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).
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 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.
Fairhaven Church in Centerville, Ohio, wanted to reflect something old and something new in their newly-designed chapel. The staff wanted an elegant and traditional aesthetic while enhancing the space’s functionality with technology – including Creative Conners automation. Their chapel hides a large LED screen in a narrow pocket in the ceiling. The screen weighs almost 1500 lbs. and is raised and lowered with a Creative Conners Smart Chain Hoist.
Fairhaven’s Ministry Services staff member Ryan Adams, who leads operations, says, Fairhaven has long been committed to an intergenerational ministry that values the expression of worship in a variety of styles while maintaining a singular scripture message from our pastor. In order to accomplish this we wanted a space that had a traditional look – interesting wood, stone, and glass – so it is very clean and beautiful. But we had to integrate technology so it could serve as a video venue as well.”
The automated video screen provides the best of both worlds. The screen’s movement is seamlessly integrated to feel natural. Adams says, “At the beginning of service, the screen is part‑way down – high enough to see the words and graphics that are displayed. During the greeting time, we drop it down to about six feet above the stage, so that it’s right at eye level. It’s almost like someone’s standing on stage when the pastor starts his message.”
By automating the screen, Fairhaven Church preserves the excellent quality of their gear without sacrificing the look of the room. “We’ve tucked all of the technology into areas that don’t draw attention to it,” says Adams. “You often have to compromise – if you want quality technology, you end up sacrificing aesthetics. In this case, we are able to get technology that integrates into the chapel’s design so that it doesn’t stand out, which really makes it brilliant.”
Both older, more traditional worshippers and younger millennials feel at home in the chapel. Attendance is growing, and they’ve hosted numerous events and weddings in the space. Adams says, “With weddings, we don’t usually need technology in that room, so we can just slide the screen right up into the pocket, and nobody even knows it’s there. It just gives a sense of a traditional, very classical-looking chapel. We couldn’t be happier. It really is a great space.”
This is the first of 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.
Often you don’t have a choice whether to buy or rent – those decisions are made by someone solely concerned with dollars and cents. Here are a few bits of advice to make sure your theatre is not being pennywise and dollar dumb.
If you are using your automation gear for a show that you do often (every year or even every few years), an outright purchase will usually save you money. You save on shipping and you ensure that you are never without the equipment you need when you need it. One of our customers recently realized that their annual rental of two Pushsticks for the last 5 years would have paid for the purchase of the same equipment if they had seized the opportunity sooner.
If you are on the fence and are considering a purchase of Creative Conners’ equipment but need to test drive it first, we can apply a portion of a rental to your purchase of the same gear immediately after your rental period has ended. This way you are assured that the kit you rent is the one you want to own.
If you have the available capital or a budget surplus – bite the bullet and buy the gear! A budget surplus will be eaten up by some other department if you don’t claim it. Plus, Creative Conners’ gear can open up design possibilities that positively affect every element of every show. If you only rented when you could have easily bought, you’ll be kicking yourself by the start of your next show.
Lastly, because Creative Conners’ components are plug-and-play operable, consider at least owning a Stagehand controller and a Showstopper emergency stop. You can rent the winches, hoists, or other machinery on an as-needed basis. When you need a Pushstick, Revolver, Spotline or another one of our stock machines, a rental will still be necessary. You also open up opportunities to build your own home-brewed machinery and you won’t need to worry about the front-end control or software.
If you have a project that is on the fence about automating the scenery, give us a shout and talk through your options. If nothing else, you can pick our brains and chat us up for ideas on how to get it done and how to fit it into your budget. We love talking about all things automation and seeing what imaginative ideas are floating around in your heads.
Do you hate wasting money as much as we do? There is no feeling that irks most of us more than realizing that your budget is too tight and you have to start trimming effects from your show. Whether it’s lighting, sounds, scenic or (say-it-ain’t-so) automation, every show has a budget that is too small and artistic ideas that are too big. You have two obvious choices when it comes to automation gear: you can rent it or buy it (or you can also make it yourself, but that’s a blog post for another time).
Let’s examine a few pros and cons for both options…
Lowest initial investment – A short term rental will always be less costly than an outright purchase.
Faster turnaround – A rental order can leave our doors in a few hours if you are in a jam and we have the gear available.
No maintenance needed – We prep, test, and maintain each component of our rental inventory so you always receive ready to use gear.
Freight costs are doubled – We have to ship it to you and ship it back. Twice the fun!
Less time to set up and experiment – If your rental arrives just before your load-in, you won’t have much time to play with it before it has to be ready for rehearsals.
Rental inventory availability – Our rental inventory is large but not infinite. There is always a slight chance that when you need a piece of equipment our shelves are bare. Make sure you call early to book the gear you need.
