Mike Clark finds that new venues around the world are bringing new optimism to the theatrical rigging sector.
Just over a year from Hoist’s last report on the entertainment market, in which key members explained the recession’s effect on their business, feedback from manufacturers, suppliers and users worldwide now paint a more optimistic situation, with suppliers refining their marketing and product strategy to address the current market despite budget reductions by some clients.
Hoists have recently been installed in brand-new venues – another positive sign – such as sports arenas, opera theatres and convention centres.
Interviewees range from industry giant Columbus McKinnon Corporation through to a relative newcomer to the entertainment hoist market (Italy’s RWM), companies specifying hoists on high-profile projects as well as top riggers.
In its 2011 annual report, Columbus McKinnon Corporation, indicates that its recently developed sales, marketing and distribution set-up in Asia-Pacific is providing traction, demonstrated by an 82% increase in fiscal 2011 sales there, and it expects China will continue to provide strong double-digit growth well into the future. EMEA sales in fiscal 2011 outpaced general economic growth in the Euro zone, rising by 13%. The Latin American market also provided very positive results, with revenue growing by 29%. Overall CMC hoist sales accounted for 55% of net 2011 sales.
Marc van der Wel, Commercial Director with XLNT Advanced Technologies BV also confirms Cyberhoist’s expanded presence in South (and North) America, both growing areas, adding that Eastern Europe and Russia are expanding enormously for the company.
Alexander Hartung, Sales Director with Germany’s ChainMaster, reports increased activity on various markets and positive results with good continuous growth worldwide.
Explaining how his company has managed to avoid negative trends, Tom Young, VP marketing for J R Clancy Inc (US) continues, “Our 2009/2010 business growth placed us on the Inc. Magazine list of the 5000 fastest-growing privately held companies in the US. Many of the projects we’re working on were funded before the economy started to slip, but for the projects we’ve won since the global recession began, we are often chosen because of our ability to provide everything from highcapacity, custom-engineered products to off-the-shelf hoists and control systems, which gives us a significant competitive advantage.
Jean-Yves Beaussart, marketing and communications manager with Verlinde adds, “Sales volume over 2010 was coming back on to the trend of 2008, which was a very good year, and we are ensuring this continues by working more deeply on daily business of course, but also concentrating on big projects which bring volume, and new geographical areas.”
RWM export manager Marco Rebeschin says, “Over the last year, our sales have gone well thanks to the new DIVO entertainment chain hoists and to buck the crisis we canvassed for new foreign sales contacts.”
Regarding the fact that, while his company’s lighting fixtures and controllers are world-famous (particularly in the theatre world), its hoists and rigging are currently only available in the US, Bill, Gallinghouse VP of marketing with ETC (founded in Madison, Wisconsin in 1975), explains, “Our initial focus is on the US academic market, since we feel it has been ill-served by products typically developed for larger spaces with more sophisticated requirements. In our opinion, these spaces benefit the most from automated rigging due to their lack of experienced staff. From time to time, we introduce products into specific markets based on unique market requirements, regulations and/or product preferences. We intend taking our products into other markets in the future as we broaden our rigging offering.”
John Jones, managing director of Lift Turn Move (Birkenhead UK) comments, “It’s been a reasonable year, things could be better, but have improved – just take longer to confirm these days. There is no special trick in the current economic situation – we just work longer and harder!”
Roger Barrett, group development director with Star Events Group Ltd adds “Everyone is squeezing budgets, local authorities and smaller community events seem to be the worst hit.”
Tom Bilsen, operations manager with Stageco Group, one of the world’s most prominent international staging companies, adds, “Apart from the custom fabrications we supply for events such as the U2 360° world tour, we have hundreds of hoists, mainly Lodestar and a few Verlinde, plus 16 EMCE 7t winches, which we don’t rent, but use to lift our stage roofs. We do both corporate projects and rock ‘n’ roll – the former has increased a bit, but generally speaking the total has increased a lot over the past few years.”
