Nutcracker Backdrops of Death

Schniapereli

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Nov 19, 2006
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Provo, Utah, United States
We have a local ballet company that rented out our school for their ballet performance of Nutcracker which will happen next saturday. For their show, they have 3 backdrops which they want to use (2 20' drops and 1 40' drop which is supposed to "grow" upwards). They thought this would be easy because our vice principle told them that we have fly space. This vice principle was drastically misinformed, seeing as we don't.

So now I am left with trying to figure out how to make all of this work. And, we have to make it happen in one week with a choir concert one Wednesday, a clogging dance company rental on Thursday, and have it be done by the matinee in by 10:30am on Saturday to be ready for rehearsals.

I have talked to the master carpenter at a local theatre about Olio or Roll drops, and said that would work best, but I have read other threads on here that make me think that is not such a good idea for me and my students to rig all by ourselves.

So, I tried to come up with an easier and less dangerous idea. I came up with a scrolling type rig, which I think should work nicely, but I have never really heard of anyone else doing it, so maybe someone else has tried this and found this to be a bad idea.

Here's a picture I made in paint to illustrate. Sorry if it is hard to read.



Our third electric would be lowered (our electrics fly, but there is no space above to fly a drop out), and have a pole attatched to it, and then put a sort of PVC pipe around it so the pipe is free to roll, and then we would put guards on the sides so it doesn't move except by rolling in place. We would also probably like to put another pole at the bottom that the drop could be wrapped around that could also turn freely, so that the drop is not just a big clumped up mess. We might also just make it wrap around the top pole, so there isn't a bunch of the drop coming from the top that we don't know what to do with. (It would make the drop move slightly forward as the roll gets thicker, but that's ok.)

One thing this scrolling idea would accomplish, is we would be able to make the tree drop grow, when an Olio drop would not make this possible. We can take the drop up and over, so it's as though we actually had fly space.

Then, to change to the other drops, we would tape them together, or fasten them in some other way. The drops are all 20' but our proscenium is 15', and so there would be 5' or so of material at the bottom that we can work with to make sure all of these are connected well enough. We would also make sure to scroll by rolling the bar with ropes, so that the drops raise up evenly, instead of just pulling on each corner.

So, in the end, we would have this 80' long SuperDrop that would scroll from one scene to another much like a color scroller.

Will this work?
Would Olio drops be a better option?
Any things that I could improve to maybe move in the same direction?

Thanks =)
 
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fredthe

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Dec 13, 2006
Location
Maryland
I suspect that you may have a fundamental problem with this... Your electric likely has lines every 8 to 10 feet. Unless the drops are very narrow, you'll have a problem.

Edit.. missed attach the pole to it part. The biggest problem is keeping the pipe from flexing; you may need something like an I-beam inside the rolling pipe to keep it from sagging in the middle. How wide are the drops?

-Fred
 
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Schniapereli

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Nov 19, 2006
Location
Provo, Utah, United States
I guess I didn't explain it very well... (and it doesn't help that I can't draw)

We would have another aluminum pipe hung below our 3rd electric that will only be connected to the batten on the electric by 2 chains, which will be wrapped around PVC (actually, we will use ABS-DWV pipe), which will be around the aluminum pipe. This will make it so we have an aluminum pipe that is hung under the third electric, with no chains in the middle to get in the way of the drop, and it should be able to spin freely if all goes well...

Sorry for not explaining it very clearly...
 

fredthe

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Maryland
Sorry for not explaining it very clearly...
You explained it fine, I just read it too quickly :) (See edit above).

The main problem is how to counter the sag in the middle... how wide are the drops?

Can you get the drops ahead of time, to try it out?

-Fred
 

Schniapereli

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Nov 19, 2006
Location
Provo, Utah, United States
You explained it fine, I just read it too quickly :) (See edit above).

The main problem is how to counter the sag in the middle... how wide are the drops?

Can you get the drops ahead of time, to try it out?

