What Is Special Event Rigging?
In the entertainment industry, rigging is typically classified as either theatrical rigging or special event rigging—rigging used in venues other than traditional theaters. Special events include concerts, festivals, trade shows, conventions, theater-in-the-round, outdoor events, and so on. Such events can take place just about anywhere—arenas, convention centers, concert halls, sporting venues, warehouses, hotel ballrooms, tents, public parks, and other outdoor spaces.
The term “theatrical rigging” refers to the equipment and materials used to hang backdrops, change scenery, and provide lighting and sound to create specific moods and effects that draw audiences into what is happening on stage during theatrical productions. Theatrical rigging is essential to many spectacular special effects, such as performers flying through the air.
Theatrical rigging designers have the advantage of working in a venue that features a traditional proscenium arch stage with significant overhead “fly space” above the stage. These theaters typically have certain rigging components permanently in place, such as battens—the long steel pipes from which scenery, lights, and other equipment are suspended in both traditional counterbalance rigging systems and modern automated systems.
Rigging designers for special events don’t have such advantages. Rigging typically is in full view of audiences and is often referred to as “exposed” rigging. Without the fly space of a theater, lights, speakers, and other equipment are usually mounted on vertical tower-like supports rather than horizontal battens overhead. In some indoor special event spaces, equipment, scenery, and props may be suspended from the ceiling or from trusses installed for that purpose.
Pyrotechnics and large video walls are common with special events, particularly in the concert business, to provide the excitement that audiences have come to expect. (Interestingly, a recent survey showed that 20% of concertgoers, who already pay an average of $96 per ticket, would willingly pay more to see great special effects.)
Outdoor event rigging also involves the additional challenges presented by the forces of nature, such as high winds and sudden downpours.
Safety Is the Name of the Game in the Entertainment Industry
Clearly, while theatrical rigging and special event rigging share many of the same challenges, special event rigging carries some unique challenges and risks. Safety is, by far, the greatest concern.
In 2011, when the lights and rigging on a temporary concert stage at the state fair in Indianapolis collapsed into a crowd after 60-70 mph wind gusts, seven people lost their lives, and 58 more were injured. Two years later, a Cirque du Soleil acrobat suffered a fatal fall when the wire safety rope supporting her was severed. A few years earlier, a Cirque rigger had lobbied the company unsuccessfully to use a different kind of rope after another accident. A crew member was sitting on a bench beneath a 1,000-pound prop suspended by wire rope when it came loose and fell on him, causing a serious head injury and leaving him a paraplegic. Selecting the right rigging rope for the task at hand is of paramount importance.
Choosing the Right Rigging Rope
Load weight is a key consideration. Load weight is the total weight of everything suspended from the batten, ceiling, truss, or tower, plus the weight of the rigging system components themselves. Rigging system components may include:
- Lift lines that hold a batten in suspension over the performance space and connect it to the rest of the rigging system
- Operating lines that connect the system components
- Pulleys (also called blocks) that provide support and control of lift lines and operating lines
- Hoists and winches, manual or motorized, that lift loads vertically (hoists) or pull lines horizontally
- Counterweights used to balance loads
- Line control devices (rope locks, turnbuckles, shackles, belaying pins, etc.) that prevent unwanted load movement
That can add up to a lot of weight—tens of thousands of pounds altogether.
Strength, or load-bearing capacity, is a key selection criterion for rope used in special event rigging. Other considerations include:
- Durability and abrasion resistance—A lot of friction is created when ropes move through pulleys and winches.
- Flexibility—Makes it easier to tie knots in rigging ropes. But avoid rope known for elasticity, which can result in undesirable stretching.
- Smooth finish—Makes gripping and manually manipulating rigging lines easier on the hands.
Types of Rigging Rope
SEACO offers a variety of ropes, some made from natural fibers and others from synthetic materials that are appropriate for use in rigging for special events. We offer rope products in a range of diameters, lengths, and colors. You can trust that we offer some of the safest and best rope around. Here are some examples from our catalog.
The entertainment industry has used our multistrand rope for many years, in fact, some of New York’s most venerable theaters and the city’s elite utilize it. Multistrand ropes find applications in the entertainment industry, primarily in stage rigging, aerial performances, stunt work, special effects, and creating rope bridges or swings for dramatic scenes. They play a crucial role in safely suspending props, performers, and providing stability for various acts and stunts in theater, live performances, film, and television. Our incredible rope has outstanding grip, is available in two colors and four diameters and is abrasion resistant. Also, the memory qualities of this high-performance spun polyester composite rope allow the twisted strands to spontaneously revert to their original configuration.
Sash cords are used in windows, hence their name, but they have a variety of uses. It is the standard rope product used for tying down in the entertainment sector. It is constructed with a synthetic core for enhanced strength and durability and a premium, high-grade cotton cover. Our Titanium Blutrace Sash Cord is reasonably priced while offering exceptional break strength, abrasion resistance, and top-notch shock absorption with little elongation. Titanium BlutraceTM is perfectly balanced, torque-free, and exhibits excellent form retention.
Double Braid Polyester Rope is available with or without eyes at each end. When strength is required, a high-tenacity polyester rope is employed. This synthetic rope, which comes in white and black, is a popular in the country’s entertainment industry because of its high abrasion resistance and comfort.
Derby Multifilament Polypropylene Ropeis lightweight, soft, and flexible. This multifilament polypropylene rope feels wonderful in the hands and ties knots with ease. It is very resistant to rot, mildew, oil, and other abrasions. Derby rope has several applications in theatrical rigging since it is more affordable than nylon and polyester and more robust than natural fiber.
Ultrex 12-Strand-UHMWPE is a 12-strand single braid of Ultra High Molecular Weight Polyethylene (UHMWPE) fiber improved with Yale’s Maxijacket High Performance coating, which offers superior abrasion resistance. Ultrex is developed with braid angles and twist levels that maximize break strength, preserve low stretch, hold little water absorption, and maintain flexibility.
The typical “mantle” sleeve used in Kernmaster Rope, a static-repelling line, is made of 48 strands of polyester. The inside, or “kern,” is a braided core of nylon that absorbs energy. To improve the suppleness of the rope and avoid hardening while in use, the core has undergone complete steam stabilization. When the braid is cycled over sheaves or dropped over a parapet, it bends more easily and without wearing down the core as much. Static repelling and safety rope are among the products we provide; these brands include New England Rope and Teufelberger.
Aramid Fire Rope is made to resist extreme heat without burning. Riggers rely on this synthetic rope for safety because of its extraordinary strength.
Trick Line, commonly referred to as “tie line,” is a braided cotton cord with a synthetic center for increased strength. This rope is readily available in white and black, as well as glazed and unglazed, and is frequently utilized in the entertainment sector and for awning applications. It should be noted that glazed trick line is purposefully considerably stiffer than non-glazed trick line. Trick line is only 1/8” thick, making it almost unnoticeable to spectators while still being powerful enough to grasp and secure objects.
As with any rope purchase, the most important thing in selecting rigging ropes for special events is to match the rope characteristics to the constraints of the venue and to technical and aesthetic criteria. A wide range of premium rope, twine, and cordage goods are available with us at SEACO. We provide a wide selection of goods with same-day dispatch from strategically located warehouses across the United States and Canada, including sash cord, HMPE ropes, nylon, manila, mason line, and safety rope. Or you can purchase from the many stores that sell our items.
See our extensive online selection and contact us right away for further information or to place an order. You can place a bulk purchase directly with us as well as through our dealer network.