It’s almost summer and theatre teachers can finally start thinking about something other than grades, scripts, and rehearsals. But wait a minute: before you put the ghost light on stage, here are five tasks you should complete that will make reopening your space in the fall go much more smoothly.
Lighting fixtures—specifically their lenses—get dirty, and that means they’ll produce less light. Cleaning ellipsoidals, Fresnels, and PARs will take a little time but it’s worth the trouble. This is also an opportunity to check the condition of other parts of the fixtures, including connectors and the reflector.
Tools and materials needed
- Distilled water or isopropyl alcohol (never use household cleaners or any cleanser with ammonia)
- Lint-free cloths (never use an abrasive cloth)
- Phillips or flat head screw driver
- Powder-free exam gloves that can be found at most pharmacies
The first thing you need to do before cleaning of all three lighting instruments is to unplug each fixture and follow the manufacturer’s disassembly instructions so you can get to the lenses. Then proceed as follows:
- Remove the lenses and use a lint-free cloth to clean them with isopropyl alcohol or distilled water. Dry the lenses with a separate cloth. You should also check them for any visible cracks.
- In a similar fashion, clean the reflector. If possible, remove it from the housing. Remember that many modern ERS reflectors are made of dichroic-coated glass so handle with care.
- Reassemble all components and then take a moment to check the connector for frayed or loose wiring. It is unlikely that all three wires have come undone so reattach the loose one. If you have no experience with electrical wiring, consult your school’s electrician.
- Check the wiring cable/sleeve for abrasions, cuts, or burned spots. Should any of these be visible, further repair will be needed. You should also check the connector pins for carbon build up cause by arcing. Arcing indicates a loose connection. It’s a safety issue and at the very least will make your equipment unusable.
- Using the same cleaning products as listed for the ERS, open the Fresnel and remove the lamp. Wipe down the lens and reflector. You can also remove the lens for a more thorough cleaning.
- Reassemble and insert lamp.
- Finish by checking connectors and wiring as with ellipsoidals.
- In older style PARs, the lens, reflector, and lamp are the same thing (a sealed beam reflector). Remove the lamp and wipe down using the same cleaning products as listed above. For more modern PARs (Star PAR, PARnel, etc.) follow the manufacturers guide to disassembly (these types of fixtures use a lamp, lens, and reflector assembly similar to a Fresnel)
- Clean lamp, lens, and reflector using the cleaning products described above.
- Insert the lamp.
- Finish with a cable and connector inspection as described above.
The wooden stage floor is one of the most expensive elements in your theatre. The end of the year is a great time to give it a real cleaning—and I don’t mean just a good sweep. A clean stage floor is safer for actors, helps control dust that gets into your stage drapes, and improves the overall appearance and condition of your theatre.
Tools and materials needed
- Push broom
- Sweeping compound (available at hardware stores)
- Non-water-based cleaner
- Mops (use new ones)
- Vacuum cleaner (for the floor pockets and crevices)
- Sweep the floor with the push broom, using a sweeping compound to control the dust.
- Vacuum the crevices and floor pockets. During this process you might decide that having Puck throw that handful of glitter at the end of A Midsummer’s Night Dream wasn’t such a great idea after all.
- Go over the floor with a damp mop or use a non-water based cleaning solution.
- If you think your floor needs an even more thorough cleaning follow this advice of noted theatre educator and consultant William Lord: “If the floor has normal wear then I feel the best treatment is to have the custodial staff use one of their floor scrubbers with a screen disk on it. That will cut dirt, old finish, and also lift some splinters if they are present. The screen will also smooth out portions that might have lifted slightly from water that might have come from spills or something as simple as continual exposure to spit valves on brass instruments. If the damage is more serious, it is possible to have a finish sanding done.”
- If you have a synthetic floor (“marley,” etc) you should check with the manufacturer about appropriate methods of cleaning.
We often don’t know that a tool is broken or damaged until it fails to work. Unfortunately, the fallout from that approach may not just be lost time and productivity, but an injured student. Inspections and repair can include table saws, panel saws, drills, drill presses, and the sharpening or replacing of blades. Often these repairs and inspections can take time and in the case of larger tools like table saws, you may have to take them to the repair shop so as not to incur an onsite repair fee.
Do an inventory
It’s easy to forget what you own, how much is left, and what kind of shape it is in. Under the stress of production, if you haven’t taken time catalogue your inventory of supplies you may find yourself making unnecessary duplicate purchases.
Lumber: Check to see how much you have, sorted by sizes and lengths. This may also be a good time to get rid of some boards that you have been hanging on to for reasons now completely forgotten and to reorganize and straighten your lumber racks. Also inventory any materials you use for scenic surfaces, noting their sizes and condition.
Scenic paint: Knowing how much paint you have will save time later and, although you may only be able to guess what colors you’ll need next season, everyone could use another quart of black. This is also a great time to dispose of paint. Before you throw it in the dumpster, review the material safety data sheets associated with each product and dispose of it accordingly. It’s also a good time to check the condition of paint brushes, rollers, and other paint accessories.
Hardware: Review your supply of casters, hinges, thimbles, shackles, chain, brackets, wire rope, compression sleeves, wire rope clips, door knobs, and anything else that you use. Be sure to note number, type, and size.