-Fred
We are getting the drops Monday, and the other events during the week want one of the travelers closed, so we can leave it up if we are still working on it. The drops will be 40' wide. Aluminum 4" pipe should be able to handle that length without sagging right? If not, what is better that I could get a hold of?
 

ajb

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DC Metro Area
40' wide? That's going to be tough. Aluminum extrusions are typically sold in 20' lengths, how are you going to join it? The diameter you need will depend on the weight of the drop and the amount of friction in the system (which affects how hard you'll have to pull to run the drops). If you know the shipping weight for the drops and you have a copy of Structural Design for the Stage handy you should be able to get a ballpark figure, though you'll need to look up material properties for Aluminum separately since SDS only covers wood and steel.

I wouldn't be too confident in using tape to hold the drops together, that sounds like a mid-show disaster waiting to happen.

The other concern is that as soon as you have 20' of drop pulled over the top, the system will be balanced such that it will be very easy to unintentionally pull more drop over. A roll drop has the advantage here that since everything gets rolled up there's only the weight of drop hanging on one side to deal with and it's easier to hold in place with a rope.
 

FatherMurphy

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Any sort of single pipe or beam at that length is going to deflect down at the center, and the drop will want to slide down to the center, causing wrinkling problems as it 'scrolls'. Any pipe or beam large enough or stout enough to have a sufficiently minimal amount of deflection will be costly enough to be beyond your budget, and will be heavy enough to be beyond your ability to safely hang by yourselves.

Renting some 12" aluminum box truss comes to mind instead of pipe, but this will still be a few hundred pounds to hold in the air, plus the forces of pulling the drop, and at 40', it will still deflect enough to be a problem. Perhaps instead of hanging the pipe/truss, you could ground support it, essentially a wall with a rounded top for the drop to flow over. This way, you support it as often as needed from underneath, and nothing is hung overhead. You will need to anchor and crossbrace it VERY securely to prevent it from falling over upstage/downstage as the drop is pulled.

As far as taping three drops top-to-bottom like a scroller, 1) I'd be very impressed with a tape that would hold a painted drop with sufficient force to accomplish that, 2) I'd be very curious how I'd get that tape back off the drops after the run of the show without wrecking anything, 3) I'd worry that the grommets and ties would catch at the pipe the drops are being pulled over.

Since this is Nutcracker, I'm assuming you have the living room with the tree, a forest, and the court as your drops, with the moves being growing the tree and transitioning from house to forest. The tree could be the scroll discussed above, the forest could be hung behind the tree and revealed by pulling the tree completely over the wall, and the court can be an intermission change. Or, if you have access to a straight run of curtain track (not a traveler setup), maybe the forest or court could be pulled in from the side.

Good luck!
 

JChenault

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seattle, wa USA
This seems like a lot of friction to pull the drop over a pipe. How are you planning to apply the force to make it slide upward? Folks pulling from the floor?

If this is the furthest upstage drop ever used you might try supporting your roller pipe from below - but I would suggest an alternative.

Any thing that you try like this will quite possibly damage the drop. ( Not saying it will, but the possibility is definitely there). Can you not simply contact the dance company and tell them there is a problem and what do they want to do about it? Sometimes you just have to say 'We can't do this' and let it go.
 

gafftaper

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Sorry to be a Grinch Schni. I don't see any way of doing this without it looking like Crap.

40' wide is just too wide. I built a 20' wide oleo with wood reinforced 4" PVC. It worked for my purposes but sagged 3'-4' in the center. 40' anything is too long and going to sag a LOT. The only way you are getting 40 wide anything (scrolling or oleo) to work without a HUGE sag is with a lot of custom welding.

You aren't going to be able to tape those drops together either. They need to be sewn with very heavy thread and I would guess at least two passes per seem... maybe 3, I'm not an expert... or they will fail. Tape won't be able to handle that weight.

If I had to do this I would do separate olio's but there's no way just PVC or PVC with Wood reinforcement will work. My guess is it would sag at least 6-8 feet at least in the middle without a lot of clever welding inside.
 

