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Never let a school design a theatre... pt. 2

Discussion in 'Safety' started by Charc, Apr 4, 2007.

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  1. Charc

    Charc Well-Known Member

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    I didn't want to hijack the other thread, so I thought I'd create my own.

    So I've been supplementing my theatre education with Controlbooth and the internet. I was going over some ideas for an upcoming show and decided to poke around the theatre to get a better look at our (under used) fly system. Well when I did research on fly systems I had this sinking feeling our fly system wasn't a fly system. My poking around confirmed this. We have a "hanging system". So basically when the theatre got renovated, this was a few years ago, before my time, they didn't hire a theatre consultant. They had some alumni that said "I'm good at this stuff" or something. Apparently the original plans were just upright whack. Luckily the theatre dept. head was able to get some say when some new guy came to the project, but some things remained. Among these, the hanging system. So instead of a traditional counterweighted fly system, we have a bunch of winches on BSR. Major problems with these winches: 1. They are not counterweighted, so weight is a pain. 2. They are honestly slower than a crawl. I don't know how I can accent this. I'm talking a solid 3 minute of hardcore winching to bring something in. 3. When going up, they use one of those systems with the teeth and a metal "catch" that will stop the pipe from dropping should it fail. Actually come to think of it, the catch is the only thing stopping it from falling. anyways, this is all housed internally, and impossible to stop from CLANKING REALLY REALLY LOUDLY KIND OF LIKE WHY I'M WRITING IN CAPS AND CAN YOU IMAGINE THIS NOISE FOR 3 MINUTES WHILE YOU ARE BREAKING A SWEAT FROM USING THE GODAWFUL WINCH? 4. It wasn't "double purchased" which apparently means we can only used 1/2 of our fly tower (correct terminology?). So we have only have a 5-6 foot flat in the air, as opposed to a 12 foot flat.

    According those I've talked with "It's useless". Really it's a shame. It means we can't fly anything. Though we flew something last year. But it wasn't counterweighted, and it was pretty big. I am a skinny guy. Holding that rope myself, I would get dragged forward last year, so we had to have 2 people fly it out, and it was jerky, and terrible, as it was rigging on some hooks on the wall. Just not good.

    So on top of that a lot of things in the theatre don't make sense. Like how we don't have house-lights. We have pars in the house... Though to my GREAT surprise today I noticed house-lights hung on the balcony. Granted they aren't hooked up yet, nor do we have any lights for the main part of the house, but its a start. So on top of that I'm annoyed with our cats. They built it so it can just clip your head in 4 spots. You can imagine how many times I run up there, and coincidentally how many times you'll random hear curses coming from the ceiling. I also don't like that the theatre used to be a church, and we still have the pews.

    So ontop of that, a lot of stuff just plain doesn't make sense. They way a lot of stuff is set up, and how the old stuff is disconnected. I've noticed a bunch of ports that look like they could be IC ports, but some have tape on them, and I'm worried they are DMX512, and I don't wanna touch 'em. The theatre is just plain weird all over. The basement especially is crazy. It's like a labyrinth, the building has seen so many transitions. We do have 4 IC ports scattered around there though...

    I'm saddened that there isn't any way (apparently) to have a trap door or elevator in our stage floor, apparently it was designed in a weird way. Though I found what appears to be an old heating grate that leads to the crawl space, and I plan to investigate it in my next free time.

    Another weird thing we have going on. Our catwalks / circuits were all renovated 3 years ago. Relatively new. I think we got our board and dimmers then, though I found a dead circuit. This is a new development. I spent an hour trying to trouble shoot what was going on before I realized the circuit was dead. I've been meaning to ask one of the maintenance guys for a key to the dimmer room, but I haven't had the chance. I might e-mail him tonight about that, because it bugs me that we have a dead circuit... any thoughts on what to look for there?

    Well I figured as long as I was complaining about my theatre (maybe this is better for the punching bag) I should post some pictures of it. These are old and from my phone, sorry.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]

    P.S. No orchestra pit!

    Post Post Script: And the booth! God, it's tiny, and just a box added to the house, blah. It gets so HOT in their during performances too.
     
  2. soundlight

    soundlight Well-Known Member

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    Ahh... I feel a rant coming, one that has been posted many times here before.

    1) You have a Strand 300 series. I had the Lightronics "Crapbox II Pro S.O.L."

    2) You have catwalks. I had a hmm...how should I put it...shakey at best "ladder" to get to the FOH position.

    3) You at least have winches. Our electrics were fixed pipes at 17', our drapes (torn in some places) were fixed, our grand drape was fixed (at 3" of the deck, mind you, because the installer said that it "would stretch over time" - bullshit.)

    4) You have a balcony. We just had about 500 seats in one big rectangular box with a stage on one side of it, no proscenium, no balcony, etc.

