Doubling Up Arbor Day: Trees & Stage Rigging

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Istage riggingn the U.S., the last Friday in April marks Arbor Day, when tree planting is encouraged. Another meaning of “arbor” comes from the performing arts world, where “arbor” is a rack containing weights used to balance a load in a theater’s counterweight rigging system. Trees and rigging have more in common than you might think. To maximize their value, both require knowledge, nurturing and a future-oriented vision.

Learning First

Before planting a tree, you first determine if its variety is compatible with the particular climate. (There’s a reason you don’t see palm trees growing in Alaska!)

In a similar way, a foundation of education should support your facility’s stage rigging system. Whether or not you were involved in its selection or installation, that rigging system is your responsibility now. Well-maintained rigging that functions correctly can still cause property damage or serious injury if misused due to operator ignorance or error.

Ensure you have relevant instruction manuals and other documentation for your equipment. But while manuals, video tutorials and classroom instruction may be beneficial, there’s no substitute for hands-on backstage training. It’s particularly important in school/college settings or anywhere else there is frequent turnover among stage technicians. A formalized education program is much more sustainable and reliable than depending on a “tribal knowledge” approach. Training can usually be conducted in conjunction with inspections.

Nurturing Carefully.

Once the tree is planted, the work really begins. Careful attention spent tending, watering and pruning is needed to help a tree reach its fullest potential.

For rigging, regular care includes scheduled annual inspections by a qualified professional to ensure the system is working properly and safely. Even if issues cannot be heard or seen, that doesn’t mean problems are not hiding somewhere. Diagnosing problems early helps minimize repair costs and decreases the likelihood of expensive damage or serious injuries. Such inspections also ensure compliance with ANSI and OSHA standards.

J.R. Clancy launched its proprietary TIM® (Training, Inspection and Maintenance) program to promote safe equipment operation and preserve product longevity. Depending on the size and complexity of the rigging equipment, a thorough inspection and evaluation may take just one day or multiple days. The price varies accordingly, but usually represents a very small percentage of your rigging system’s initial cost.

When you consider the potential for damage or serious injury from unsafe or improperly maintained rigging, a professional inspection is a worthwhile investment.

Planting Seeds. For a single tree to expand into an orchard, seeds must be planted for future growth.

In a similar way, a future-oriented vision for rigging focuses on tomorrow’s stage professionals: today’s students. To help them learn proper techniques and practices in safe, well-maintained theatrical environments, J.R. Clancy is a proud supporter of USITT’s Rigging Safety Initiative (RSI); this year USITT will celebrate the third annual Rigging Safety Day on April 28, to promote global rigging safety awareness. Our heritage in the industry traces back to 1885, we’ve helped shape rigging’s evolution and we’re passionate about its safe operation.

Along with other RSI supporters, J.R. Clancy helps provide free stage rigging inspections and safety training for secondary schools across the U.S. RSI application deadlines are in the fall and spring; the next deadline is April 25. If you know a school that could benefit, please encourage them to apply. Schools that are selected receive a detailed rigging report — what’s working properly and what potential safety problems can be prevented with routine care.

If you are an ETCP-certified rigger, find out how you can become involved in this important program. Investing in our performing arts industry helps create a safer future for everyone. If you need help, have questions about rigging safety or would like to schedule your own inspection, call Anthony Seifritz or Marilyn Larsen at 1-800-836-1885 or email


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