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REVIEWS and ARTICLES

Rig it Right or Not At All
by Richard Cadena

Have you ever wandered into a show and marveled at the complexity or the sheer quantity of rigging? Or perhaps you are a rigger who could use some help calculating and managing show points. Whether you�re a novice or an experience professional rigger, Harry Donovan just might have something for you.  Entertainment Rigging: A Practical Guide for Riggers, Designers & Managers by Harry Donovan is an ambitiously comprehensive text covering everything a rigger should know about walking into an empty arena and safely rigging a show of any size. The software companion to the book, RigRight 1.0, is also available to help in the design and calculation of show points. The book starts with the basics so that anyone, experienced or not, can jump in learn about rigging. It introduces rigging hardware, terminology and techniques with reinforced learning through problem solving using real world situations with an emphasis on safety. It provides plenty of practical information about issues that riggers face every day; how to hang a point, how to rig a bridle, how to coil a rope on a beam, even how to walk a beam and lots more.

A lot of rigging has to do with understanding forces and calculating a variety of loads. Donovan includes all of the pertinent information about vectors and forces using algebra and engineering principles. He states at the beginning of the book that his experience teaching rigging classes has taught him that �working riggers and managers prefer to avoid trigonometry,� so he uses no trig in the book. Instead, he uses only algebra and he does it very effectively. In plainspoken language, he lays out the four engineering principles that �will solve most arena-rigging problems.� All that�s required is an understanding of vectors (to which he devotes an entire chapter), algebra, and the application of these engineering principles and you can solve for the forces of almost any arena rigging load.

The 700-page book is well illustrated and easy to read with its 8.5� x 11� pages. It�s written from the point of view of a 22 year industry rigging veteran who, according to the foreword, has rigged more than 200,000 points in over 4,000 shows without a misstep. It�s a must have for anyone who is interested in rigging.

Two great companions for the book are the rigging courses taught by Donovan and Jay Glerum (www.riggingseminars.com), and RigRight Software. RigRight is a software tool that calculates and manages rigging points for a show. It calculates the forces on a point and gives you information to help choose the right equipment for each point. When you give it information about beam locations, showpoint location and weight, and chain hook height, it calculates cable lengths and the forces on the point. If the resulting cable length returned by the program is a non-standard length it allows you to change it to a standard length and it recalculates the showpoint position and forces. For absolute accuracy it even considers hitch length and the size and number of shackles.
The software performs calculations for two leg bridles, three leg bridles, deadhangs and breastlines. You can do calculations in either two or three dimensions. You can either enter the beam and showpoint locations and weights manually, or you can import the data from a table.. Beam or showpoint locations and showpoint weights can be recorded in tables. Then selecting a beam or showpoint�s name in the table quickly imports the dimensions and weights. When you record a venue�s beam locations in a table,you can reuse the table for every succeeding show in that venue. Similarly, when you record showpoint locations and weights in a table, you can use the table to calculate that show in any venue. You can generate tables by entering data into RigRight manually, or by importing the data from a spreadsheet or graphic program.

The program allows you to perform calculations based on dimensions measured in whatever way is most convenient. For instance, you can dimension bridles from the bridle junction, or use dimensions based on venue measurements, or dimensions based on show measurements, as you prefer. There is enough versatility built into this program so that it can work the way you are used to working instead of having to conform to someone else�s notion of how to manage showpoints.

If you have a showpoint table based on stage dimensions, and a beam table based on venue dimensions, you can merge the show coordinates with the venue coordinates in a �merged showpoint table,� which has all beam and showpoint locations based on the same reference system. This table makes it easy to convert your show data into something useful in a specific venue.

The program can also be used with an AutoCAD drawing to convert locations in the CAD drawing to X,Y,Z coordinates in a beam, anchor, or master showpoint table. By using the Attribute Extraction function in AutoCAD, the beam locations, anchor locations and showpoint locations can be converted to three-dimensional points described by X, Y, Z coordinates. Those coordinates can then be imported as a table in RigRight. Conversely, you could export the tables and convert the showpoints to locations in an AutoCAD drawing.

One of the first things you notice about RigRight is that it is not a graphical program. The windows are text-based and all of the data and information is in numeric format. It�s a little bit of an adjustment compared to most other software programs this very visual industry. Programs like WYSIWYG and 3ds max have trained us to think and work visually. But as the author points out, �riggers don�t need drawings of bridles, they need numbers.� He says that riggers seldom draw pictures of rigging. Experienced riggers already know what a bridle looks like and they can easily visualize the forces involved. For the less experienced, the software is accompanied by an 84-page manual that does an excellent job of describing all of the references in the program. The glossary alone is enough to get you started.

Calculations can be recorded in a spreadsheet. The spreadsheet contains all data for each point, including beam and showpoint locations as well as cable lengths and forces. It also shows the total load on each venue beam, and the total horizontal and vertical components of forces, which is extremely useful to engineers and venue managers.

