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When Alfred University’s theatre department produces a play or musical, the crew usually includes many students who are not majoring in theatre. The university offers a theatre major, but the department is small enough that many students outside of the major have the opportunity to participate in productions. This broader reach is integral to Alfred’s goal of allowing all students to have an artistic, creative life beyond their academics.

Serving a larger need, however, means that many students on the technical crews may be using theatre rigging for the first time. So when Alfred planned the construction of a new 498-seat proscenium theatre in the Miller Performing Arts Center, making the technical systems safe and easy to use were high priorities.

“This technical director often has to deal with very inexperienced kids and not enough of them,” says theatre consultant David Weiss, a chief advisor on the project. “If we put counterweight rigging in this house, he’d spend all of his time training.”

In addition to safe operation, motorized rigging allows the Alfred theatre department to produce exciting visual effects on stage—something that had been missing in the university’s productions. In the first phase of the Miller Center’s construction—completed about 15 years ago—only a small black box theatre served three departments: theatre, music, and dance. All of the university’s productions were performed in this small theatre, including major musicals. The ability to mount a multi-set production and create dramatic scene changes were high priorities in the design of the new theatre.

Weiss advised Alfred University to choose the PowerLift automated rigging system designed and manufactured by J. R. Clancy, Inc. The Miller Center’s PowerLift system features eight variable line sets for moving scenery and 12 fixed speed hoists for electrics, borders, legs, scrim, teaser, and tormentor, and for the Wenger Diva acoustical shell.

The combination of fixed and variable speed hoists provides the theatre department with considerable creative freedom. “Variability will make scene changes more choreographed,” says Zachary Hamm, technical director for the Miller Center. “With our minimal staffing, this will give us more control. We won’t have to practice every scene change night after night.”

Students can control the rigging system easily with J. R. Clancy’s SceneControl 500, an intuitive touchscreen system. Using SceneControl, students can see a three-dimensional representation of the stage and the scenery hanging on each batten. They can set simple or elaborate cues, group battens to move together, and see exactly what’s moving on stage at any moment.

In addition to the PowerLifts and SceneControl 500, J. R. Clancy also supplied a single counterweight line set for operation of the house curtain. The counterweight set rounds out the learning experience for students, giving them the opportunity to learn about manual rigging should they encounter a counterweight system in a professional theatre.

Creative Team
Kallmann, McKinnell & Wood , Architects
David Weiss, Theatre Consultant
Beck Studios, Dealer
J. R. Clancy, Inc., Rigging Manufacturer

Equipment
12 Fixed Xpeed PowerLifts (20 fpm with 2,000lbs Lifting Capacity)
8 Variable Speed PowerLifts (0 – 120 fpm with 1,250lbs Lifting Capacity)
SceneControl 500 Automated Rigging Controller
1 Manual Counterweight Set For The Main Drape