Tools: Go over your screw guns, screwdrivers, clamps, nut drivers, utility knives, saws of all kinds, gaff and spike tape, and any other tools.
Lamps: Do both an inventory and a list of the lamps you use on a regular basis. That way you can decide what seems out-of-date and prepare an order for the next school year. Gel. An inventory of your color media will save time during tech week next fall when you are looking at a wash that is “sorta-the-blue” you were after. It might be wiser to count only the full sheets first. Going through the cut gel will give you an opportunity to purge the burned-out sheets and reorganize your files. Tip: If you can’t identify the color don’t re-file it—turn it into a standing light gel for the orchestra or some other backstage use.
Conduct or schedule inspections: You and your students should always work in a safe environment with properly functioning equipment. Rigging, fire curtains, stage drapes, audio, and lighting are all potential hazards that can cause injury and even death. Beyond the issues of cleaning and basic inspection of the things above, your equipment should be inspected by reputable companies. Although inspections can take place at anytime, summer is often best for schools, when few people are around.
Rigging: A rigging inspection will cost between $900 and $1,600, so it may be too late for this summer if you didn’t budget for it at the outset of the year. But be sure to plan for it at the end of next year. Rigging is one of the most dangerous and least understood areas of entertainment technology and deserves our highest attention.
When seeking out an inspector, ask if they are ETCP certified. The Entertainment Technician Certification Program (developed by the Entertainment Services and Technology Association) is the new benchmark for professional riggers and entertainment electricians and those certified individuals constitute the upper echelon of their profession. By the way, the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration specifically requires that all hoisting equipment be inspected at least once a year.
Stage drapes: Stage drapes need to be inspected for their resistance to fire. Inherently flame retardant materials (IFR) are supposed to maintain their flame retardant properties for life but this doesn’t mean they won’t burn. If your drapes are new, this likely isn’t an urgent need. But if you are uncertain of their age, have your drapes checked. Some rigging companies, especially those with ETCP certified theatre riggers, may be able to do this inspection as well but more likely it will come from the drape manufacturer or supplier. You can reduce some problems by regularly brushing and vacuuming your drapes to cut down on dirt and dust.
Jerry Gorrell, a retired technical director in Phoenix and a theatre safety consultant, says “Dust and age are the real enemies, but in general curtains should be retreated according to the recommendations of the fabric manufacturer and regularly vacuumed to remove dust. Note that vacuuming may reduce the flame retardance. It is my opinion, except for synthetic fabrics, the useful life of stage draperies is five to seven tears. Ninety percent of the stages I have been on have drapery that is dried out or rotten and about to come apart. Drapery in this condition is a fire hazard regardless of how much flame proofing material that has been applied.”
Finally, ask your administrators about keeping at least some air conditioning on in your theatre during the summer. Heat and especially humidity can lower their fire retardant efficiency.
Audio: An inspection of your audio system will help to identify problems due to faulty equipment or problems created by the user. The inspection can also target problems associated with your microphones, cable, monitors, and hearing impaired equipment. This is also a good time to clean your microphones. Contact the manufacturer that installed your audio system for information related to appropriate cleaning methods. I generally contact the original supplier for audio and lighting equipment inspections.
Lighting: Lighting inspections can identify existing or potential problems with your equipment, specifically if you’re having mechanical failures associated with your dimmers, connectors, fixtures, or console. If you have noticed problems, describe them to the company before they arrive. Dimmer problems may involve something as simple as replacing an SCR (silicon-controlled rectifier). Connectors may be loose or broken, fixtures may need to have a lens or lamp base replaced, and some consoles may just need to have their memories erased and the software reinstalled, including the latest updates.
This entire list of cleaning and inspecting is probably more than you can realistically get done between now and the end of the school year. But think in terms of what can be done and why it should happen. For administrators, the why probably is safety, protecting the school’s investment through good facility maintenance and upkeep, and compliance with OSHA regulations. For students, it can be hands-on experience working with the equipment and taking more ownership in the program. For the theatre teacher, it is being able to walk out of the school knowing that there will be a lot fewer surprises facing you when you return in the fall. And let’s face it, we need all the good news we can get at the beginning of a new school year.
Rigging and safety inspectors
Here’s a list of rigging inspectors and safety inspection organizations. Many also do training. If you can’t find one close to you, go to the ESTA website (www.esta.org) and do a search on their professional members.
The Chicago Flyhouse
4710 N. Ravenswood
Chicago, IL 60640
630 West Lake St.
Chicago, IL 60661
(Also located in Milwaukee and Detroit)
Peter Albrecht Company, Inc.
6250 Industrial Court
Greendale, WI 53129
Pittsburgh Stage, Inc.
8325 Ohio River Blvd.
Pittsburgh, PA 15202
Sapsis Rigging, Inc.
233 N. Lansdowne Ave.
Lansdowne, PA 19050
Tiffin Scenic Studios, Inc.
146 Riverside Dr.
Tiffin, OH 44883
Jay O. Glerum and Associates, Inc.
18434 47th Pl NE
Seattle, WA 98155
Inter-America Stage, Inc.
4300 St. John’s Parkway
Sanford, FL 32771
LVH Entertainment Systems
300 Irving Drive
Oxnard, CA 93030
Pook, Diemont and Ohl, Inc.
701 East 132nd St.
Bronx, NY 10454