The common thread throughout Donovan�s work is always the emphasis of safety. Each of these elements � the book, the classes and the software � is a tool to help you learn and understand the principles of rigging. It�s up to the rigger to practice them safely, but in order to do so it�s imperative to know the theory and practice behind it. If you can read the book, go to the seminar, and buy the software, in that order, then you�ll have a wonderful head start on being able to safely rig in almost any situation.


From Pro Lights and Staging News
Entertainment Rigging
A Practical Guide for Riggers, Designers, and Managers
By Harry Donovan

Harry Donovan is a pioneer in the entertainment rigging industry. For 22 years he toured with some of the biggest rock �n� roll bands in the business, from Aerosmith to the Who. By his own estimation, he has rigged almost a quarter of a million points. In addition to his work experience, he has spent the last 10 years teaching what he has learned over the years to the students in his rigging seminars. 

Entertainment Rigging starts with the basics�hardware, terms, concepts, and basic techniques�and covers the practical applications of rigging in 28 chapters. The fundamental principles behind the theory of rigging are presented in chapters dealing with vectors, forces, and resultants. Each concept is introduced, and then reinforced with problem solving. The computations are aided with the use of tables for the sake of the math-challenged, or they can be calculated using real trigonometry. Though this body of knowledge is called arena-style rigging, the principles apply to almost every show situation today with the exception of proscenium counter-weight rigging.

This book is very clearly written, and just as importantly, very well illustrated by Don Ferguson. Almost every page has several easy to understand graphics illustrating the concepts written about in the book. The language is clear and uncomplicated and the organization of the book is logical, with each chapter building on the last.  

Entertainment Rigging is invaluable to everyone in the entertainment industry both as a text and as a reference book. It�s filled with information that is of practical use to anyone who comes into contact with equipment that has to be rigged.

Review by Richard Cadena


From Pro Lights and Staging News 
He Wrote the Book on Rigging

One evening in 1964 on the pristine grounds of Antioch College, in Yellow Springs, Ohio, engineering major Harry Donovan took a shortcut through the theatre and impulsively decided to help the crew hang some lights. It changed his life.

In retrospect, it�s particularly symbolic: not only does it mark the beginning of a long, illustrious career as one of the most sought after riggers in our business, but it marks the last time he took a shortcut in this business. In all these years, not a single accident has marred his reputation.

His passion for lighting led to getting a gig as electrician with one of KISS�s first tours. Two weeks into the tour, the guy responsible for rigging sound, lighting, and special effects was fired, and Donovan was handed the reins.

�I found I enjoyed it,� he says. �Also, I kept getting hired at it.� Today he�s president of Donovan Rigging Inc., and a consultant, lecturer, and most recently, author of the authoritative 700-page tome Entertainment Rigging.

�When I got into the business, rock touring was just starting,� he says, reflecting one day from his home office in Seattle. �Now it�s this huge business and everyone knows how to do the job. Procedures are established. But when I started people were just starting to figure all that out.�

Figuring It All Out
�I was an engineering major, but theatre was more fun,� Donovan says of his college days. He ended up with degrees in both fields in 1972. His early experience includes serving time at two of the biggest stage lighting companies in the business: Kliegl Bros. And Century-Strand. He worked in their shops designing some lighting instruments, but mostly he worked in the emerging technology of computer control systems. �There were eight or 10 systems around back then, and they were all wildly different,� he says. �People didn�t know what was going to work yet.� From there he started doing lights for a traveling dance company in 1973, and he didn�t stop touring until 1992 when his consulting-on-the-side gig blossomed into his day job.

In the beginning, he did rock tours mostly as an LD, production manager, or head electrician. By 1974, he began handling the rigging, starting with that Kiss tour. �It was an enormously big show for the time,� he says. �They went out with six trucks-one for lights, one for sound, one for scenery, and three filled with special effects.� He says these early days provided him �a lot of good stories about bad tours�disorganized disasters.�

But more than crazy road stories, Donovan had to figure out how to do the tasks on his own. He, however, had a distinct advantage over most. �There was no book, and no one to learn from,� he says. �People were just trying things, and a lot of accidents were happening in the beginning because no one knew anything about engineering.� Plus, he says, �I had been sailing since I was a kid and knew about wires and cables. Then later, I had done a lot of rock climbing. It all came together including an obsessive perfectionism inherited from my father, a professional engineer. The skills I had fit the work perfectly.�

David Bowie, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Barry Manilow, and the Eagles are just a few of the acts over the years it has all fit perfectly for. Of course, it was an evolutionary time. Donovan laughs that they didn�t even have the tour buses figured out. �They didn�t think we�d need things like blankets and sheets on the bus bunks,� he says. �We had to steal them from the hotels. The accountants go mad at us because they had to reimburse the hotels for it.�
It was his experience with hundreds of plays and productions for legit theatres that gave him the edge over the other guys, most of whom were roadies for bar bands.