    5) You have dimmable fixtures as house lights. Ours were fluorescent fixtures wired straight to breakers so that you would hear the "pop pop pop pop pop" as the house lights went out before the show.

    I could go on forever...so much fun the "who's theater is the worst?" contest. I'm sure that there are plenty of other horror stories around here.
     
  3. HandyMan

    HandyMan Member

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    Dude, i feel your pain..my school's theatre isnt too bad off...except the frankenstine lightwall...and no phone system...and the sound is progressivly gettin better...just think of it like this...it can only get better...it helps a lil bit...and sometimes, it brings a huge laugh...but it makes ya feel better...
     
  4. Edrick

    Edrick Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I like how people are like well you had this and i had that so I was off worse, we have to remember that, that was also a different time :p. If your theater is 20+ years old obviosly you're going to have had, different things than what a theater was renovated just recently.

    So it's a bit like the I walked 6 miles both ways in snow, rain, sleet ect... Back then that was the standard, just as now riding the bus it the standard.

    Now if you're dealing with a system such as soundlight described in future time well then that would be a stinker and you'd have these people beat with bad theater. :)
     
  5. Charc

    Charc Well-Known Member

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    Funny you should mention fluoros as house lights... that's what they are installing :lol:
     
  6. soundlight

    soundlight Well-Known Member

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    AHHH!!! Floros for house lights are the worst, worst, worst way to go. They can't set the right "mood" in the house for most theatre productions, they can't be dimmed without special ballast and dimmers, and they're just downright awful for house lights.

    Make sure you get a switch in the booth to control them, and see if you can get them to make them dimmable with the proper ballasts and dimmers, if at all possible.
     
  7. Edrick

    Edrick Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    That's one of the "good" things about here all the theater is incadecent lights. "good" in that they are dimmable, but are energy hogs. It takes more power to run the theater than it does to run our entire E Building (4 floors, all classrooms, heating, computers, ect..)

    It would suck to be in CA though since they're trying to ban incadecent lights.
     
  8. Van

    Van CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    At the Portland PCPA there is a strange theatre called the Winingstad < the Winnie> All of the electrics are on a similar winch system. The thought being that since electrics don't need to move during a show < ideally> why invest the money in a full counterweight system? One thing I might suggest is what they do at the Winnie . They have a modified angle grinder. It has a big socket on the spindle and all the winches have a bolt on them where the handle would mount. It speeds things up a ton.
    I can't imagine how a non-licensed non-qualified person was able to do work in a public building like your school, but man, thats a recipe for disaster. As far as My theatre sucks worse than yours..... Yeah I kinda agree with Rickblu There is a bit of, " Oh Yeah well I had to walk to school in chest deep snow, uphill, Both ways" Heck, I had a 12 scrimmer EDI pack with a 6 channel analogue board, but look at me now ! hehehehehe.
    Just remember it could be worse. < I think>
     
  9. Footer

    Footer Senior Team Senior Team Premium Member

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    You guys really need to go out and look at some professional theatres out there then start your complaining. I have worked in places that are converted churches, old warehouses (those are reallllllyyyyy fun), retired auto shops, old restraints/coffee bars (that the permanent light system consisted of 8 100' soca's, 24 2.4k dimmers, 12 1.2k dimmers, and 8 POS 600w elation DJ packs, and it happened to be a triangle of a space). You have electric winches, BE GLAD!, many schools are not installing counterweight systems due to safety concerns, so be glad you can fly anything at all. Also, you have a great console sitting up in your booth that is a wonderful training tool (speaking as one of the strand fanboys here). Also, nearly every catwalk has its own specific quark, usually involving sprinkler pipes of some kind. Be glad you have a theatre. Don't attack it, look at it as a place to make art and use it for its full potential. A painter can complain about his brushes all day long, but its the good painter that paints the best with the crappiest brush.
     
  10. setmandj

    setmandj Member

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    I would just like to ad that the theatre that I am working in is a old tobacco barn... and I mean old... it was standing in the early 1800's. We have a cement floor, and electricity. The walls are still slatted and the roof leaks... We have been rained on, snowed on and have had to hand out blankets to our audiance. Be thankful you have heat and Air conditioning.

    The new facility that is in the local High school has no fly system very few lights and while there are towers for spots, no spots were ordered. Be thankful for what you have and work to improve it.
     
  11. Edrick

    Edrick Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    I was gonna say well it can be worse but setmandj beat me, our old school that was just demolished at the start of this school year the "theater" was built in the 60s and guess when the last update to it was? the 60s. Had a huge electrical box that just sits on the floor 8 feet tall by 5 feet wide with big manual levers that you would move to dim lights, big warnings with do not touch sparks! and broom sticks attached to them to pair some of the dimmers. The curtains were old as anything all of it was winches and there was no catwalk just hard fixed lights up on the ceiling. The "control" booth was nothing but a small room with a window for a spot which smoked.