A lift on the ocean wave
As well as continuing to be in all the company’s main market sectors – show rentals, installations, universities, and worship facilities – theatre automation supplier Stage Technologies (based in the UK, but with offices in the US and China) has also remained strongly in the cruise line market, as group development director John Hastie states: “The building of ships is remarkably independent of a recession, partly because of the long lead times involved.”
On-board shows are often of West-End size and scope, albeit with pre-recorded music rather than an orchestra.
In spite of reporting a slack period as far as new build ships are concerned, Nautilus Entertainment Design of San Diego, California, has designed and project managed entertainment projects for at least 45 cruise ships for major lines. President and principal consultant Jim Tetlow says, “We see much more interest in retrofitting existing ships, but that’s often not just a case of refurbishing existing entertainment areas – it’s totally redesigning their entertainment spaces.
Regarding stage automation, I think we’ll see fewer deck mechanics installed and a lower volume of flying battens, but I think we’re going to see more complex intelligent flying systems and systems for moving video display technology around stages.”
Paolo Campanelli, consultant and executive technical-artistic specialist with Costa Cruises’ Cruise Operations Department for Entertainment adds: “Costa continues to design and build to the strictest safety and quality standards. New-build liners and refit projects involve huge investment and we follow the ongoing technological evolution very closely, adopting increasingly innovative solutions, particularly in the field of theatre automation and stage and set movement, of fundamental importance for events’ success and performers’ safety.”
Putting on a great show
On land hoists have, as usual, played a key role in a wide variety of events recently.
The Pan American Games opening ceremony featured a large truss ring suspended 30m above the pitch at Guadalajara’s Omnilife Stadium, used as a scenic element and for the attachment of rigging, performer flying systems, projection, lighting and more. Stagetech was responsible for a 21-axis power flying system, comprising 21 winches; 12 of which were their Big Tow 290 series, and controlled the flying performers.
For the 2011 Ravenna Festival events staged in the city’s Pala De André indoor sports arena, hosting events ranging from classical music to contemporary dance, to improve the venue’s acoustics, RWM Divo distributor Trabes recently installed a Trabes Professional HD40 truss grid from which acoustic treatment panels, lighting truss bars were suspended and was lifted into position with twenty DIVO 1t hoists.
The 46t glass acoustic ceiling at the Palladium concert hall in Carmel, Indiana, comprises four panels, each weighing over 23,000lbs, suspended above performers and audience to adjust acoustic response for different types of performance. J R Clancy designed, built and installed the hoisting system, which had four zero fleet (travelling drum) canopy hoists with a motor brake and a 5ft diameter brake disc on the drum with two air brakes.
Star Events built and installed the flying bridge carrying set, performers and lighting for the anniversary Phantom of the Opera at the Royal Albert Hall, which rolled up and down custom vertical steel tracks, supported on complex scaffold and truss structures, also built them. The bridge was lifted by four single-chain 2t Loadguard Hoists specified as Cat A. Control was via a C-Force system with integral weight management and static load on each hoist was around 1,100kg. To keep dynamic loads under 80% of hoist capacity, ramp up and down was over seven seconds.
Industry icon Bill Sapsis of Sapsis Rigging (Landsdowne, PA USA), says “We recently finished Fashion Week in New York – actually almost two weeks of nonstop production and all the extremely hectic and challenging event’s venues used chain hoists to some extent: the Park Avenue Armory and Lexington Armory used over 100 each.”
Over 100 Cyberhoists were fielded at a recent Skoda corporate presentation in Prague, 60 are on German rock band Rammstein’s upcoming world tour and, for Yalta’s September Crimea Music Festival, Ukrainian company Zinteco supplied 51 Cyberhoists to move the set’s lighting trusses and LED screens, plus 24 1t and 28 0.5t Columbus McKinnon Lodestar hoists and a pair of CM ProStar 0.25t hoists to lift the lighting and sound systems into place.
