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The methods described in this book are the primary rigging system for all entertainment-industry venues except theaters with counterweight systems. Relatively new, it arose out of the need to produce circuses, rock-and-roll shows, and ice shows in arenas, and became known as "arena rigging." However, the techniques have proven so effective and useful that they are now the best way to rig most buildings, and are employed in every kind of entertainment-industry venue for every kind of production. 

Almost every production requires the hanging of sound, lights, scenery, or other equipment; often most of the weight of a show hangs in the air. Rigging this equipment efficiently � with minimum danger to workers, performers, and audiences � requires relatively rare knowledge. This book is a practical guide for working riggers, designers, and managers. It presents both the theoretical and the practical components of this knowledge: principles of geometry and engineering (the basis for all rigging) combined with everyday work skills and shortcuts. 

Before the Days of Rigging

In earlier days, lights for rock shows were hung from ground-supported lifts, and speakers were stacked on the front edge of the stage on either side of the performing area. This practice didn�t work very well. The weight of lights and trusses quickly outgrew the load capacity of the lifts, which sometimes broke or even crashed through stage floors. Lights could go only where lifts could be placed and outrigger legs on lifts blocked too much of the stage. Worst of all, lifts often fell over, causing equipment destruction, injuries, and fatalities. Speaker-cabinet stacks grew to 30' wide and 20' high, blocking sightlines for large sections of the seated audience and increasing the hazards to life and limb. Crew regularly fell while erecting the stacks, and audience members were injured and killed when speakers fell off the stacks. Furthermore, it was impossible to get the volume level right for all seats. It was always too loud for seats near the speakers and too quiet for seats further away. 

Brief History of Arena Rigging

Because designs of older venues did not provide for rigging, they had neither rigging equipment nor fall protection. In addition there was no provision for additional point loads or information about beam load capacity, and access to roof beams was limited and hazardous. These restrictions meant that many buildings were difficult or dangerous to rig; some were next to impossible. 

Another problem was the scarcity of competent riggers. Among those who tried to do the job were circus acrobats, fishermen, ironworkers, and stagehands � all with little experience in rigging arenas, no technical education, and no ability to calculate the geometry of or forces on the rigging. They merely guessed or used only partially understood rules of thumb. Nevertheless, they gradually learned how to rig arenas � what equipment to use, how to attach it to the beam structure, how to position it, and how to do it fast enough to make it financially practical. 

Difficulties with buildings necessarily forced these rigging pioneers to improve their skills. Most head riggers are now stagehands with many years of experience working on arena-rigging crews. With that experience has come a rise in overall level of knowledge and competence. Performance spaces are now much safer for audiences. Proper fall protection, however, is still not always available � a serious shortcoming given that most common rigging fatalities are from falls. 

As knowledge of arena-rigging techniques and equipment has spread, it has become common in many other venues:

  •  movie and television studios 
  • sound stages 
  • theaters 
  • convention centers 
  • conference rooms 
  • civic centers
  • arenas, and coliseums
  • stadiums 
  • hotel meeting rooms and ballrooms
  • warehouses
  • armories 
  • airplane hangars 
  • indoor-outdoor theatres 
  • outdoor show roofs 
  • auditoriums 
  • gymnasiums 
  • high schools, colleges, and universities 
  • churches 
  • night clubs 
  • community theatres 
  • circuses 
  • museums 
  • art galleries and installations 

As this list suggests, arena-rigging techniques suit any performance space without an installed rigging system but where lights, sound, scenery, curtains, video, screens, flying tracks, special effects, or works of art must be hung. These techniques are now even used in conventional proscenium theatres because they are better than counterweight systems for certain tasks, such as supporting concentrated point loads for lighting trusses, sound clusters, or heavy scenic elements. Some of the latest Broadway shows use arena rigging techniques to hang over a hundred chain-hoists in proscenium theatres. 

Rigging equipment manufacturers and distributors say that arena riggers hang more points per day�with more variety and more quickly�than any other industry. Today�s rock-and-roll tour riggers have more experience doing a wider variety of rigging than anyone in history. 

Advantages of Rigging

Since arena rigging is temporary and portable, it can be used in venues that don�t have permanently installed rigging equipment but do have beam structures with enough height and strength to rig sound and lighting systems and circus aerial acts. Rock and ice shows, for example, can have many more lights than they could in the past. These lights can be placed anywhere in the building where there are overhead beams. Obstacles such as lifts and outrigger legs are eliminated. Speaker cabinets hung in the air clear sightlines and can be placed almost anywhere. Many more speakers can be hung safely and the volume level is much more evenly diffused throughout the entire room. 

Gravity is a destabilizing force with ground-supported lifts, but a stabilizing force with rigging. A stack of speakers or a ground-supported lift, pushed far enough, topples. Pushing a rigged light truss or sound cluster merely causes it to swing away; the harder the push, the harder gravity pushes it back. Rigging changes gravity from an enemy to an ally, making rigging inherently safer than ground-supported lifts. 

