It is for any theater student, technician, technical director, or technophile. Whether you are starting from square one or knee deep in a tech rehearsal, this book is the perfect tool to make anything move on stage.
It’s available now at Amazon.com. Grab you copy now for some good summer reading.
Every component of our system requires a litany of skills to develop and build. Our staff has a mix of engineers, programmers, theater technicians, and machinists. We bring in interns with diverse backgrounds and training as well. Our last 2017 intern is a perfect example of solid mechanical know-how, theater experience, and engineering training.
As a senior studying Mechanical Engineering at the University of Virginia, Danton Wein’s interest in scenic automation evolved before high school, where he was a light and sound board operator along with being a part of the stage crew. That interest continued at UVA, where he works in the Theatre department as a carpenter and welder. Danton’s has also worked at UVA’s Heritage Theater Festival but realized that working at Creative Conners would provide a much deeper knowledge of scenic automation than just building a show.
Since UVA uses Creative Conners’ gear exclusively, Danton has known our products for some time. When the UVA’s shop foreman advised him to apply for an internship Danton says “I gave it a shot. I emailed Gareth, interviewed, and landed a position a week later.” We hope all his job searches go so smoothly.
Danton’s skill set was a great match for much of the fabrication and milling work we do and we were glad he joined us.
What’d You Do This Summer?
Each morning kicked off with a team meeting, where everyone touched base about their projects and Gareth laid out the day’s game plan. Then he would work with the crew, helping with projects and working independently. Danton is most proud of one particular project – designing and building a custom machine for a TV studio. He built a lever that pneumatically actuates and opens and closes a door. The geometry and cylinder mounting involved were tricky but a challenge that Danton was excited to overcome. He says the experience of working directly with Gareth Conner on design principles, from initial concept to final product, was invaluable. “I’d never started from a completely clean slate drawing board to design concepts, using actual modeling in CAD,” says Danton. “Seeing it done was awesome.”
The studio project consumed a healthy chunk of our summer production schedule and Danton leapt right in. When he finally saw his project on screen it was rewarding to know that his work was on display.
Welcome to Rhode Island
Danton’s most surprising revelation was how welcoming the Creative Conners team is. He would make jokes and references that the crew would understand immediately, and he bonded with the team quickly. Coming to RI from Richmond, VA, ten hours away, Danton knew absolutely no one, and the friendships he formed helped him feel at home. He says, “It was amazing to me how much I fit in and how great of a team is here” Living in Rhode Island had its charms. “I’ve spent a lot of time hammocking in Colt State Park enjoying the gorgeous views. I hadn’t lived this close to a coastline before.” It turns out that the smallest state in the union is a pretty cool place to spend your summers.
After graduation, Danton is considering a master’s program in Mechanical Engineering. After that, he looks forward to a bright career in the theater automation industry, for which his Creative Conners internship helped him prepare. We know we will be seeing him again doing bigger and better things (maybe even with us).
We want to expose every intern to what it takes to build a show-ready automation system. They not only work with the mechanics but with the electrical components, electronics, software, even the shipping and logistics. It is more than engineering, CAD work, machining, or coding – we bring all those skills to play every time we take on a project. Our second intern is a perfect example of the melting pot of technical skills and theatrical interest that we love to see.
After high school, Ross Berry’s passion for robotics led him to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Robotics Engineering from Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he is now a senior. Robotics, Berry says, is a combination of the computer science, mechanical engineering and electrical engineering majors. “In high school,” he says, “I was getting into robotics club, and I was also getting really into theater. The two passions lived side by side until I found a way to combine them.”
At WPI, he further discovered that his path for robotics overlapped with his interest in theater, where he enjoys scenic work, lighting and sound. Instead of just knowing how to design electrical systems well, Ross says, “Robotics teaches you to take the knowledge you have designing electrical systems and to integrate that into software.”