�When we started, we were using steel cable and we were just figuring out what kind of chain hoist was needed. Most didn�t work. They broke down leaked oil, and the control systems fizzled. I built a bunch of control systems for hoists and we gradually figured out how to do that. I studied the ones that didn�t work. Some of the early ones�� he sighs, and laughs. �Control systems where you push a button for one hoist and some other hoist would take off by itself. People didn�t understand electricity. But that�s changed now. Now there are three or four companies that make good hoist control systems. In the beginning, though, you had to make them all yourself.�

Too Much of a Good Thing
As the years and miles rolled on, Donovan kept perfecting his craft and evolved to a point where he was consulting and contracting a little between tours. Finally, in 1992, that work had blossomed to a point where he had nearly 20 contracts--and he was supposed to go out with the Eagles that spring.

�But the consulting jobs weren�t finished, and when the tour came around, I had so many projects going on that I just couldn�t drop them. It would have left people in a lurch. Also, I realized that I was going to make more money doing that than touring, which I never thought would happen.�

Something else evolved during this time, too. In the 1990s he started sharing his knowledge with others through seminars. A few years later, he started organizing those sheets of papers with scribblings on them. His notes grew from seven pages to 70 to finally the 700-page Entertainment Rigging (www.Riggingbooksandprograms.com), which includes many illustrations showing the right and wrong way for just about every situation.

If he couldn�t publish a book on the subject, who could? �I just kept expanding the notes,� Donovan says of the book. �There would be things that would occur to me after a class, or someone would ask something I hadn�t thought of, and it just kept getting bigger.� A lot of effort, sure, but he felt strongly the book was needed.

�Because I had an engineering background, I knew the geometry of rigging,� Donovan explains. �Rigging is always geometry and engineering. For most it�s just guessing and using rules of thumb.� He stresses that unless you can calculate accurately, you don�t really know if the equipment is safe. You could overload beams, or inadvertently overstress hanging objects. By mathematically calculating, though, they can be rigged right-and safely- the first time.

�I haven�t had an accident, and I estimate I�ve rigged 200,000 points when I was touring full time and God know how many since,� he says. �Nothing ever hit the floor. But I�d hear about accidents through the grapevine, and I�d try to investigate them and figure out why.�

Currently working with the ESTA committee to establish certification standards for riggers, Donovan is concerned with the state of the industry. He worries that a major rigging accident is long overdue, and fears a scenario where falling equipment could kill scores of people. �It�s blind luck it hasn�t happened yet,� he sighs. �A lot of rigging is being done by people who don�t understand the engineering aspect of it, and the management is not insisting on people who do.�

Otherwise, when he�s not teaching, publishing, developing a new computer program to calculate rigging, and contracting even rigging projects, including hanging some airplanes at the Museum of Flight in Seattle, Donovan is found sailing on his 52-foot sloop. �I�m out on it every summer,� he says. No doubt watching the wires and cable� and thinking.


From Lighting and Sound International Magazine

With over 700 pages containing hundreds of drawings, pictures, and tables, this is a sizeable publication. It contains dozens of formulas which enable working riggers to simply calculate dimensions, forces, loads, and the required strength of rigging equipment, as well as giving many rules of thumb which enable safe rigging without calculations. As this is a US publication, the terminology won�t be entirely familiar to European readers, but it is nonetheless understandable. The only slight drawback is that the weights and measures are unfortunately imperial.

Donovan commences the book by exploring the basic equipment and their uses, before investigating various means of attaching cables and slings to objects and supports while demonstrating the load that will be experienced. There are many questions on each subject to encourage understanding of the topics covered, and at the end of each section illustrated answers are given.

With the equipment and methods covered, there follows an extensive chapter devoted to actual working techniques showing how to approach problems and rig equipment in practice; working in pairs is considered, as is group working when in a confined space at height, as well as the simpler things such as safe knot tying! The book is broad in its aim and even looks at safe beam walking, crane signals and outlines some typical accidents to remind readers of the requirements for safety, before going on to further explore accident prevention and safe usage.

The rest of the book goes on to look at the actual mathematics of rigging, covering static loading, shock and dynamic loads, inertial forces and so on. Being a rigger himself, Donovan not only looks at the theoretical practice, but also explains and correlates the �real-world� methods (rule-of-thumb) to enable the reader to really grasp the principles explained.

The final chapters of the book are devoted to data, and are exceptionally useful in their own right. Tables for cable sag, rated capacities of equipment, common rigging formulae and bridle leg tables are all given, as well as weights and measures for everything from motors to gravel ballast. The relevant content of the (American) Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is included which would be most useful for those touring shows into the US.

