September 29, 1992
Columbus, Ohio

8:10 pm (8:30 showtime)

"In Three"

When I walked in here this morning, I didn't like the look of this place.  I'm happy that nothing happened to ruin my day.

I just did something that I haven't done in a long time: I free walked the mid-truss. This is a weird move. Every lights guy who works around trusses does it at one point or another. Almost all of them give it up sooner or later.

When you first get up on one of these already have a deeply rooted inclination to climb tall stuff with lots of grips and grabs on it. Trees of all sorts, from an early age, for instance. Perhaps the odd fire watchtower or watertower during adolescence. By the time one climbs up on a lights truss at trim, getting up on tall things with the strength of your body is a familiar, if not recent, experience. 

I had to go up in order to retrieve my Swiss Army knife.  You see there was this...


Showtime (8:44 pm)  (The Divas walk onstage...Cue #1...)

"This is Your Life..."

Now then (9:16 pm), where was I?

I left the knife in the truss, sort of, when I was up there swapping a bulb out of No. 8. The knife is a key piece of gear in that move. No. 8 hangs far out on the stage-left end of the downstage add-on pipe of the truss. The pipe stands two feet off the truss, and the mirror head of No. 8 extends two feet off the end of the truss. It is out in space off the left end.

I was able to reach the cover screw by hooking my left leg...

(9:36 pm - S'cuse me..."Givin Him Something He Can Feel" - Rob Savage is understudying the I-Beam show tonight, and I need to direct from time to time...)

...on the rail of the truss, and placing my outboard weight on my right hip against the out-hung pipe. I was jammed, reasonably comfortably, beween the truss and the pipe, 18 feet above Myron's keyboard rig.

There is a lot of delicate handling of loose gear that must be done during the lamp change. The Swiss Army knife is very useful for loosening the cover screw to reveal the arc bulb, and prying the quartz bulb out of its base. The cover itself can be very dangerous if dropped. It must be secured while off of the instrument body. The ultraviolet shield must be jammed forward in the glass train, with an awful screeching glass-on-glass sound which sets my teeth on edge.

(2:18 am - post load out, en route to Oklahoma City.)

What was I writing about? 

Oh yeah...(I really did walk that truss tonight...)

[A brief on trussing:

A "truss" is a special construction shape designed to combine great tortional strength with light weight. Some truss shapes are are quite large, of steel. Bridges offer numerous examples.

Ours are built of aluminum alloy shapes welded into a structure that is approximately 30 inches square in cross section, and 7 feet 6 inches long. One piece like this is called a "section".  We bolt them together to form long bridges.  These bridges, called "trusses" can be 10 sections (80-ish feet) long. Pieces this long bring special rigging problems with them.

None of the trusses out here are more than 5 sections in length. Two of them are fully loaded, with 12 - 1000 watt lamps in each section. That makes 60 lamps (60,000 watts, or "60k") per truss.

Our midstage truss is ever so slightly more involved...

In addition to its 60k of PAR lamps, it also carries extra lensed instruments, computerized color changers for 16 of the PARs, 8 Intellabeams, 8 different species of cable, more than 75 individual connections to be made every day (a dozen different species of connectors), and 4 follow-spots with operators. All of this goes on a truss (or "stick") which is lifted with 3 chain hoists, each of 1 ton capacity. The weight of the entire piece is estimated at 2000 lbs.

It flies 22 feet above the deck level, about 18 feet above the upstage most riser in the stage set (percussion stage left, drums stage right).

This, sort of, describes this trussing thing...]

...that I have to work on sometimes.

After I pried the bulb out of its base, I immediately started the move back to the top of the truss section in order to swap the bulbs.  The replacement was laying on a 16-channel patch box on the top of the section... I had a Swiss Army knife in my right hand, that I didn't need.

Since I had been working just off the end of the pipe, the 2 1/2" tunnel of its end appeared before my eye as I levered back up to the truss.  I slipped my knife into the end of the pipe.

The bulb swapped out routinely. I gathered the burned one and headed toward the wire ladder at the stage right end of the stick. I climbed down, finished the focus, and then headed out to visit America's oldest Harley dealership with Duck and Rob.

It wasn't until I took a shower that I noticed that my knife was missing.  This was during the opening act.

When Arrested Develpoment was finished, I made for the ladder running up to the stage right end of the mid truss.

It had been a long, but really good, day. 

The theater was upstairs from the level of the truck dock and, during the load in, all of the gear had to move up a large freight elevator. When I walked in, I didn't like it. It looked like a pain in the ass. The stage was the shallowest we've yet played: 36 feet. However, it was a real proscenium joint, with drapes and a fly rail.

"Okay...", I thought.  I watched Bill and Bernie figuring the scrunch as they laid out rigging points with a tape measure and a piece of chalk.

"This could be kind of cute."

It was.

The union local was the very type that I enjoy the most. They were 14 guys who know each other and know what they are doing. These people took direction well, and most often had a gleam of fun in their eyes. There were several older men who performed the same tasks that everybody else did, and who were leaders on the merit of experienced eyes, as well as minds and bodies conditioned to the action of a stage. The old guys were hilarious all day long. They knew how to make us feel right at home in their house, early in the morning. They were friendly.

The local was not departmented, and loose enough that a man having a problem such as handling a case which suddenly proved too heavy, would immediately find the closest three men at his aid. Everybody got to play everywhere.