Okay Google – Find “Creative Conners Internships”
Ross’s interest in Creative Conners started in the spring when he was researching internship opportunities. Ross stumbled across the website (Google is good). It was a perfect match for what he wanted to pursue. After e-mailing Gareth Conner his resume and an explanation of why he wanted to work here, an interview was set up and shortly thereafter an offer was made. Ross was a good fit for us and we were a good fit for him, sometimes it’s just that simple.
Will Code for Food
Early in the summer, Ross focused on electrical work, and then shifted into programming and coding. “Initially,” he says, “I worked a lot with prototyping changes to the Stagehand motion controller. Then I worked on improving our internal supply management program, and upgrading the Stagehand firmware.” Although he knew C and Java coding languages coming into this internship, Ross is proud of the Python knowledge he has acquired over the summer.
Ross was impressed with the range of experiences his internship offered. “Gareth gives all of the interns a broad taste of everything that happens.” His favorite project to work on was the web development experience he gained upgrading in-house supply software, Off the Shelf. “After working on Off the Shelf for a while,” cites Ross, “I think I’ve gotten much more efficient. It was really cool learning a variety of new skills.” He has also done lots of trouble-shooting on equipment and rentals needing to be repaired and checked.
Each day, Ross’s learning process was different and new. “Going in, I reviewed a bunch of tutorials to get up to speed. Gareth gave me easier projects at first, then ramped me up to more advanced stuff, offering his help whenever I got stuck.” He was never on his own but we don’t babysit either. Ross stepped up big time and several software projects benefited greatly from his work. Our internal supply software has never been zippier and some of Ross’ Stagehand coding has already been incorporated in recent updates.
A Nice Short Commute
Originally from Easton, Massachusetts, Ross commutes to the Warren, RI, office of Creative Conners. His internship has further developed his passion for theater and robotics, giving him cutting edge-experience that will propel him to the next level of success at WPI and beyond.
Ross was great to work with this summer. As the school year starts and he dives back into campus we know the past few months were smoother for us because he was here. We hope he had as much fun as we did working with him.
Every year we hire a handful of talented undergrad and graduate student to serve as interns over their summer vacation. We call them interns, but really they are quickly integrated into our team and pitch in on anything and everything in our office. Now that the school year is upon us we’d like to introduce you to the 2017 interns and let them share a bit of their experience working with us. This year we were joined by three great automation nerds, Jessica Gilliard, Ross Berry, and Danton Wein. They are headed back to campus, but they will be missed in our shop.
Jessica Gilliard enjoys a challenge. Years ago, she was told that she wouldn’t excel at Technical Direction. But she persevered, falling in love with carpentry, metalworking and creating scenery. She emphatically says, “It became what I wanted to do with my life.”
After earning a bachelor’s degree in Theatre Design and Production from California State University, Fullerton, Jessica is currently a second-year graduate student at San Diego State University pursuing a MFA degree in technical direction for Theatre, Television, and Film.
Jessica gained her first experience using Creative Conners’ Spikemark software during her junior year of undergrad. Encouraged by Cal State Fullerton’s TD, Bill Meyer, her first foray was as the automation operator, where she was “just pushing buttons”. She was impressed with Spikemark’s intuitiveness and ease of use. By graduation, she was a full-fledge Automation Technician for every show that included moving scenery at the school.
Before this internship, Jessica gained professional experience in CNC work for South Coast Repertory and was a draftsperson for a theme park project. At SDSU, she is a carpenter and teaches stagecraft classes.
Jessica got her foot in the door when she helped set up the Creative Conners USITT booth and met Gareth Conner, Founder and President. “I already wanted to work here, but I wanted to get a feel for it,” Jessica says. She applied for the internship in‑person and was accepted.
In addition to her strong automation skills, Jessica absolutely excels at soft skills that are essential but hard to quantify. She loves learning, is doggedly persistent, and is a creative problem solver. This summer gave her an opportunity to practice and reinforce some real word technical skills as well – metalworking, fabrication, and electrical work kept her busy. “I learned a lot of electrical aspects here, and following diagrams to create pieces of machinery,” she says. “Once I have diagrams in front of me, I can figure out how to do it.”
