(Wow!...) Sitting at F.O.H. on the floor of The Summit, Houston's 17,000 seat arena which is home to the NBA Houston Rockets.
This is not a large show. I would estimate no more than 10,000 lbs., and far more than half of that is audio. There is only one lights truss visible to the crowd entering under dimmed (that is: dimmable) incandescent house instruments...100 feet overhead. However, there are 24 rigging points in the show today. The long threads of 3/8 inch wire rope (made to the roof steel from the trusses and other flown objects) are clearly visible for most of their length as they reach for the high steel of roof beams... The deadhangs spike straight and tall. The bridles split at elegant angles; two downlegs coming together from different beams to create a point where there is no beam directly overhead. The bridles and deadhangs lay their graphic images over each other...silver threads weaving symmetrical geometrics in black space.
The far end of the building is in darkness. They control light well, here at the Summit. The ceiling is flat black. The light in the room comes from 1000w PAR 64's. These are the same type which we use in the fixed focus instruments in our trusses. In N/C (no color) and dimmed to the proper level, they are very warm and inviting, a comfortable break from the brash intensity of flourescent, mercury-vapor, or high-pressure sodium lighting found in many arenas. The lights are arranged along the catwalks of the high steel. Coming from so far away, they very evenly light the room, from the hockey rink floor covered with chairs, all the way up and out the broad rakes of the arena seats...75 feet high and 125 feet away from the center of the room at their farthest point. The light is down: the little PARs, so far away from their target (the floor), are like little suns. At the end of its travel, the light from them has been generally diffused to fall, more or less, straight downlight.
The roof steel is laid out in a crosshatch grid of four main beams running the length of the building, and seven crossing it. These are ladder beams (2D trusses). They are built up from steel "I" beams which are large enough for a person to sit in comfortably. The roof trusses are almost 20 feet high (chord). From the perspective of someone crawling around and working up there, this place defines large amounts of space with heavy pieces of steel.
We did most of our rigging from the longitudinal beams. As I sit here and look at it, I conclude that I wouldn't have hung it this way. I've rigged this room before (19,000 lbs, 34 points - Hank Williams Jr., 1989). I see a lot of unnecessary time and effort in this hang. However, I'm not the rigger on this tour. Taken aesthetically, to admire a scene of grace (however abstract) outside considerations of craftsmanship, this rig is rather fun to look at.
Many of the points fell less than fifteen feet away from the main beams at left and right of center. They had to be "bridled": one carefully calculated length of wire rope (a "leg") drops from one beam, and meets another piece of wire rope of a different carefully calculated length falling from a different beam. Got it? They meet at a point in space directly overhead of the object (truss, speaker cluster, set piece, etc.) to be picked up. From that point, a single, final piece of wire rope (the "downleg") falls in a straight line (the "fall line") to the chalk mark on the deck. These marks are placed by the tour rigger in the morning, the first production element on the stage. They are laid out according to a design involving lighting angles on players and sets, the actions of things which move during the show (which way? how far?), etc.
The points really need to be on the marks.
The downlegs of the bridles take a variety of angles from the beams and each other. However, they are symmetrical: what happens on one side, happens on the other side. This results in the patterns of steel threads which gleam in sharp relief against the far black background. Skewed diamonds and rakish, slicey triangles hang in air which is quite definitely mid, if it is the only thing between your own narrow ass and the polished concrete of the floor, 100 feet below. These aerial abstractions are, in truth, rational concepts floating in space, much as another form of condensation often floats across a summer sky. These thoughts are condensed, however, in accordance with Bacon's admonition: "If I obey Nature, I may command her...and put this 3600 lb. speaker cluster any old place I want to."
The rig is fun to look at.
This is not a really big show. Eighty-six thousand pounds of Pink Floyd in The Omni is a big show. (The architect, flown in from Belgium for consultation, told the rig team, "If the structure becomes over-stressed as it loads, your first indication will be the sound of it...") The Omni is a big room. Production Arts Workshop of Atlanta has employed many of the finest riggers in the world there, pushing back the limits of indoor high steel climbing in a room which has a wide ranging reputation for being a challenging day. If you're ever there, spend a moment and cast an eye over the roof of the place. Imagine yourself climbing around up there, trying to find a point which was born in the mind and now floats in space. It is there, and it can be found...
Still, the Summit is a room of the big league. Built in 1975, it is the first room in the country which took into account things like acoustic design for high volume productions and a roof open to easy touring rigging. With a grid height of just under 100 feet, it falls into the same mental category as rooms like the Omni (110-145 feet), the Meadowlands (120 feet), Rupp Arena (Lexington Ky. - 90+ feet), The Palace at Auburn Hills (Detroit - 120 feet)... On any day when your rigger has all his 50 ft. steel out with piles of shackles laying about like so many apples, you are in a big room.
When they're done right, they are very impressive.
October 3, 1992
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