A beautiful auditorium is a point of pride for any place. Whether serving as a central gathering point for the associations, or the biggest available venue for community events, it satisfies both a specified mission and a civic need. Indeed, concern about the cost of a new facility is often made moderate by the promise of architectural beauty and “state of the art” equipment.
Auditorium plays a vital role in providing communicative gatherings and holding a large number of people together.
Each facility has maintenance needs that fall into one of three categories:
- General maintenance typically addressed by the custodial staff.
- Ongoing maintenance of building infrastructure, which includes HVAC, plumbing, electrical and compliance with safety codes (fire prevention, suppression systems).
- Venue-specific elements including safety, lighting and audio systems, scene shop, stage floor, and stage rigging systems.
In the first two categories, most administrators have a reasonable understanding of likely procedures and expectations regarding use and maintenance; the same might be found for several of the venue-specific items. Stage rigging, however, is not on most people’s radar and is one of the last things considered when planning ongoing theatre maintenance. And there is likely no one in your building or school district who has the expertise to maintain rigging systems, to recognise potential problems, and to train staff for their proper use.
Where to Begin
Stage rigging (counterweight rigging) describes the mechanisms used to lower and raise the pipes over the stage. These pipes (battens) carry stage lights, curtains, acoustical shells and sometimes scenery. Rigging maintenance begins with an inspection by a qualified inspector.
According to the American National Standards Institute’s document ANSI E1.47: Recommended Guidelines for Entertainment Rigging Inspections (2017), “The inspector should have a minimum of five years or 10,000 hours of experience including a combination of entertainment rigging systems design, engineering, inspection, installation, maintenance, service, repair, modification and functional testing. Typically, experience only in system operation will not provide suitable experience to inspect entertainment rigging systems.” (ANSI E1.47 is currently under public review to provide greater clarity; however, recommendations as a whole have not changed.)
The ANSI recommendation is that all rigging systems should have inspected annually, a Level 1 inspection that focuses on those system elements that are easily accessed by an inspector. In addition to checking all components of the system, the inspector will look for appropriate signage regarding system-weight capacities and safety/warning signage. The inspector will also ask for the facility logbook (written record of rigging issues, inspections, repairs), crew training documentation and documents about flame retardancy of all stage curtains.
Following the inspection, the user will receive a written inspection report on the condition of the system, notification of issues and recommended remedies. The inspector will not do any repairs. For motorized rigging, a Level 2 inspection is recommended each year.
Level 2 inspections are more thorough and are recommended every five years, unless the date of the last inspection cannot be determined or equipment has been newly installed, altered or repaired. In those instances, the first inspection will be a Level 2. The Level 2 inspection will likely necessitate the availability of a man lift and will include all elements of a Level 1 inspection, plus a thorough look at those less readily accessible elements of your system.
Inspection costs vary based on the type and complexity of your system and your proximity to a qualified inspector. You should expect to pay for the inspection and travel costs (transportation, hotel and per diem) for the inspector. The author’s latest Level 1 inspection (Spring 2018) was $2,300 and included two hotel nights, airfare and a one-day inspection of his 17-line set manual counterweight system.
Risk Management, Liability and Protecting Your Investment
Although many rigging accidents can be an attribute to user error, rigging inspections should include management and accident prevention programs. Concerning liability, ignorance is not a legally defensible position. Annual inspection, and acting on the inspector’s recommendations may mitigate potential liability should there be an accident. Likewise, the ongoing process further shows the organisation to protect users and audiences. Consequently, inspections, maintenance and training not only to protect your staff and audiences but your investment as well.