J. R. Clancy makes Arizona students safer with automated rigging

The task: Complete a total high school theatre renovation in the six-month window between productions, in time for students to begin rehearsals for the spring musical.

In the process, replace the decades-old, badly damaged counterweight rigging with a new system that teachers and administrators can feel comfortable allowing the students to use.

This two-pronged challenge faced Canyon del Oro High School in Oro Valley, Ariz., where students enjoy an active performing arts program in the school's fine arts complex. To meet the challenge, the school district chose the PowerLift automated rigging system designed and manufactured by J. R. Clancy, with an easy-to-use SureTarget 10 rigging controller.

Students Mean Safety First

The old theatre's counterweight rigging system had fallen into disrepair, said Matt Mullen, vice president of Beck Studios, the theatrical equipment dealer on the project. “It was more about the structure than the equipment,” he said. “The structure was under-designed for the system. It was in pretty bad shape.”

“The school had a single-purchase counterweight system,” said theatre consultant B. C. McKinney. “The client said, ‘Is this the only way to do this?' and I said, ‘Absolutely not, thank goodness!' I started talking to them about the PowerLift—I'd put it into three other schools. They were very happy that they could have a system that was weight-sensing, so they knew there wouldn't be kids flying up 30 feet with the batten.”

PowerLift motorized rigging provides predictable, consistent scenery movements for seamless scene changes and dramatic effects—with the added benefit of load sensing for safety. Eliminating the need for counterweights and loading galleries, PowerLift balances the load on each batten automatically, holding the load securely in place with its fail-safe, redundant electric brake system. Should the batten begin to move beyond its commanded or maximum speed, the brake activates automatically, preventing an accident.

The SureTarget 10 controller offers Canyon del Oro students both versatility and safety, with simple, accurate speed and position control for up to ten PowerLifts. Easy to use with a color touch-screen display, up-down pushbutton control for setup, and a joystick for adjustments on the fly, SureTarget 10 has the ability to “learn” the weight of a new load, and sense any change in the load that might signal a dangerous problem. If the load changes unexpectedly, SureTarget stops the batten's motion.

In addition to all these safety features, PowerLifts offer students and their instructor the most tangible benefit of all: the ability to create exciting scene changes with moving scenery—a capability that was impossible with the original, damaged rigging system.

McKinney selected six PowerLift motorized hoists—three fixed-speed hoists for the electrics sets, and three variable-speed hoists for raising and lowering scenery. “When we started the project, the drama instructor was so afraid of the students using the damaged rigging that she was trying to do it all herself,” said McKinney. “Then a new instructor came in, and he had to be in 25 places at once trying to teach theatre and technical theatre. Now, this instructor has the ability to go over to the console and turn everything off with a key, so nothing moves. And he has the ability to fly in an electrics set and have the kids change the hang without worrying about the weight. This is an enormous weight off his shoulders.”

On Time, Complete and Correct

McKinney worked with Clancy project manager Anthony Seifritz on the bid. “This was a Title One project, so we had to keep to a very specific budget,” McKinney said. “The specification assistance that I got was just great. I asked for the spec, I got it, I tweaked it to fit my project, and I published it. It's a great amount of help. Plus, I'm working with a company that's been around for 100-plus years. J. R. Clancy invented this wheel.”

With a very small window of time for the rigging installation, there was no room for the slightest slip-up. Mullen at Beck Studios was particularly pleased when J. R. Clancy, Inc., won the bid for the rigging.

“Coordination between all the services was key, and Clancy is great at this,” said Mullen. “School was in session during the build, and our deadline was to have the rigging in by the first of the year. Anthony at Clancy did a great job in answering all my questions, getting me dimensions, setting ship dates, and keeping it moving. Clancy met the deadline, and we installed on time.”

McKinney specified that the PowerLifts be installed above the gridiron, a configuration that provides comfortable access for maintenance. “Any maintenance that has to happen, you can just walk right up to them and do it,” he said. “Putting them on top of the grid is a really great option. Otherwise, you have to get a man lift and go up 50 feet.”

Solving fire code mysteries

For companies that work across several states or nationwide, one of the most complex challenges is finding and meeting the local fire codes for each theatre. “We relied on Clancy to interpret the [state of Arizona] fire code and bring the fire curtain up to that code,” said Mullen.

In compliance with Arizona fire codes, Clancy provided a Zetex fire curtain and its SureGuard II controller, which allows fire detection equipment (including smoke detectors) to close the curtain automatically.

“Clancy is one of the few companies that can give you a fire curtain, rigging for the curtain, and motorized rigging, and have the knowledge to bring everything up to code,” Mullen continued. “You're not shopping—at other inspections you see a curtain from one company, and the rigging from someone else. Clancy brings all of this together in one package, which is much nicer for us and for the theatre owner.”

Find more information about J. R. Clancy at the company's website, or at (800) 836-1885.

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