    Ontop of that it rained in there so if you ever needed water effects well there ya go.

    Even older in the origional building 100 years old was another theater / auditorium with balcony seats and a big open space that you had to setup manual seats. Nothing like trying to hang a big projector screen by getting up on a huge ladder and tying it over the old curtains. The electrical system never was upgraded and you turned the lights on / off with a switch in the fuse pannel. Off to the right of the stage was the "media" storage wich consisted of vintage record players and an amp. The control booth in that was even smaller.

    last years play was fun, we had rented lights maybe about 8 of them all on all the time except in scene changes no different lighting effects ect... The sound system which I had to operate was a bunch of hanging mics with really thin ancient xlr cabling run into a ancient sound mixer and amp hey if you wanted to listen to a radio station we could just turn the speakers up a bit and there ya go.
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2007
  12. gafftaper

    gafftaper Senior Team Senior Team Fight Leukemia

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    How about this for an "it could be worse"

    A professional road house theater not to far from where I work just did a $14 million remodel. Guess what. The roof leaks. The roof drainage system backs up into the fly system pit. There's another leak that drains into the orchestra pit, and good old drips in several other locations.

    It's not just schools that screw these things up. It's the beauty of Minimum Bid Contractors.
     
  13. jonhirsh

    jonhirsh Active Member

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    Sometimes quirks are the best learning experiences.

    I started in a theatre that had 3 S4's 5 2k Fresnels. I learned to be efficient with my inventory.

    Now I go to a school that has a very large inventory. And I am constantly designing professional shows with large moving light packages. But I don’t feel I could have learned to use the big stuff with out all the years of working with nothing.

    Having to make due can some times help you over come your ego. And most of all it can help you learn to be innovative a key skill to getting hired again.


    The fact that I can go to other countries and work with what they have is a huge plus. I just did a show in Croatia where they couldn’t explain to me what they had where they had it. But I worked through it; sort of learning the language as I went along I was able to over come the obstacles in my way. If I hadn’t started with so few lights in my career I might have been nervous about the rig they provided. But using my experiences from past failures and past bad situations I was able to get through it and get great reviews.

    Schools don’t screw up there theaters. We just don’t use them sometimes the way they were built. It sounds like your pipes are only meant to be flown in for hanging and focus. Use it this way, stop designing flying scenery. And work with your space don’t fight it and make it work for you.

    Design for your space and what you have available to you.

    JH
     
    Last edited: Apr 5, 2007
  14. Edrick

    Edrick Well-Known Member Premium Member

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    Just a little side thing instead of creating a new topic or brining up a old one. I walked into the theater today and who was there? None other than the Projector Company. They still had the old work order to install our projector and showed up, tracing all the lines figuring out whats going on and what not. But now they have to wait for approval to install the projector if the school decides it wants to spend the money.

    Funny how they just showed up though, they weren't even called in. Just one day hey lets go finish this work order :p
     
  15. astrotechie

    astrotechie Member

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    Well that is the fact working on a governmental funded project. You have back orders and things that dont function right and other problems. Also there should be things that should be inter-changable but arent. Well that is one thing that I never get tired of wondering about when working in a governmental funded project.
     
  16. achstechdirector

    achstechdirector Active Member

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    I feel for you all

    We had 8 par 56's for 2years

    we are now renting a theatre in Corinth, MS called the Coliseum. It was built in the 20's but has modern equipment. It also has the Strand 300 series console. It is a dream.

    sorry "i don't liketo brag"
     
  17. avkid

    avkid Not a New User Fight Leukemia

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  18. sloop

    sloop Member

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    while I won't go into details, let me say winches with latch catches are not safe, tie the handles so they can't move when not being used. You should have worm drive winches that do not rely on spindle locks.
     
  19. DaveySimps

    DaveySimps CBMod CB Mods Premium Member

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    Some very good points have beed brought up. I agree that not having a lot forces you to be creative and resourceful, an invaluable tool in our industry.

    I opened a new $12M space a few years ago, and we had roof leaks for 3 years before we took them to court to do the job right. We also had deamons in our lighting system that gave us endless problems for 2 1/2 years, turns our running CAT 5 with high voltage cable to a control node for 300' is a bad idea. Took the lighting company that long to find something that should have been discovered before commissioning of the system. I have heard of countless other new facilities with other bad luck with low bid contractors.

    I could not agree more about building to suit your theatre. This is a pet peeve of mine from designers and directors. There are just some things you can't do in many spaces, with out a remodel or HUGE budget.

    ~Dave
     
  20. avkid

    avkid Not a New User Fight Leukemia

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    The contractor that put on our theatre's horrible roof fled the state and the lawsuit.
     
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