Another advantage of rigging lies in the lighter weight and smaller size of rigging hoists and equipment, compared to ground-supported lifts of equivalent load capacity. This reduction in weight makes much higher safety factors practical, reducing accident risk. Accidents have decreased to a small fraction of what they were before the advent of rigged sound and lights. 

My Life as a Rigger

I worked on the road doing shows an average of nine to twelve months a year, mostly rigging rock shows in arenas and stadiums. Rigging about 200 one-night stands a year for 20 years, at an average of about 50 points per show, I racked up a total of about 4,000 one-nighters and 200,000 points � probably as many points in as many places as anyone has ever done. (It�s impossible to be certain about that claim because no one is keeping records, but my wide experience tells me it is not an exaggeration.) 

The value of the rigging techniques I used is clear from my own rigging record. Nothing I�ve rigged has ever fallen. And a broken thumb was the only crew injury over a 20-year period when I was daily running crews of up to 18 men working on high steel beams � a different crew in a different building in a different city every day. This is a record that few in the construction industry can match. 

My work experience spanned the transition from ground-supported lights and sound in 1000-seat theatres to large-scale rigging in 70,000-seat stadiums. When I started, a huge show had 20,000 pounds of rigged equipment and 20 points. Now, an average show has 50,000 pounds, a big show has 70,000 pounds and 70 points, and the largest shows have over 100,000 pounds. Shows continue to get heavier every year. I recently worked an industrial show that had over 700 hoists and 15,000 feet of trussing. 

After my touring days ended, I continued rigging work in a variety of other ways. I founded Donovan Rigging, Inc. to provide rigging services for entertainment and construction. In addition to rigging shows and other events, Donovan Rigging, Inc. designs and consults for new projects and venues; retrofits existing venues; provides design, installation, and training for fall-protection systems; inspects, investigates, and analyzes accidents; provides expert witness testimony; and offers rigging and safety training. 

Why I Wrote Entertainment Rigging

Arena rigging is much more complicated than any other kind of temporary rigging. The riggers start with nothing but the structural beams in a venue. They must select, design, engineer, supply, and install the rigging equipment by themselves, working under strict deadlines. To accomplish these tasks safely, they need to understand everything that underlies them. 

Riggers hang many tons of equipment daily over the heads of audiences and performers and unfortunately many of them have little understanding of basic principles. Furthermore, many riggers protect their knowledge to keep this a largely closed trade. Would-be riggers have a hard time learning much about arena rigging, because few experienced riggers are willing or able to teach them. 

Another reason for the lack of authoritative information is that neither riggers nor engineers can effectively explain rigging. Most riggers don�t understand the forces and engineering principles, and most engineers know nothing about either practical rigging or the entertainment industry. I have earned an engineering degree and I�ve worked on shows from 1964 to the present. The huge amount of practical experience I have accumulated by working and talking with thousands of riggers and hundreds of structural engineers all over the world has led to my unique combination of engineering and showrigging experience and subsequently to my writing this one-of-a-kind book. 

I want arena riggers to learn the necessary skills thoroughly, and to practice the trade efficiently and safely. Because of the extreme risks inherent in entertainment rigging, I believe that experienced riggers like me have a moral obligation to teach what we�ve learned. This book, the only material ever written on arena rigging, is intended to fulfill that obligation. 

This book is not just selections of more-or-less relevant chapters from standard engineering textbooks. It developed directly from practical hands-on work and by gradually figuring out principles derived from actual experience: by rigging points, seeing what happened, and deducing the principles. Further research enabled me to develop equations for solving specific, everyday problems. Everything you read here is relevant, practical, and useful � just what a rigger needs to know to do the job right. 

Just as the principles and best techniques evolved over years, the book in its present form has evolved during ten years of teaching rigging courses for a wide variety of groups. Earlier drafts served as texts in those courses. Interactions with class members thoroughly vetted the book�s content and influenced refinements and revisions. Experience with these classes showed, for example, that working riggers and managers prefer to avoid trigonometry, so the equations in this book no longer involve trigonometric terms. 

It takes several years of daily rigging work to learn enough about the practical details and techniques to be a competent rigger. But the basis of rigging is very simple and logical geometry and engineering. This book reveals how to plan rigging and install it safely, how to calculate geometry and forces, and how to select the proper equipment for any arena-rigging situation. Just as important, this book provides rules of thumb that eliminate calculations. 

When you finish reading this book, you�ll know more about the fundamental principles of rigging than all but a few riggers in the world. 

Rigging Seminars
2416 Third Ave. West
Seattle, WA 98119
Phone: 206-283-4419
Toll-free: 888-248-8491

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