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Diary of an Automation Junky Our latest musings and updates, along with any information we think you might find helpful. Enjoy!
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Stage Automation at The Geffen Playhouse


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.

Locking IEC Cable for Showstopper and Stagehand FX

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!

Prototype Friction Drive for Scenery Wagons

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.

USITT 2014, Booth #1229 Made it Move!


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).

Also making their Stage Expo debut were the Stagehand Pro, Deck Chief, and Curtain Call, as well as new features in Spikemark that were lots of fun to play with live in the booth.

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!

Top Ten Reasons to Find Us at USITT This Week

 

Here’s why you should hightail it on over to  USITT’s Conference and Stage Expo in Fort Worth and see our automation team.

10. Get SWAG.

9. Learn all you’ve ever wanted to know about PID Loops Wednesday at 1pm.  Don’t worry, they will start with explaining the acronym and work right up to applying this knowledge to unmanned space flight (or for lack of time maybe just to your automated scenery).  Click here for the full schedule and location.

 

Stagehand Pro

8. See our usually reserved and hidden-in-the-wings Stagehand Pro handle the glare of the spotlight on Friday 4:40pm on USITT’s Innovation Stage.

 

7. See Ryan’s new haircut. And ask him about his addiction to Samoas®, a.k.a Caramel Delites®.

 

6. Ride on the 3′ mini-spinner powered by the Revolver.

5. Cozy up to words like speed reducer, horsepower, torque, output gearing, drum size, unmanned space flight and more at the Basic Machine Design Session Thursday 2:45pm.  Click right here for the full schedule and location.

Vegan?

4. Find out if these three popular desserts are Vegan: Thin Mints®, Swedish Fish®, Oreos®. (Hint: Ask Royal, it’s a topic near and dear to his heart. Kind of like the Samoas® are to Ryan.)

3. Lose yourself in the acreage of our biggest booth space to date, complete with four machines to monkey around with, and take the quiz to find out which machine you are.

2. Experience wireless automation control from a tablet. Then ask if you can try to beat their score on Three’s.

And the top reason to visit our brilliant Creative Conners team at Booth 1229 in USITT’s 2014 Stage Expo and Conference at the dazzling Fort Worth Convention Center is…

1. MORE SWAG! After all, we brought it just for you.

 

Deck Chief Clicks the Shutter for “Love and Information” Rapid Scene Change

———[ SNAP ]——–


———[ SNAP ]——–

———[ SNAP ]——–

———[ SNAP ]——–

"Love & Information" (Note: Back wall is closed during performances.)

———[ SNAP ]——–

 

———[ SNAP ]——–

 

———[ SNAP ]——–

Mule Sheaves Offer 4:1 Advantage, Reduce Machine Travel.

———[ SNAP ]——–

———[ SNAP ]——–

“That’s a big motor for a 3′ Turntable!” and Other Revelations at SETC 2014

If you walked by our booth last week at the SETC Convention in Mobile AL and wondered why we had such a big motor for a meager 3′ turntable, we’re glad you asked us about it.  Surely our explanation made it all clear: The size-of-my-breakfast-table mini-spinner is merely a scaled model for demos, but the full sized Revolver machine is designed to rotate a real-life-no-doll-scale-move-the-whole-set turntable.

Unscrewing Revolver Crate

Perhaps you were one of the people who took advantage of having a ride on our mini-spinner, which made for a fun break if you were tired of carrying around swag and trading business cards.  And we hope you enjoyed our swag, candy and travel mugs.

Newest Swag: Insulated Travel Mug

Actually we know you enjoyed the travel mugs. Royal and Gareth could hardly keep up with demand for our newest swag, and it made us happy to know that SETC attendees enjoy a hot beverage as much as we do.

Among the attendees who stopped by the booth to chat and pick up a mug were many high schools interested in automation.  That’s no surprise considering Les Miserables is the most successful musical ever produced in schools.  According to BroadwayWorld.com there are over “2,500 productions of the Les Miserables School’s Edition scheduled or being performed by over 125,000 school children in the UK, US and Australia.” I believe “les miserables” can be loosely translated as “theatrical show using a turntable.”  Loosely.  Kind of an idiom, you know.

By the way, a 2 week rental for an entire Revolver Kit costs just $1,100, plus shipping.

Overall the convention was a great time. We’d like to thank Esthere Strom, SETC Events Chair, for arranging our booth and our automation talk.  And hats off to the entire SETC team.  They did a great job integrating the Educational Expo, Commercial Exhibitors, and Job Fair into one seamless event.  Most notable were those charming Southern Belles roaming freely throughout the convention.

Southern Belle

In this day and age of online shopping and text based communications (both of which we enjoy as much as you do!) events like this remind us of the pleasure of a personal chat with like minded theatrical professionals.  And we’re ready to do it again in Fort Worth with the same mission: Give away more travel mugs and candy.

Come see us at Booth#1229 on March 26 -29 at USITT’s Stage Expo.  Our booth space will be 4 times the size of our SETC booth allowing us to showcase four machines, two full Spikemark demo stations, plus room for the queue of people waiting to ride the mini-spinner.  Can we take you for a spin?

Creative Conners at SETC 2014

 

Quiet on the Set! Pushsticks and Tek-12 Pair for Low Noise on Geffen Stage

Even scenery in small spaces can be adeptly automated, and it is particularly essential in those spaces to have quiet gear.  Noting our recommended use of Tek-12 rope in the last blogpost, Matthew Carleton, TD at The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, shared their experience achieving quiet automation using the rope along with one of our Pushstick winches for their current production of Slowgirl.  The show, with sets designed by Takeshi Kata, is previewing now in Geffen’s 149 seat Audrey Skirball Kenis Theater.  Slowgirl opens March 12, and continues with an extended run through April 27.