Opportunity to train staff and students outside of show time – Owning a kit means your staff can become expert users and technicians.
Equipment is available for multiple shows every season & every year – Why not automate ALL your shows?
You can tweak, customize, adjust, or hack your gear to your heart’s content – Push your gear to your creative limits.
Initial investment is higher
Longer lead-time – Plan on 3-4 week before your order ships.
Requires storage space when not in use – make sure you’ve thought about where to put this stuff once your show is over.
Maintenance – Dig into that manual or give us a call because you will need to make sure your gear is properly cared for.
It can be difficult to see a clear winner when considering performance automation. While you may only need the equipment for one show, you may be better off investing in a system to use in more shows and as a training tool for your staff or students. Imagine how impractical and wasteful it would be if you rented your entire lighting kit for every show. For the very same reasons you may want to build up stock of lighting gear, many theater are building up stock of automation gear. But our rental option means you don’t have to forgo automation entirely if the funds aren’t in your budget this year (or next).
In the next post find out how you can stretch every budget dollar as far as possible regardless of if you rent or buy.
So your stomach’s grumbling and its hours before you get to go home. All you can look forward to is your stage manager giving you a break from this never ending tech rehearsal. And what then? You’ll have to find something to eat at that vending machine by the call board. You know the one… Are you going to have a sticky bun or a bag of chips? The choices are less-than-stellar.
But, maybe you’ll get a surprise. Your friendly automation junkies here at Creative Conners are randomly sending Appreciation Pizza to the technicians that use our gear as a way of saying Thank You. Whether you are buying or renting for the first time or you are pulling out your Creative Conners gear from storage – let us know when you load-in, tech, and strike. Let us know on Facebok, Instagram, Twitter, e-mail, or the comments for this post.
We appreciate all of our customers but thought a bit of an extra special thank-you might be a nice thing to do. We’re not a pizza company so we’re not sending everyone pizzas -it will very much be randomly done.
Now, time to get back to that rehearsal and eat your sticky bun.
As 2015 winds down, we wanted to take a few moments to review some of this years highlights. It’s been a heck of a year. Thanks to you, our customers, (both loyal returning users and first-time automation newbies) we’ve provided some very cool gear to theaters , scenic studios, and event producers all over the United States (and our Canadian friends as well).
We are proud to have been a part of some amazing projects. It’s remarkable what something as simple as a turntable can add to a show. Our friends at The Geffen Playhouse and the Atlantic Theater Company made good use from their Stagehands and Spikemark to power their turntable for “These Paper Bullets.” And Mystic Scenic created an awesome reveal for the new Cadillac CT6. South Coast Rep made excellent use of their stock of Creative Conners’ gear when they need ed synchronized scene changes during “Of Good Stock.”
In 2015, we also found new ways to reach out and share what we love. Our Podcast, Circuit and Gear opened up a whole new way to get into our heads and see how we work. We’ve received great feedback and are eager to share more of our addition to automation in the coming year. We also added a new staff member just for you west coast automation junkies. Peter Veal is our Business Developer and is making house calls to theaters all over Los Angeles and southern California (or in one case, Ohio). Wherever you need us, we can be there. This has also been a busy year of new products and updates to existing products. We’re working to make your scenery automation life a bit easier. With the Rhody , you have all your control, power, networking and e-stop needs in one convenient case. We’ve updated the Showstopper 3 and Stagehand Mini^2 to metal enclosures – it seems like a little improvement, but refinement makes your show run more smoothly. And we’ve continuously improved Spikemark – squashing bugs and tweaking code to enhance performance.
2015 has seen some amazing custom projects come through our doors. We love it! Bring us your wacky ideas and let’s make them happen. For Candlelight Dinner Playhouse’s “Chitty Chitty Bang Bang,” we’ve made a car fly . We designed, engineered, fabricated, and aided in the installation of an awesome packaged lineset hoist – we called it “The Flyman” – for a cruise ship. And we created a heck of a large Sunroof Trap & Elevator for the renowned Steppenwolf Theatre . Each of these projects required a partnership with the end user and our team to make it happen. Our customers are some of the best in the world.
Most importantly, as we wrap up this year, we want to say Thank You to all of our customers, vendors, fans, and friends. You all have the most interesting, creative, zaniest ideas, and we are ecstatic that you choose us to help you make them a reality. Thank you for a fantastic 2015. Let’s have an even better 2016! Make It Move!
Let us know what you need from us to make your automation dream come true. Do you have a brilliant idea that you would love to see us create? Is there a burning question you have about motors, winches, or wire rope – give us a shout and let us help you get your show off the ground, revolving, or just plain moving.
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.