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Coolest Summer Projects
Jessica’s favorite project this summer was the stock ticker for a fantasy football television show, where she used Fusion for the first time. She says, “The stock ticker effect is one of those old timey ticker tape machines that pops out of a desk. It spews the paper out at the announcer. There was a prototype when I came in, but I thought, ‘How can I make this better?’” The creation to completion process was exciting. Now that little machine is in a studio in daily use for a television show.
As part of the Creative Conners team, Jessica’s day begins at 8:30 am with a meeting, where Gareth discusses ongoing projects and makes sure each person knows their assignments. Then she jumps into projects, striving to be as efficient as possible.
What has been most surprising for Jessica about Creative Conners is the camaraderie. “I think the people here are great and very talented.” Also unexpected is how small the Creative Conners team is considering the volume of products they produce.
Plans After School
Once grad school is done, Jessica could see her career returning to Creative Conners. But she’s got the talent and drive to chase down any number of opportunities. Time will tell if she ends up at a regional theatre, working in the TV/Film industry in southern California, or something entirely different.
During down time from her busy schedule this summer, Jessica, a first-time visitor to Rhode Island, enjoys relaxing and trying different foods, including the ocean state’s pizza. She’s enjoyed Rhode Island’s awesome food but somehow, she managed to not eat any lobster (for shame).
Jessica says this internship has been an unforgettable experience. She feels grateful to have heard about the opportunity from her advisors, Bill Meyer and Loren Schreiber, who had faith in her abilities. “I’m lucky to be here, and hopefully I’m proving their recommendation correct.”
Best of Luck Jessica
Now that Jessica is returning to SDSU to finish up another year of grad school we’ll miss her. We know she’ll take back firsthand knowledge of how we Make It Move and wish her the best.
We’re firm believers in the right tool for the right job, but sometimes the best tool is the one in your pocket. After a recent discussion in our office about what is the best multi-tool (or what I like to call the technician’s third rail) we posted a Facebook question to see what our fans preferred to use. Our office was primarily Leatherman territory, but we did have a variety of makes and models.
Below is a breakdown of the responses we received from our not-so-scientific Facebook poll.
Some of the outliers were “Call Gareth” and a threat to beat up all the respondents and take our lunch money.
The Purest Multi-tool
My personal favorite came from our own expert machinist, Mark. Mark’s favorite multi-tool was a good metal file.
He can use it forward, backward, and upside down – and right or left handed. It can cut, shape, and smooth a variety of metals. He can use it by hand or with a lathe. It is the purest definition of a multi-tool.
In the world of automation, the Spotline hoist is the multi-tool machine. We’ve seen it fly set pieces (with one or dual pick points), power an elevator, and converted to a deck winch. It won’t fit in your pocket, but any theatre that has one is always a step ahead during tech week.
Did we miss your tool of choice? What do you carry on every load-in and strike? Do you find a particular tool better for your automation needs? Let us know in the comments.
We’ve got new gear to show off and friends to meet. Come on out and say hi. Check out the Floorpocket, Stagehand Apprentice, redesigned Revolver and Pushstick and more. We’re looking forward to seeing you there.
We’ll even get you in for free. Just use the link below to register for a free expo floor pass.
When the University of Maryland, Baltimore County built a beautiful new theatre arts building, they included Creative Conners’ scenic automation to ensure that their students used the latest technology – and that their productions were technically top-notch. Technical Director Patrick McGovern regularly uses his Pushstick, Stagehand controllers, and Spikemark software to give students of all levels exposure to and training in automation.
McGovern says, “We can teach our automation operators, who may be acting majors, the safety aspect – to watch the cue and be ready to hit the E-stop. With our design and production students, we can go down another couple of levels and talk about what the gear is actually doing while we’re hooking it up. We love it.”
UMBC’s theater students take full advantage of Creative Conners’ state-of-the-art gear as they explore automation and learn how it can enhance a performance – and inspire future technical creativity and success.