Video credit to Tom Watson,  ATD at The Geffen Playhouse:

And while I have your attention, might I suggest you admire other slick automation Geffen has treated it’s patrons to over the years using the Creative Conners system:

Make it Move…Quietly. Next Day Service Call to Solve Automation Problems

“Creative Conners, this is Royal speaking.  How can I help you?”  That was Wednesday morning at our Rhode Island workshop.  Fast forward 24 hours and we find Royal crossing the Hudson on I-95 headed for Delaware with a 5hp motor, shiny red gantry crane, crates of tools & parts, and a directive to help The Resident Ensemble Players (REP) smooth out the kinks in their automated set for Faust.

Loaded Up in Rhode Island

In just one day our Product Engineer went from a phone call about a bigger motor, to next day on-site motor delivery and 2-days of hired technical support.  By the end of the second day, not only was a 2hp motor swapped out for a 5hp older sibling, but also a solution to a seemingly insurmountable noise problem was found, as well as a thorough re-cueing of the show to achieve more accurate positioning.

We wouldn’t do this kind of last minute hustle for just anybody. Well, okay, the truth is we do this whenever possible, but we are particularly happy to help out our oldest customer. The REP at the University of Delaware placed the very first order with us back in 2005.  Still getting good use out of the original Stagehands and Pushsticks (cue applause), the REP production staff installed the gear to automate two wedge shaped wagons around a circular center stage platform for their upcoming show, Faust.

Faust Set at REP

A clever set design, yes, but the devil is in the details, and in this case Mephistopheles showed himself in the form of friction and noise.  At load-in Keith & John, Technical Director and Asst. Technical Director, discovered their smaller 2hp motor was not up to the task, and wisely initiated the distress call to us with a rush order of the 5hp motor, but soon added a request for in person assistance trouble shooting potential Stagehand problems as well as an overview of the entire rig.

Panels Open to Access Pushsticks in the Pit

Upon arrival, and after a successful motor transplant for the Pushstick, Dr. Royal determined the Stagehands were fine, but the rig of the wagons had a distinct devil to exorcise: noisy bearings which had been over stabilized to the point of creating too many friction points.  Keith and John had been on the right track to replace their wire rope with something that would generate less friction, but unfortunately the product they picked wasn’t as smooth as it needed to be.

New Tek-12 Rope Descends to the Pushsticks in the Pit

Royal recommended switching to a high strength, low stretch, urethane coated Tek-12 rope in addition to reducing the number of the bearings the rope contacted.  This combination successfully cast out enough evil friction spirits that the 5hp motor could easily overcome the remainder.

Saturday morning, while watching the automation operator, CJ, go through the cues in Spikemark to test the new quieter and less stressed motion, Royal observed that the cueing could be reworked to become both simpler and more accurate.  Never touching the keyboard himself, Royal guided the operator through re-cueing the show from the ground up.  He advised the best practice for setting up the show in Spikemark, where to call zero position, and clarified the details of position scale. The operator, experienced in Spikemark, absorbed the advice quickly and had a new show file ready to run that same morning.

A scene from heaven. Faust at REP.

So while God may not be entirely pleased with actions of Mr. Faust, the good people at REP can take comfort knowing the only devils in this production are embodied by actors, and not in their stage mechanics.

 

Automation Gear in Action, March 6 – 8 at SETC Convention

We love automation.

We love sharing our expertise in automation.

We’ve even written a limerick about our scenic automation.  (ya srsly. read on.)

We’ll be sharing this enthusiasm in just TEN DAYS at the 65th Annual Southeastern Theatre Conference Convention  March 5-9 at the state-of-the-art Mobile Convention Center in Mobile, AL .

Visit us at our booth for hands-on experience with our gear during exhibition hours March 6th & 7th 10am – 6pm, as well as March 8th 10am – 1pm.

If you aren’t already registered, you can download the onsite registration form which will admit you to all workshops, festival performances, keynotes, exhibits and general social events. Top on your list, however, should be our “Diary of an Automation Junkie” session 9am – 10:15am on Friday March 7.

Why should you attend our one hour session?

In case the limerick alone doesn’t convince you, consider that along the humorous and educational tour of Gareth Conner’s largest blunders in automation, you will learn the principles of automation beginning with “How do I make this thing move?” right through basic explanations of torque, horsepower, a winch system, AC vs. DC motors, PLC’s, and ending with a full overview of the architecture of our popular motion control system.

Illustration of 1/4 Horsepower

You’ll find yourself picking up knowledge critical to the implementation of scenic automation in your productions, and also practical tips such as:

•Grounding matters.

•Don’t buy everything that you can build.

•PLC’s are better than knobs, but not as good as you wish they were.

•Limit switches are better than spike tape, but not as good as you wish they were.

We encourage you to peruse the full schedule of events via SETC’s interactive schedule maker which allows you to customize your own schedule and sync it to your phone or calendar. And brace yourself for some powerful networking opportunities as the convention will gather more than 4,000 actors, design and technical professionals, theatre educators, students, university representatives, and commercial exhibitors.

We look forward to seeing you there.  And now, as promised, our automation limerick.

There once was a stagehand named Gareth,

Whose automation received goodly merits.

Attending his session

Does give the impression

To ignore his sage words would be careless.

 

 

 

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