As TDs and Carpenters, we are the engineers behind the scenery. It’s a fun, challenging, and, sometimes, nerve-racking job, especially since we don’t have the same credentials as engineers. In order to create solid and safe structures in a fast-paced industry, we rely on the standards we were taught at school and on the job, without necessarily understanding the reasoning behind those standards, or their limitations. Everyone knows that toggles and joists should be on two-foot centres, triangles are stronger than squares, and #8 is the most common gauge of screw, but when asked why, the common response is, “That’s just the standard.” Okay, but do you know the maximum weight that riser can actually hold? Is it able to hold the same weight when it’s legged to a greater height? Are you relying solely on fasteners to distribute that load? What happens when the design does not meet the standards we’re used to? When dealing with these uncertainties, the tendency is to either over-build, sometimes forcing changes to design elements in order to accommodate a bulkier structure that may not always be necessary, or under-build, resulting in weak scenery that can be dangerous for the performers, crew, and audience.
Through discussions, activities, and practical demonstrations, this course will examine the reasoning behind the standards, analyze load paths and the physical forces affecting common scenery elements, explain the differences between a variety of fasteners and evaluate their correct use, and provide participants with resources that will help them engineer and build safe, cost effective, and light scenery without demanding changes to the design.
- Tom Baranski, Carpenter & Project Lead, McWood Studios Inc.