Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Backstage at the Playhouse: Grid Strong! Steel Good!

Things are moving along pretty quickly here at the Playhouse. We started our season off with a strong couple shows, and we're right in the middle of putting the finishing touches on The Constant Wife, which has its first preview this Friday. It looks like it's going to be a great show, but that's not what this post is about. Today, we're going to take a look at the structure of the theatre itself.

First, a lesson about some backstage stuff. About 62 feet above the stage, we have a steel platform that extends wall to wall called a grid. A grid is designed to support a rigging system, as well as any temporary points that a theatre might need to support a piece of scenery or a lighting boom. Look, here's a picture:All of the cables and the weird looking grey things are part of our rigging system, which I really don't want to get into, so just ignore those for now. What we are looking at is the floor, which is mostly made up of steel beams that were installed way back when the place was built. Here's a closer look at them:They're spaced out like that so you can walk around, but still be able to tie up a rope almost anywhere. While some people can get a little freaked out standing on steel beams looking down at the floor that's 62' away, it's actually a pretty safe place to be. You'd have to try really really hard to get yourself into a dangerous situation.

Why are we talking about the grid? Well, the Playhouse has been doing some pretty big shows recently, and we've got some huge ones coming up (Buy your tickets now! Subscribe!). Due to the increased load on the structure, we wanted to get some people out to check out the grid and make sure it's safe. Also, we will hopefully be adding more rigging options to our stage with some of the funds from the Next Stage Campaign and we want to make sure we don't put too much stress on the building. (If you haven't heard about the campaign, please contact Susan McGuire immediately and give her lots of money.)

Determining the load capacity of a structure is not something that anyone here can do, so we called in a structural engineer to have a look at things. While I was showing him around he asked me when the theatre was built, and looked pretty relieved when I told him 1927. Turns out there was a major change in the way steel was fabricated in the early 20s. Steel made after that change has about 80% of the capacity of modern steel, while older steel can only hold about 50%. So, it looks like good old Gilmore built this place at just the right time.

Now, I should point out that part of the grid was updated back in the mid 1980s. In that last picture, the huge bolts and plates that attach the structure to the wall are new, but the beams in the first picture are original. So it's a mix of old stuff and new stuff up there, and we are making sure that it's all working well together and everything is safe on our stage.

Here's a closer look at the old and new steel. Again, the red steel is new and the other steel is old. Also, if you look really close, you'll get a preview of The Constant Wife! That's right - that blurry gack you can see through the opening (called a channel, if you were wondering) is the set for The Constant Wife! Pretty exciting, I know.

I guess that's it for now. If anyone has any questions just let me know.

Dan H

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