Twenty (six 500 kg and fourteen 1t) Verlinde/Stagemaker electric chain hoists and other Stagemaker products were fielded by Moscow’s Live Sound Agency for the Opening Ceremony of the 7th Asian Winter Games, the largest event staged in Kazakhstan since its independence from the Soviet Union. At Astana’s 30,000 capacity arena, the hoists enabled a series of huge props to appear in the venue’s “skygates”, including a 6t version of the Asian Game Cup, for the ceremonial lighting of the flame.
Two Middle East Gulf States recently inaugurated important, but extremely different venues, in which hoists play an important role.
After the inaugural performance at Oman’s spectacular Royal Opera House in Muscat of Puccini masterpiece Turandot, with Verona Arena’s chorus and orchestra conducted by Placido Domingo, and a Franco Zeffirelli designed set, the theatre’s technical director Geoffrey Wheel said, “Hoists installed by SBS Dresden are six custom SBS electric variable speed 360kg point hoists, 54 custom SBS electric variable speed 750 kg flying bars, six Chainmaster VarioLift BVG C1 standard 0.5t chain hoists in the side stages for assembly and eleven 1t versions for US backlight / flood bar truss. Control is via an SBS Scout control panel and SBS COSTACOwin software.”
From the huge cutting-edge Qatar National Convention Centre in Doha, which as well as numerous exhibition halls features a theatre and three auditoria, AV and production manager Lee Forde explains, “We have a very high tech, wellengineered computerized fly bar system, winch driven and installed by Wagner Biro in the Theatre and Auditorium 3, and Glantry engineering in the concourse. In the conference hall, we have 64 rigging points with twot Bat Alpha computercontrolled hoists. We use 96 Stagemaster hoists in exhibition halls 1 and 2, and 1800 Chainmaster hoists (a combination of 1 and 2t models) in halls 3 to 9. Theatre or additional touring production is controlled by Wagner Biro Controller, Hall 1 and 2’s mother grid via Siemens Motor controller and Halls 3 to 9 mother grid control is via a bespoke system.”
As well as agreeing with Bilsen on the fact that – at European level – the strictest regulations are those applied in Germany, all-round consensus was given to the need for internationally accepted rules and certified training bodies for hoist users, particularly when loads are suspended above members of the public and performers.
Hastie says, “Within the entertainment industry there is a push for professional certification of riggers, led by the Professional Lighting and Sound Association, which we regard as a very good thing, particularly as the PLASA-led qualification involves both theoretical and practical exercises.”
Sapsis, Chair of the PLASA Rigging Working Group and member of the ETCP Council, states, “In other countries, especially in Europe, regulations regarding entertainment rigging are better defined than in the US. While the US has regulations for equipment used, they do not specifically identify a particular industry. Standards are more common in the US than in other parts of the world. The US has the ETCP certification, the UK has NRC and many other countries are considering certification as a means to make the industry safer. All of this is a very good thing, as it helps make for a safer work and performance environment.”
Washington-born Wade Hinshaw is head rigger of the 30-man rigging team on The House of Dancing Water, the “world’s most spectacular extravaganza”, staged in a purpose-built venue in Macau and packed with automation and lifting equipment of various kinds, including 30 halft, 15 1t and seven 2t Stagemaker electric chain hoists fitted with a retro fit Raynok system from Hoist UK, enabling the motors to be controlled via computer and mainly used for the dark period for maintenance, lifting some of the heavy props used on the show. He opines, “I think we’ve a good start towards safety regulation, but can do more. For example, Australia has an industrial rigging program that entertainment riggers must go through. I already have been asked how can we make an international school that is accredited everywhere, examining on written and practical knowledge with onthe- job training. We must work more towards unifying our industry with the same basic safety regulations.”
Barrett adds, “China has stringent rules governing the qualifications of companies installing hoists on a permanent basis but there seems to be no control over shortterm show rigging. The NRC is rapidly gaining ground in UK, but needs venues to make it mandatory to give it real impact.”
