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Sight & Sound


Knowing and operating your counterweight rigging system

by Tom Young

o you need stage rigging in a house of worship? It’s not as odd an idea as it may sound. With all of the new technology in use to make the worship service more interesting and accessible to congregations of all kinds, theatrical technology has become part of the “new norm” for worship and productions. D

Rigging is the hoisting system used to raise and lower equipment and decorative elements. Your requirements may include the movement of banners and lighting fixtures to change the appearance of your worship space, or scenery for your annual holiday play or pageant. The rigging in your church could be as complex as a full stage house with a fly tower, or as simple as moving drapery to reveal your choir. Perhaps you need lighting hoists for chandeliers, to lower them to a safe level for changing bulbs, cleaning and maintenance; or you may have permanently installed hoists for theatrical effects.

Whatever rigging you may have in your house of worship—or what- ever you may be considering as part of a renovation or a new facility— it’s critical that the people who use your rigging know exactly how to operate it, and that the equipment be maintained in top working order. “Train, Inspect, Maintain” are the watchwords for rigging, whether you work with manually operated counterweight sets or technologically advanced automation.

PowerLifts automated rigging system by J.R. Clancy.

Your rigging system can be as simple as a few hoists to raise and lower drapes, lighting and speakers, or as complex as the rigging used in a performing arts center. The most important thing is having the right rigging for your facility and your production needs, and to make certain that the people who operate your system can do so safely.

Manual vs. Automated

For more than 100 years, most theatrical rigging used systems of ropes and steel weights to counterbalance the equipment being moved. These fairly low-cost systems remain popular, and they are found in most performance spaces built before 2003. If your operators have expe- rience and training, counterweight rigging is relatively easy to use—but the operators must be trained to use the system correctly. We’ll talk more about this in a moment.

The other option is automated (motorized) rigging systems, with programmable control systems. Automated systems designed specifi- cally for overhead lifting allow you to preplan and record rigging movements so that they can be played back accurately. A properly designed system of permanently installed hoists and a control system is easy to use, and is a lower risk approach than a counterweight system. The technology that makes spectacular performance effects happen in

theaters and performing arts centers is available in standard designs and formats for smaller spaces—and many churches have chosen automated rigging. This makes automation cost-effective for many facilities that could not have considered it just a few years ago.

If you are considering automated rigging for your house of worship, be sure to choose a firm that understands the risks of moving loads


September 2009 / Church & Worship Technology

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