Rigging 101: The Mysterious Language of Rigging

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Manual Counterweight SetIf you’ve spent a single day working on a stage crew, you know that technical theatre has its own language with lots of unfamiliar terms. For example, many tech apprentices have been sent to find a “barn door,” only to discover that the master electrician did not want the door to an actual barn—he wanted a device that fits on the front of a light to help focus the beam.

Knowing your rigging vocabulary will keep you from falling prey to good-natured hazing, but it will also keep you safe—especially when you’re working with counterweight rigging. Everyone working backstage at your theatre should use the same language when talking about your rigging system.

Here are the terms you and your crew need to know. The diagram will help you define the parts of your system, and the purpose of each piece of equipment.

  1. Batten: The pipe or truss to which the scenery, curtains or lights are attached over the stage
  2. Lift lines: The wire ropes that suspend the batten from the loft blocks
  3. Loft block: A pulley mounted to the gridiron of a performance space or to the building’s support steel, to support the lift lines and change their direction between the load (on the batten) and the head block. There are several loft blocks for each batten, and each supports a portion of the total load.
  4. Head block: The pulley, or block, mounted to the building’s support steel, that guides the wire rope between the arbor (see below) and the loft blocks. The head block bears the full load of the set, and changes the direction of the lift lines.
  5. Arbor: The carriage that holds the weights that counterbalance the load on the batten.
  6. Hand line (also called Operating Line): The rope that allows the operator to control the movement of the set.
  7. Rope lock: This lever holds the batten in position when the load is balanced. A rope lock is not intended to hold a load that is heavily out of balance while you load or unload the arbor. It is also not intended as a brake, or to slow the speed of a set.
  8. Locking rail: A horizontal metal rail, with a row of rope locks—one for each counterweight set.
  9. Tension floor block: The return pulley for the hand line, which is weighted to keep tension in the hand line.  

For more information—especially for the least experienced members of your crew—visit jrclancy.com/operationandsafety.asp. You’ll find manuals for your counterweight rigging system, information about fire curtains, the operation of controllers for automated rigging, and much more. There are even signs available that you can post backstage to help remind your rigging operators of basic steps to take for safety.

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