. We'd be doing them a large disservice if we didn't tip our hats to them.

So, what have our friends the steelworkers been doing? Let's take a gander, shall we?

This view is from upstage, looking stage right and nearly straight up. At the top of the image is the gray underside of the new catwalk - or the loading gallery - moved from the stage to its permanent location. In the past, we've used this to counter weight the arbors so we could raise battens that had been loaded in the down position. We will still have that option, but we will likely not need to do that any longer. The bull winch (which will be featured in future blogs) will pull the arbors down to the floor level, and we can counter the weight on the ground - which, as we have all heard before, is safer. The black vertical lines that run the length of the photo are actually the tracks that the arbors will ride along as they move up and down. No more cable guides that allow the heavy arbors to twist as they move. Smoother and safer.
These are the arbors, lined up and ready to be attached to the tracks. These very solid pieces of equipment are much heavier than what they are replacing - and they are virtually all one piece when assembled correctly. These will hold the counter weights that will act against the weight of the batten. You will notice that these new arbors will be a bit taller, and that there will be far less "play" or movement in the arbor. Once again, we can say "safer."

Five palates of weights await their final resting spot upon the arbors. These weights have a notch on either end that will fit around the arbor bars, which will hold them in place securly. The process of loading the arbors will be very similar to what we've been doing in the past. These weights will be all be one weight - about 35 lbs. per brick - instead of the two sizes we've been used to. As the bricks are lighter than what we are used to, and since our system will have a much higher loading capacity,  there will be - and I quote Giles Cory from The Crucible - "more weight." (Don't worry - we'll keep the Salem Puritans far away from these should the get the idea of holding trials again.)

Here is a close look at the US end of the fly rail and the tension blocks - those pulleys near the floor that guide the control ropes. The are heavy beasts, not because they bear a lot of weight, but because they are able to travel a short distance up and down to account for any change in the length of the control ropes. Temperature and humidity affect the ropes over time, so the downward weight of the block will always keep a reasonable amount of pressure on the line. The horizontal rail is empty now, but will soon hold the rope locks - which we'll discuss in future blogs.

Here is a better look at the rail, from US looking DSR. This will look fairly familiar - the shape and length of the rail is essentially the same dimension of the old one. What is different is the gauge (thickness) of the steel. It's a beefy hunk of metal, for sure. At the far end of the rail, you'll notice that they are in the early stages of attaching the control lines - the white rope dangling down is looped up and around the control loft block pulley. These rope loops will be attached to the top and bottom of each arbor, just as with our old system.

Now a word about the new fire curtain. Remember that rope that had wires twisted around it, with a board jammed in the middle of the rope twist? Yeah, let's not talk about that any more. It's long gone, and now we have a nice, new system that can be run automatically or manually. This equipment is necessary should a fire occur on stage. A fire proof curtain closes the proscenium off from the audience, allowing them time to safely evacuate. Let us hope that we never have to drop the thing for real. It is likely, though, that if we have a prolonged power outage, or if a smoke detector in the theater sends a false alarm, it will come down on its own accord. An  electric winch system will allow us to quickly and safely get the curtain back in its safe mode. There are also manual release in case a fire is spotted before the system activates. Regardless, releasing the curtain for the fun of it is the same thing as pulling an alarm to get your jollies - and it's against the law, complete with fines, expulsion hearings, and the title of "felon." In other words, use only in emergencies.

Within the next week, the arbors will be slid into place, cables will be attached, and ropes will be strung. Battens are sitting in the shop just waiting to be assembled, and electrical connections are being prepped for the winches. A lot of work still needs to be done, but according to Tiffin Scenic Studio installers, we are on schedule.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

UPDATE: Auditorium Fly System Renovation: Some Assembly Required

Oh, it's like Christmas in the Auditorium.

Actually, it's more like Christmas Eve. You know, when the toys are all in boxes, and "Santa" has to take everything out, make sure all the parts are there, put together the stuff, check that there are more than enough batteries, and somewhere during all of that there is the consumption of the "special eggnog," and for some unexplained reason, Mom and Dad need a nice long nap and 9:00 AM on Christmas Day? Yeah, that sort of Christmas Eve. Well, here's where we are as of July 12th:

First of all, let's look up an stage right. The new catwalk/loading gallery has been installed. It's a bit hard to see here, but it actually is a few feet higher than the old one. Because of this, the stage side of the catwalk is completely caged, and the rail height is just below the height of the grid iron. In comparison, the older catwalk sat about six to seven feet below the grid. Remember all of that talk about safety? Yup - this is one of those nice perks of having stuff installed in this century rather than the last one.

 This photo shows the new weight arbors standing on their sides. There isn't a good way to show how much bigger they are, but they stand about 7 feet tall, which means we have a lot of capacity for each batten. The arbors will slide in what is called a J-track so that they don't twist back and forth as our old arbors did on their cable guides. This will make for smoother lifts and drops, and will eliminate the twisting action of fully-weighted arbors. Which, I might add, is safer.

To the right are what I believe are the floor blocks - those pulleys on the ground at the bottom of the fly rail that guide the pull ropes. They also located at the top of the system, but ganged with the cable blocks, which I'll talk about next. This picture shows eight of them arranged on their loading palate, so it's a bit hard to see all of the details. The frame for each sticks out a bit further than the old ones, which leads me to believe that they will be firmly anchored to the ground. Which, again, seems like  a much safer situation that what we've had.

 Lots of things in this photo: on the left side of the photo is a lot of flat bar steel and angled steel that will eventually become the J-track that I discussed earlier. There is also a fair amount of bracing that will need to be installed, largely out of sight of the working end of things. On the right side of the photo is one of the racks of new battens. 1-1/2" tube steel that is straight and interlocks with the other pieces that will create 25 battens that are the same diameter, length, and trim height. Oh, can you just smell the safety in our theater?

Here are the head blocks - and it's not a great picture but you can see some of the sheaves that the cables will go over and across the top of the grid. These will be located at the top of the fly tracks. One thing that we can't get a good picture of (yet) are the loft blocks. These are the pulleys that some of you may recall were bolted to the grid. Not anymore. The loft blocks are now mounted to the roof girders, which means that if for some reason we need to get to the grid, we will walk under the cables rather than stepping over them. If any of you have ever done this - and I'm guessing not many of you have - you will realize just how much more safer this arrangement will be for us.

As things continue to progress, I'll keep on updating. There's still a long way to go, but things are getting done. Plans are in place for the ceremonial first curtain pull later in August. (OK, a bit kitchy I admit, but we need to do something!)