As well as working on the spectacle for the inauguration of soccer team Juventus’s new stadium, Luca Guidolin, one of Italy’s most respected riggers, recently headed a team with Emiliano Bitti that installed no less than 150 Stagemaster 1- and 2t hoists supplied by rental firm Agorà for the huge audio and lighting rigs suspended for events staged by Ukrainian soccer team Shakhtar: the inauguration of the club’s new stadium and the celebration of the club’s 75th anniversary. As far as the safety factor when suspending load over spectators is concerned, he says: “I think it’s often a case of taking more care when setting up – when the audience arrives, the truss has already been secured, but residue risk is often represented by material left by technicians – screwdrivers, keys, testers, etc. Safety could also be improved by a wider use of hoists with double brakes.”
A considerable number of new products recently debuted at two of entertainment technology industry’s key expos: London’s PLASA (September) and LDI in Orlando (October).
At LDI 2011, J R Clancy showcased its new PowerLine line shaft hoist, featuring a lighter backbone than the standard line shaft. J R Clancy says that the PowerLine line shaft hoist is easier to install with no reduction in strength or durability, plus an increased choice of brake options to meet a variety of standard applications.
The PowerLine was nominated for the PLASA Members’ Choice Products Award.
Stage Technology is developing its own Ethernet-connected chain hoists which may be programmed remotely from its consoles.
RWM’s DIVO series, which targets the entertainment market, with 0.5, 1 and 2t models, is the latest addition to the electric chain hoists we’ve been manufacturing for over 30 years. The others are the compact single-phase W series (from 125 to 2,000kg) and WR series (1,000 to 5,000kg), for industrial applications with a high duty cycle, both available with a comprehensive range of single and dual speeds and also in ultra low headroom versions. The company’s R&D team is at present working on the electronics of a digital hoist.
During the PLASA fair, Verlinde/Stagemaker introduced a concept of hoist which could have increasing applications with future generations of riggers, which met with considerable positive feedback: the new Stagemaker streamlined hoist features Chain Flux chain guide system, shock absorber bumpers, new dedicated heavyduty lifting motor, new clutch and gear concepts, new electromagnetic disc brake and 250–2,000kg lifting capacity.
Chainmaster products launched in 2011 include an auxiliary control unit for the BGV-C1/SIL3 computer controller, a wireless control desk with a touchscreen and two analogue joysticks, loadmeasuring cells with a reliable wireless link for loads up to 5,000kg and new BGVD8/ D8+ manual controllers.
At PLASA XLNT debuted CyberMotion, a complete range of inter-compatible motion products (C-Hoist, C-Winch, CTrack and C-Trolley), designed specifically for shows and cost efficient global touring, to “make mobile motion control a reachable standard item on shows”.
ETC’s Prodigy hoists are primarily aimed at small- and medium-sized theatres and are a third the length and half the weight of other-brand hoist systems, making them easier to ship, handle, lift and install.
Additionally, the structural benefits of their Compression Tube feature allow them to be installed where traditional hoists could not be installed.
The Compression Tube absorbs and disperses lateral stress to the building. Buildings such as school gymnasiums, churches, historic theatres can now have the benefits of automated rigging.
Trade expos also give an important insight on what end users are looking to achieve with their investments in hoists, and Art Zobal, entertainment market manager with Columbus McKinnon explains, ”Hoist motion control continues to be increasingly important and specified in the global entertainment market. As a result, we are furnishing more of these sophisticated systems for various venues worldwide. In the US we are also seeing more hoists requested that meet European standards such as C1 and D8+.
Young says, “There is much greater use of automated rigging systems in Europe than in the North America, where it has taken quite a bit of education to get users and owners to see their benefits and accept them.”
Beaussart adds, “Requests follow trends from the field, such as safety to meet new regulations or codes of practice and new buildings with more fixing points with lower swl capacity.”
Jones comments, “We have more request for systems with added safety features that can also combine automation.
Hartung explains, “Synchronized movement, position and load feedback and group switch-off functions are requested increasingly frequently.
Van der Wel concludes, “Cyberhoist users want affordable dedicated, compact plug-and-play equipment that can be up and running very rapidly, fundamental for tours, conferences.”