Footer

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I spend a lot of time dealing with drops. This is not going to work. I am going to ignore the actual rig and focus on the drops that are being rented with a hefty deposit on them. No way are you going to be able to attach them together without stitching them. Tape won't do it. Nothing sticks to painted muslin. You don't want to destroy the drops. Many companies who rent drops do not make them in house and if one of their drops in their package gets destroyed they lose the entire package, not just the one drop. They might be able to get it replaced, but not until next season. You don't even want to think about how much that would cost. It could easily go in the 5-10k range.

One recommendation I have is to double hang your drops. Hang both on your electric that flies. At a well placed intermission, either west coast the drop onto the electric revealing the one behind it or strike the drop to reveal the one behind it. No, it won't be as magical, but you won't bankrupt the company in the process.
 

kicknargel

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Denver, CO
I'll repost this from something I put in another thread:

When I used to do Nutcracker in a non-fly house, I did it with travelers. I had the snow drop dead hung (permanent) all the way upstage, then put both the party and sweets drops on the same track. The party drop was rigged to the curtain pull, so it could be opened a vista (in view) to reveal the snow drop. Then at intermission we pulled the sweets drop across by hand. It helps to put chain in the pipe pocket of the drops and to attach boards and stretcher lines to the sides.

It won't get you the growing drop, but will work for everything else.

I once did a 50' oleo for Nutcracker--not recommended. I used 6 or 8" PVC with framing down the center and it still sagged to much, so we had to add a support line around the middle that then had to be untied and struck. No good for a vista.

I have seen 40' roll drops that worked--they were made with some special aluminum irrigation pipe that came in 40' lengths.

I've also thought about a system where you have some kind of C-shaped brackets with roller wheels on it to support a roll tube in the center without going all the way around it. However, there are all kinds of tricky engineering and safety concerns with this--it would be quite an undertaking.
 

Schniapereli

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Nov 19, 2006
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Provo, Utah, United States
I forgot to report back when we were done. =P
Thanks everyone for your input. Some of my and my crew's suggestions seemed to be more dangerous than we thought. None of us knew metal pipe bended that much.

We ended up hanging all three of our drops on our third electric. Our electric has two battens on it, and so we hung another aluminum pipe below the bottom batten, fastened with chains and safety cables. This way, we had a pipe for each drop, making it a bit easier to west coast.
During the blackout, we just lowered the electric, and had a whole team of technicians scurrying about untying the west coast we had set up. I originally didn't want to go with the west coasting method because I thought it would take too long, but our crew of 6 was able to do it in under 30 seconds after they practiced a few times.

During the matinee performance, the snow drop unfortunately got caught during the quick scene change, so we follow-spotted the dancers until the crew finished unfurling it.

The evening performance went perfectly though.
 

jcfalc01

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I agree with JC and Gafftaper. It is time to tell the company that they were mis-informed. I would also copy the assistant principal. Some things can be done but not in the time frame and the manner in which you are describing. The stress on the drops will be huge and the likelihood of damaging the drops is extreme.

Perhaps the 20 ' drops could just be brought on by actors or tech and held in place. The 40' might just need to be deadhung and perhaps a traveler used to reveal and hide it.

Sorry. Best of Luck and More!
 

SHARYNF

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Sep 3, 2006
I don't know who the drops were from BUT there are a few companies from China who are producing computer printed drops that are done on a very thin non woven material. these in fact ARE taped together. The material is just a step above gossamer so it is extremely lightweight especially in comparison to the more traditional muslin

I have used some of these, and for the price they are not bad, not likely to last for years and years but much cheaper then the more traditional approaches

There are also a few of the muslin versions that are interesting. For folks that have different size requirements they actually have a ZIPPER sown into them so that the web/grommet section, the pipe pocket and sections of the drop can be reconfigured. It is not perfect and you can sort of notice the seam but it is very convenient for folks that might be moving a production around from venue to venue with different configurations

Sharyn
 

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