During the ride over from Cinncinnati early this morning, Duck had been thinking about the set/I-Beam timing problem. He came up with a new plan for cable routing to the floor I-Beams. His plan was simple, direct, and almost guaranteed to work. We would not have to wait for Bernie to get the set up before I could go to work. Duck presented his plan at about the time that the mid truss was off the deck, and we went at it.

We had all side and cross-stage floor cabling laid out in about 30 minutes.

I was ready to begin my focus at about 2:15.

It shot very well, considering the change in depth from the last gig. In Cinncinnati, we had almost twice the depth downstage of the set that we did here today. This meant that the I-Beams would all be landing about 4 rows deep in the audience...which is exactly what happened until I went through every page of memory and retouched its location.

The show looked quite good.  I was happy with it.

It was a fun day. Everything was falling right together. The guy on the other end of every case I wanted to move seemed to know exactly which step to take...precisely when to lift a rolling piece over a cable-run in time with my lift...they knew exactly when to sieze the initiative (plugging all of the I-Beam data links, correctly, after watching me plug the first one), and exactly when to stop and ask a question ("How does this thing fit in its case?").

I got to the top of the ladder and grabbed the span-set with my right hand. Span-sets are soft polyester slings which we use to pick up the trusses. Imagine a rubber band. Now, now make it it a polyester knit, instead of rubber. Now, in your mind, make dozens of them, some 3 feet, some 6 feet when measured "pull to pull". Now, whenever you want to pick up a heavy piece, you take a span-set, loop it around the piece, and secure it with a steel shackle. Now you can hook the shackle to an electric hoist (a "chain motor"), and lift it into the air.

The span-set under the motor is rigid under the weight of the truss.  It makes an excellent first grip on the truss as one mounts up.

I swung up into a standing position, and stood with one foot on each rail of the mid truss; 22 feet high in the dark canyon of Three.

Each entrance bay of the sides of the stage is numbered from downstage (toward the audience) to upstage (away from them).  The bays are defined by the location of the legs, which fall at the side of the stage. Our mid truss was hung in Three. My I-Beam controller was set up in One (the downstage most bay).

Standing on the truss, I was high in the dark space over the stage. This space is strung with lines which run vertically from the pipes ("battens") to the rigging grid, 80 feet overhead. Hanging from the battens are borders, full black curtains (40 ft. x 30 ft.), legs, electric pipes (battens with lighting instruments and cabling)... The space appears to be solidly walled and segmented; there are surfaces everywhere the eye falls. However, as regards the physics of actually moving through this space, it must always be remembered that Mr. Gravity is your friend.

Even if a climber cannot see the deck unless he looks straight down into the bay he hangs in, he must remember that there is nothing supporting him other than the piece he stands on. The appearance of all of the surfaces around him can be very deceptive to the casual move of a hand or foot. In the semi darkness of a pre-show fly loft, it is far too easy to reach for a line that isn't there...take a step off of the truss...lean one's weight against a drape panel...

The truss stretched out under my feet.  Thirty-seven feet way, the third motor picked up the far end. There was a second motor in the middle. I started out with my left foot. I held the motor chain (which was attached to the grid overhead) in my right hand, but I let go as I took the next step with my right foot.

Down to two-point contact now, standing upright.  The aluminum members that I stood on were no more than 2 inches wide, some were less. Strung all over the bridge work of the truss were all of its cables; some the diameter of a "C" cell battery, some the diameter of a drinking straw.

I felt very steady and secure, and this is the key to walking a truss. Fear diffuses focus.  Intent focus is required to feel the truss lean and roll under every move of my body. If I tense the muscles of my right leg in preparation for a step, the truss will feel it, and move. I must feel it move and move with it.

I haven't walked a truss in several years. The reason is that I understand the risk, and don't normally care to take it. A single untoward move can put you off into space...

However, when that old rhythm is there, and you know it, it seems a shame not to taste it once more. It was there tonight. I was three or four steps out onto the truss before I realized how much I was enjoying myself. As (outwardly) casually as walking to the mail box, I strolled right up to the center motor, grabbed its chain, and swung around it. I kept going right out to the end of the truss. When I got there, I knelt down and reached out to the end of the outhung pipe...

...and retrieved my Swiss Army knife by its screwdriver blade, just where I'd left it. I folded the blade, and stuck it in my pocket, very aware of my grip on it all the way through the move.

I walked back through the high canyon of Three to the stage right end of the truss. By the time I got there, the four stagehands who would operate the spot lights were gathered at the foot of the ladder. I swung off the end of the truss with one hand on the span-set under the motor, and started down. One of the stagehands grabbed the ladder in order to tension it for my descent.

I asked him to let the end go free, and (as usual) he was confused...he thought that everybody always wanted someone to hold the ladder for them. I prefer to let the end of the ladder swing free. That way, I can control it, rather than having someone on the ground possibly control my climb by holding the ladder off vertical. He backed away, and I came down.

They watched me. The end of the ladder was 6 feet off the deck. I got down to the last rungs by climbing down with just my hands on the rungs, and dropped the last 4 feet to the deck, a sort of flying dismount common to anyone who climbs regularly.

The stage hands simply stared. When I was down, they started up. They had watched my whole climb, and were clearly timid at climbing up right behind me. They had a good attitude, though, and held the ladder for each other as they clambered up. I bade them a good show, and made for bay One.

There really is nothing quite like a stroll through the fly loft to set a mood for a big rock show.

September 29, 1992
Columbus, Ohio

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