A theatre’s catwalk isn't likely to be something to get a prospective donor to open a checkbook or a publicist to write an inspiring marketing piece, but it’s an important part of the facility that affects its function. Straight or curved, expanded steel deck, plywood or concrete, removable rails or fixed. There are lots of choices.

Case study: At one black box theatre built a few years ago, expanded steel was used for the deck on a catwalk that rings the playing space. Expanded steel has the advantages that it is strong and fairly inexpensive, and it has holes, so light can shine through it, and also water from a fire sprinkler system above can protect the space below, as long as the expanded steel stays uncovered. The expanded steel deck in this theatre also proved noisy to walk on and was really noisy when tables or chairs were put on it, which happened when the theatre’s staff discovered that the lighting and sound console operators could see and hear the shows much better from up on the catwalk than from the purpose-built control booth, which always seemed to be behind seating risers or scenery in this flexible theatre space. Shortly after the theatre was opened, the process began of the catwalk being covered over, piece by piece, with plywood and carpeting by the tech staff. Eventually a second set of fire sprinklers and work lights was installed below the catwalk, since it was no longer an open mesh, but a solid surface. Should the catwalk deck have been solid from the beginning, but what would that do to the budget? Or is there a way to install quiet steel mesh? Would concrete have provided a more durable surface, and one quieter than plywood laid on steel?

Theatre consultant Bill Conner of Bill Conner Associates LLC will lead a panel for the session “Catwalks for Technicians, not Models,” scheduled for Saturday, October 25, from 2:00 to 3:30pm during LDI. Panelists will include Robert Tooker of the Production Resource Group, Charles Swift of Graham, Swift & Company, LLC, and Daniel Clark of the Entertainment Structures Group.

For additional information on ESTA sessions at LDI, visit the ESTA technical track.