“We now have a bachelor’s degree dedicated to production and design,” says McGovern. “In our advanced stagecraft class, the students complete a three-week automation lecture and a hands-on project, where they hook up the system and send a wagon across the stage. A graduating student is even looking at the University of North Carolina School of the Arts’ Stage Automation program.”
With Creative Conners’ commitment to supporting our customers regardless of the project, students and directors are empowered – even when they’ve hit a bump in the road.
“Last year,” McGovern says, “we hooked up a hydraulic scissor lift. I had a bit of trouble getting a string pot to talk with the encoder through our system. I gave Creative Conners a call – and you set me straight. I was just missing a simple part. The great outcome was that we bought the scissor lift and all we had to do was a little motor modification and teach the drive how to talk to it. Once we did that, it was easy peasy.”
2016 hit like a stampede of Oompa Loompas. You never could have predicted it and most of us are glad that it’s over, and now you have to laugh at the remarkableness of what you’ve just lived through. Think about it – we’ve seen the Cubs win the World Series, the Olympics successfully held in Brazil, and release of another fantastic Star Wars movie (and the loss of a Star Wars legend).Creative Conners has had an extraordinary year of engineering and building new products and cool scenic projects. If you’ve missed it, here are just a few of the highpoints…
In February we completed our first installation project of the year. Fairhaven Church in Ohio got our first Smart Chain Hoists. We got a chance to get a couple of half-ton Chain Master hoists wired up for Spikemark control, we installed them, and now they get to fly a fancy new LED video wall. It was a good start to an eventful year.
In May we worked with the gang at the Park Avenue Armory for a couple of neat effects to automate a curtain track and open and close a door. Sometime the gags that look so simple need special attention to ensure their reality matches the artist’s vision. Our resident New Yorker, Mike Wade was on hand to make sure everything went smooth. Everyone was happy to see the Trickline got some love for being a simple way to automate a curtain without any fuss or muss.
Meet & Greets
Throughout the year we shared some love with hungry technicians during load-ins and strikes when we arranged for Random Acts of Pizza. Indiana Rep, Pittsburg Public, Edwardsville High, and Long Wharf Theatre all got a bit of cheesy meaty goodness to help fuel their automation/scenic/painting/lighting workdays.
In March we were excited to see so many of our friends at USITT in Salt Lake City and introduce the redesigned Pushstick. There was nothing like catching up with old friends and showing off a significantly improved product to get us hyped up for the rest of the year.
Over the summer we joined our friends on Reddit for an AMA on r/techtheatre. It was a couple of hours of virtual meet & greet. We answered some questions and got some cool feedback on how people want to move their scenery.
In October, LDI meant that we got a chance to play among the lights, lasers, and fog in Vegas. It was more than a tradeshow, it was a coming out party for our new print catalog, the redesigned Revolver, the brand new Stagehand Apprentice, and the Floorpocket. The Floorpocket was developed throughout the hot days of summer and was unlike anything at the show. What made the experience even sweeter was immediately after LDI, the Floorpocket went off to its first rental gig and was an unrivaled success. You’ll hear more on this soon.
We didn’t let up as the year came to an end. In December we release the next major release of Spikemark. We developed the cure to your worst nightmare – what happens if you lose power to your automation gear. How will you get your scenery back in position without the headache of re-homing each piece? Persistent Positioning records your data to your Stagehand once a move is complete. So when the facilities guy shuts off the power by accident, you don’t need to sweat it when power is restored. Spikemark knows where everything is.
Regardless of how 2016 treated you, we hope 2017 is better, bigger, and uses a little bit more automation on stage.
What do we have on the agenda for 2017? Here’s a sneak peek…
We are prepping a few surprises for USITT in March.
We’re making it even easier to dip your toe in the automation game.
If you are you an undergrad or grad student dreaming of moving scenery, we’ve got something special coming your way.
We have been working hard for the last few months to update Spikemark and we are pleased to announce that it is ready for prime time! The newest version of everyone’s favorite automation control software includes a few additional features, updates the firmware on the Stagehands and squashes a couple of bugs. Although we put the new firmware through its paces in the shop, if you are currently in the middle of a run we recommend holding off on the upgrade until your current show closes.
