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You Are Not the Rigger

Chris Lose • October 2019Safety Factor • October 14, 2019

Illustration by Andy Au

You may think that you’re the rigger, but you bloody well aren’t.

Just because you are aware of where the motors go and how to pickle them up and down does not make you the rigger. You are more than welcome to jump in and help out, but do not think for a moment that this makes you the rigger. There is another level of safety, respect and responsibility that you need to transcend in order to fit the definition of rigger. You need to realize that wrapping a spanset around the wrong crossbeam is going to get you, or even worse, someone else, hurt.

‡‡         The Proof

Here is a short list of the things that I noticed to prove that you are not the rigger.

You left your iPad on top of the truss. Riggers are not careless. Riggers will check points and trusses three times or more before lifting something above another person’s head. They double, triple and even quadruple check every point. They make sure that every cable is tied, secured and incapable of falling off a shaken truss. They make sure that the truss bolts are tight, the shackle pins are closed and the corner blocks are square. Riggers count the tools before the load-in and before the truss goes up in the air. You left your iPad, your truss hammer, your plots, your sandwich or your gaff tape on the truss and no one knows where they are. If you are lucky, your iPad won’t come back down to the ground until after load out.

You wrap your spansets differently than the rigger told you. Your degree in origami is very popular at the old folks home on Friday night with your grandmas’ friends, but during load in, you need to do it the way you were told. My good friend Brittany Kiefer, a freelance automation rigger, says, “Help is always appreciated if it is educated and focused. Depending on the task, an extra set of hands and eyes is great, but sometimes when it comes to rigging there are certain things I prefer to do myself. That way, I’m sure they are done correctly.” If Brittany sees that I have done my spanset wrong, she will come along and redo it. She will redo all of my spansets until they are done properly and safely. Riggers are consistent and meticulous. Everyone makes mistakes but if you complete a task the same safe way, each time, you reduce the opportunity for tragedy.

No one asked your opinion. You offered your opinion, but the rigger didn’t ask you. You continued telling other people how you think the rig should have been hung, but no one cared because you are not the rigger. You seem to continue to tell the stagehands how you would do it but no one will listen, because today, you are not the rigger. I can’t stress this enough. The rigger has a job to do, and he or she will get the answers from the people they want the answers from. They do not need your unsolicited advice, nor do they need your second-guessing of their decisions. Ultimately, the lead rigger is responsible for the rig and everything hanging from it.

You’re too quiet. Riggers are boisterous. They speak up when they know that they need to be heard. A soft-spoken “stop” will never convince anyone to do anything in a timely manner. However, a nice hearty “STOP” will get peoples attention, and they will stop what they are doing. Riggers know that people will try to cut corners. Riggers know that people will try and rush them to hang their points without triple checking their connections. Riggers know that sometimes you have to be loud and stand up for what is safe. Riggers know that their voice of reason and logic needs to be heard.

You are in the way. If you are sitting in a forklift covering the chalk marks, then you are definitely not the rigger. If you are having a conversation with the forklift driver while scuffing up the chalk marks, you are also not the rigger. You are in the way, and you are probably unaware of the amount of work that is going on above your head. Do the best you can to not put your truss directly over the chalk marks until the rigger has placed the necessary points. Please remember to give proper clearance and allow the ground riggers to do their job.

You are impatient. Repeatedly nagging and asking when your points are going to be ready will not make them available any sooner. Rushing people to hang points before they are ready will not make you any safer. Rigging is the last place that you want to see careless, impatient people. One of my favorite designers, Butch Allen, once commented, “Rigging is like leaving a handgun laying around the house for a child to pick up.” Most of the time, everything will go safely and smoothly. However, with rigging and with handguns, in irresponsible hands, someone could get hurt. Being impatient only amplifies this risk.

You don’t take responsibility for your actions. I run across this one all too often. People are trying to pass blame for something that is crooked, wonky or frowning. No one wants to accept the responsibility. The rigger is the one who comes in and says, “That’s my gig. I’ll fix it.” Even if the truss is crooked because the room is crooked, the rigger is the one who will call eight hands back in to fix the honest mistake. The rigger is the one who will safely land a quarter of the rig to fix one point. My good friend Brittany would like to reiterate that “riggers are in the very unique position where, not only are they responsible for hanging tens of thousands pounds of gear over the stage and audience, but they are responsible to every department.”

‡‡         The Big Picture

Lighting, sound, props, video and special effects all rely on the riggers to get their specific gear hanging where they need it in relation to the stage, in the same place every time. That requires consistency and attention to details. Brittany summed up our conversation brilliantly by saying, “I think it’s easy to be focused on your one specific job, but the riggers don’t have that luxury. Riggers are having to constantly take many different factors into consideration in order to put all of the pieces of the puzzle together.”

I have been privileged to work with some of the best riggers in the business. I have seen mazes of wire and rope that I dare not ask how they were accomplished. I know just enough about rigging that I know to stay out of the way. I’d like to take a second to cheer for the riggers from the sidelines. Thank you for all that you do keeping us safe. Designers ask the impossible of you and you continue to deliver miracle after miracle.

Chris Lose is the monthly “LD-at-Large” columnist for FRONT of HOUSE’s sister publication, PLSN. This article originally appeared in PLSN, July 2019, page 76. His thesis, that backstage professionals involved in lighting should not automatically think of themselves as being rigging pros as well, could probably apply to many backstage sound professionals as well.

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