In all, Entertainment Rigging is a good read and would not only be a suitable textbook for students, but also an excellent reference tool for practicing professionals. The only word of advice would be to source an imperial-metric conversion table to accompany it!


From Stage Directions Magazine

The art of the theatre is often as much about the work audiences don�t see as about what they do. Thus, this month�s look at recently released books focuses on three important technical topics�rigging, lighting, and costuming.

While we usually think of arena staging in terms of rock concerts, circuses and ice shows, arena-rigging techniques suit any performance space that has no installed rigging system, but in which lights, sound, scenery, curtains, screens or special effects equipment must be hung. These techniques are used in conventional proscenium theatres as well, in situations where they are more effective than conventional pipe-and-counterweight systems. Since, in many productions, most of the weight of a show hangs in the air, considerable expertise is needed in order to rig equipment efficiently and safely. While it won�t take the place of hands-on training, Entertainment Rigging by Harry Donovan provides an exhaustive explanation of every aspect of entertainment rigging, from the basics to specifics of balance, loads and all aspects of safety and OSHA compliance. Its 700-plus pages include hundreds of drawings, diagrams, and tables, plus formulas for simple calculations of dimensions, forces, loads, and the required strength of rigging equipment. While targeted at working riggers (both novice and experienced) Entertainment Rigging should prove invaluable to venue managers and designers as well.


From ESTA�s Protocol Magazine, Review by Karl G. Ruling

We'll have to add this observation to the old joke, "Riggers do it upside down": Riggers write big books. Harry Donovan's Entertainment Rigging: A Guide for Riggers, Designers, and Managers, is the biggest, heaviest book I have reviewed in a long time - 1-5/8" thick and 710 pages. I suppose large size is appropriate for a book about hanging big, heavy things in the air, over the heads of people. Donovan makes the point that hanging big, heavy things is a safer than stacking them in towers on the stage, but, still, gravity is powerful and unforgiving. The conversion of potential energy into kinetic energy can be awesome and destructive, so anyone engaged in entertainment rigging needs to know a lot and be very careful to avoid unexpected energy conversions. Entertainment Rigging goes a long way toward providing that essential information and a proper respect for safety management.

Donovan's book is the product of his engineering degree, more than twenty years of experience in entertainment rigging, and ten years of teaching rigging seminars with Jay O. Glerum. The book started out as a detailed syllabus for the course and was less than two hundred pages, but it grew as questions from students and continued rigging experience showed that more information needed to appear in print. The rigging methods described in the book are based on current practices and common problems, and are written with the interests and abilities of riggers in mind.

As an ex-college professor, I found how Donovan handled the interests and abilities of his students very interesting. He starts with the basics of the hardware - everybody loves playing with tools - and then goes on through best work practices, describing what's easy, what's not easy, what's safe, and what's dangerous. This pretty well sucks the reader interested in getting up into rafters and not getting hurt into the book, and indeed is enough information to allow him to work at heights fairly efficiently and safely, but Donovan doesn't stop there. His next sections are on accident prevention and safety, which then lead into determining the load carrying capacities of components and calculating the loads on them, and then figuring out some fairly complicated rigging problems. This leads into a chapter on liability for venue managers, lists of information sources, and lots of text extracted from the OSHA regulations. This is not a strictly logical order but it is an order that captures the interest of the reader before tackling topics he might not find so attractive and that leads from simple, practical problems to more complex, abstract ones.

Donovan found a way to deal with the vector forces with few references to trigonometry - which I found interesting, because trig was essential to the way I learned about vectors in my physics classes. Donovan correctly notes that most people are averse to trig, and measuring angles on the job still pretty difficult anyway, so Donovan has managed to deal with vector forces by using scaled sketches of force vectors and the Pythagorean Theorem. When angles are known and are used, Donovan usually hides the trig functions in something like an "angle factor" table.

I like the way Donovan has handled safety and liability. Safety is a major theme that runs through all the text. This is to be expected, but he makes the excellent point that safety is the key to controlling liability. This seems to be a fact that is often forgotten. I often hear people argue about what regulations a person has to follow, or who's responsible for what - all focused on determining if there is an injury who is liable. This is an unproductive approach to managing liability. As Donovan points out, if no one is hurt, there is no liability. Making sure no one is hurt is the beginning and the end of the job, not figuring out what regulations or contract clauses might make injuries someone else's fault.

Entertainment Rigging: A Guide for Riggers, Designers, and Managers is a self-published book, but that should be taken as an indication of the small size of the rigging book market and of the entrepreneurial spirit of the author, not of the book's worth. It's interesting and informative; I can thumb through it for hours, and the bridle problems would keep me busy for days. It's definitely recommended reading for any rigger. The price might be more than what most people like to spend for books, but it's just about the same price as one 6-foot chain set with cover, and ultimately more useful. 

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