Students performing in high school plays worry more about blowing their lines than getting hurt. But stages can be dangerous places if overhead rigging is faulty or crews aren’t trained to operate it.
That’s why the United States Institute for Theatre Technology offers free inspections and training for high school stages through its Rigging Safety Initiative.
USITT – the national association for backstage professionals ‐‐ started the program with founding sponsor JR Clancy in 2011. Since then, USITT has approved inspections and training at 40 high school stages across the nation and added two sponsors, ETC and Shepard Exhibition Services.
Applications are accepted twice a year, in spring and fall. The deadline for the spring 2013 round is April 15.
“With rigging, if everything’s in good shape and it’s working properly, it’s out of sight, out of mind,” said Gary Justesen, president of Oasis Stage Werks in Salt Lake City, Utah, which does inspections for USITT. “But if you’ve got problems, it can kill people.”
Stage rigging – the system of weights, ropes, chains, and pulleys used to hang and move backdrops, lights, and curtains – should be inspected regularly.
But since schools aren’t covered by federal safety regulations, it’s easy to put off inspections that can cost over $1,000 per school.
USITT helps secondary schools keep their stages safe and teach “best practices” in the theatre technology field. Schools whose applications are approved get a free inspection by a certified rigging contractor and a safety workshop for up to eight staff and students.
If the inspection reveals worn or damaged rigging, it’s up to the school district to fix it. But an inspection report gives the school the information it needs to seek maintenance funds.
Scott French, auditorium technician for the Thompson Valley School District in Loveland, Colorado, said the Rigging Safety program allowed him to get inspections and training for two high school stages that hadn’t been professionally inspected in 10 years.
“Everyone was ecstatic,” French said. “I found it to be wonderful training for me as well.”
Besides Rigging Safety, USITT offers many training, networking and awards opportunities to people in the entertainment technology field. It also holds an annual Conference and Stage Expo that draws 5,000 people from the world of theatrical design and technology.