We love computer-controlled machinery moving scenery on stage. But sometimes, sometimes, a Stagehand Pro with Spikemark software and a computer network is a bit overkill. Our Deck Chief is a straightforward, variable-speed, pushbutton, control that is perfect when you have a simple single effect or perhaps a motorized fixture in the theatre that maybe isn’t even used in shows. Projection screens, traveller masking, trade show turntables are great examples where the Deck Chief shines. Here’s a little video that shows how the Deck Chief works.
You expect stage automation in a large musical or epic melodrama, but one of the things we love about the Geffen Playhouse in LA is their artistic use of automation in unexpected shows. This time we found it in the sparse set for a one woman show. Ruth Draper’s Monologues, directed and performed by Annette Bening, had its world premier at Geffen Wednesday night, receiving a favorable review in Variety.
Although the scenery in Ruth Draper’s Monologues is necessarily minimal to stay true to Draper’s original work, it is an 8 motor production. Just as Bening deftly maneuvers in and out of four different characters in this one woman show, so too move Takeshi Kata’s scenic elements. You may recall that we recently profiled Kata’s automated set for Geffen’s production of Slowgirl, utilizing very quiet automation in Geffen’s smaller theatre (“Quiet on the Set!” , March 7). For Ruth Draper’s Monologues, Geffen employed 5 traveler tracks, 3 wagons, 8 Stagehands, and 1 computer running Spikemark software, all coming together for 12 cues to augment this unique production. They were kind enough to share a creative video showcasing the set and all its gliding glory, complete with 1920’s musical score and scrolling credits. Hats off (again) to our good friends at Geffen!
Ruth Draper’s Monologues performs at The Geffen Playhouse through May 18. Slowgirl continues at The Geffen through April 27.
Check out this quick demo video of a nifty improvement we’ve made to our Showstoppers and Stagehand FX. No more worrying about kicking out the cord backstage!
It is Friday here at Creative Conners and you know what that means… fun projects and prototypes!
Evan Schuster, our marvelous grad-student resident from Virginia Tech has been working with us for the past 6 weeks and for the last couple weeks he’s been working on a very cool project. We took a Schneider Lexium servo motor and drive, coupled it with our incomparable Stagehand Pro control card, a Dell Venue 8 Pro tablet running Spikemark, a battery pack, an Asus pocket wifi adapter, and a 6″ rubber wheel. Voila! A low-profile, wireless friction drive with roughly 2HP worth of pulling capacity. Very cool!
Check out this video for a geeky peek at this fun project.
Sometimes when we tell people in our every day lives that our business is theatrical automation, there is a blank inquisitive stare and a pause which we quickly fill with phrases like “we make scenery move” and “have you ever seen a show where something on stage revolves?” Not that we mind. We understand it’s a niche market, but it makes for a comfortable and exciting attendance at the annual USITT Conference & Stage Expo where not only does everyone know the term “theatrical automation” but an impressive number of attendees want to talk to us about how to automate, and how to do it well. Our team (Gareth, Royal, and Ryan) couldn’t decide if they felt like rock stars or kids in a candy shop at last week’s Conference & Expo in Ft. Worth. Probably a bit of both.
From Thursday morning’s mad running of the bulls, er…students, who charged the doors of the Expo eager to be first to swipe the swag to the final packing of crates Saturday evening, we didn’t stop talking , listening, and showcasing our equipment and our passion for automation. Expositions are in fact a grown-up Show & Tell, and we were happy to showcase the components of our tried and true system, adding a couple of newcomers to the line up.
Our Spotline hoist made its conference floor premiere with well deserved attention not just for the snazzy rig with orange rope, but also for its applications like flying chandeliers or rigging elevators without counterweights. Plus, with the tensioner accessory, it can be used as a deck winch. (Take a bow, Spotline).
Enthusiastic technicians numbering over 100 convened to hear Gareth, Loren Schreiber, and Michael O’Nele talk about PID loops. Loren Schrieber explained the wide use of PID’s in industry (ever use cruise control in your car?) and their essential existence in automated scenery if one is to achieve precision and speed regulation. But jumping into PID’s is not something to be taken lightly, and a little guidance can make all the difference. Michael spoke to this point, effectively relating his experience of Gareth guiding him through tuning a motor for the first time, and correctly configuring the drives in a Stagehand motor controller. Using an oscilloscope, a motor, a PID controller, and a webcam, Gareth illustrated very clearly how the adjustments to the PID loop changed the electrical waveform while simultaneously observing change in the motor’s movement. It was very rewarding to hear that for some attendees this session solidified their previously piecemeal knowledge of PID’s and left them more confident to harness their use in future.
One of the most impressive moments at the conference came in the sheer volume of attendees to our Basic Machine Design session. Over 200 people filled the room, with more turned away at the door when the room reached capacity. Adopting the role of true Southern Gentlemen, Gareth and Royal shuffled seats off the stage and into the audience to get attendees as comfortable as possible for the educational session. Although you can buy machines for theatrical purposes, and most theatres you work at will have some machines in stock, this audience clearly keyed into the fact that you still need to know how these machines work and how to build your own machine. It’s not uncommon for your stock machine not to work with the design specs. Show of hands, who has been asked to build a very tiny deck winch?
Royal and Gareth’s session focused on the deck winch, the most common theatrical machine. They guided the audience through building one of these standard workhorses, slide by slide, from initial concept to sizing the motor and gear box, right through making the drum and frame.
Additionally, the audience got a good lesson in torque and horsepower as well as feedback sensors (after all, who wants motion you can’t control?)
Since there are always more questions than can be answered in a 1 hour 15 minute session, Gareth and Royal left the audience with information on suppliers, a reminder to make use of Alan Hendrickson’s Mechanical Design for the Stage, the link to our own motor calculator, and an invitation to keep in touch with Creative Conners.
As the Stage Expo ended and the dismantling of the booths began, a silent round of applause could be felt in Creative Conners Booth #1229. To the attendees who took the time to connect with us, thank you. You made us feel like rock stars. We hope to see you again soon.
Might we suggest May 12 in Chicago for USITT Presents, “Moving on Cue, Automation with Creative Conners.” This will be another opportunity to share our knowledge and passion about theatrical automation. And we won’t have to explain what we do for a living. Bonus!