With the newest Stagehand firmware installed, the current encoder position will be stored in the Stagehand – meaning the 9v batteries are no longer necessary to hold the position information. This new feature is available for all Stagehands except the FX. We added some behind the scenes magic which writes the position to flash memory after the position has been steady for 20 seconds. Additionally, anytime the E-Stop is triggered the Stagehand will compare the current position to the stored position and write it to memory if it is different.
If you have a Classic or original Mini you will now see encoder counts on the display when jogging as well as rolling fault messages.
We added a keyboard shortcut which will attempt to ‘connect to all stagehands’.
A New Stagehand FX Input Trigger.
We added a new Input trigger event to the Stagehand FX – you can now choose to turn on a given output.
The position scale wizard now accepts decimal values.
Inactive motors will now stay inactive after a network disconnect or faults.
Long-running time-delay cue links will properly become disabled in the event of an ESTOP regardless of parent cue status.
Stagehand FX Input triggers were not being processed correctly after Spikemark v3.5.1, this is no longer the case.
Download this upgrade now and start playing with these new features today.
The Paramount Theatre in Aurora, Illinois, includes automation in everything from their weekly film screenings to their exceptional theatrical shows. Technical Director Jason Pikscher embraces the flexibility of Creative Conners’ state-of-the-art fleet of Stagehand controllers, Spikemark software, and machines.
Pikscher says, “We use a Creative Conners Deck Chief system to control our roll drop every week for our Classic Movie Mondays. We show anything from ‘Casablanca’ to ‘Home Alone.’ The Deck Chief and roll drop are fixtures in our theatre.”
The Paramount Theatre also uses turntables of all sizes with their Revolver kit. “Right now it’s doing great in ‘Mamma Mia,’” Pikscher says. “It’s driving a turntable weighing just over a ton, plus another ton of scenery, plus 30 actors. I would say it’s easily driving 5,500 pounds like a champ. We even did a 30‑foot turntable for ‘Les Mis’ and were closer to 8,000 pounds with no problems.”
Because Spikemark does all the calculations for positioning and speed with a few inputs, dictating positions and writing cues is quick and easy. “Because it’s a revolve, the math could get too complicated if I had to figure it out myself. It’s easier to just drag it with Spikemark or the Showstopper Consolette and say, ‘OK, they want to go counterclockwise’ and set the time and speed. As opposed to trying to subtract 363 degrees from whatever position I’m currently in.”
As the primary Spikemark programmer, Pikscher is able to program quickly and efficiently during load-in and tech. Once the show is programmed, a crew member can take over running the show during rehearsals and performances. Pikscher says, “It’s pretty intuitive. You can quickly figure it out as you go. We’re able to program 25 cues in 10 minutes. I can’t ask for much faster than that in the world of automation.”
The Paramount Theatre amazes audiences time and again with its technical wizardry. The payoff happens every time a set-piece “magically” moves across the stage. For “A Christmas Story,” the theater’s Pushstick controlled the 1939 Packard. Pikscher says, “It worked like a charm.” They also used a Pushstick to drive a two‑story rotating house. Pikscher is very impressed with how quiet and fluid it was. Most importantly, the audience experienced a great opening moment of the show, where a main character says “The house on Cleveland Street,” and a two‑story, 29‑foot‑tall, 45‑foot‑wide house moved downstage 30 feet without any effort at all.
This is the second in a series of case studies we will present to show how Creative Conners automation can be used in a myriad of venues and applications. We’ve collected examples of churches, theatres, and schools that have incorporated our Stagehand controllers, machines, and Spikemark software in unique ways to solve unique problems. Stay tuned for more.
Copyright 2013 by Creative Conners, inc. | All rights reserved. Spikemark, Stagehand AC, Stagehand DC, Stagehand Mini, Stagehand FX, Pushstick, Revolver, Showstopper and Curtain Call are trademarks of Creative Conners, Inc.