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  • Writer's pictureKristian Electric

Lifting Entertainment to a New Level

When I was 17 I saw Miss Saigon at the Northern Alberta Jubilee Auditorium in Edmonton Alberta. It was my first introduction to any type of Broadway show and suffice to say I was blown away. Not only by the songs and story but mostly by the set. It moved in and out of scenes flawlessly. There was no period of darkness with silhouettes running around on the darkened stage to set the next scene, à la high school play. No, everything was automated, mechanical, motorized…my stunned awe was brought to a peak when a full sized helicopter, with rotors spinning descended upon the stage in what is one of Miss Saigon’s most famous and notable scenes.

Helicopter descends on the stage during a Miss Saigon performance on Broadway.

I was stunned! The intensity of the hovering craft gave me goosebumps! Only two thoughts went through my mind at the time, the first was WOW! While the second was How? How in the world did they make a full sized army helicopter fly into the Jubilee Auditorium?

Have you ever been blown away by a stage show? How about your first concert? We can listen to our favourite music anytime and anywhere, since these days everyone and their dog owns an iPod or a smart phone with a music app, but half the reason we fork out hundreds of dollars for concert tickets, is the show itself. The lights, the pyro, the video screens…we want all the pomp and circumstance, we want to be transported to a new place, to forget about our daily grind and take in something that borders on magical. In the music industry today, artists and their labels seem to compete as to who can have the biggest, priciest and most intricate stage show out there. For example, the rock band U2’s world tour from 2009-2011 included a set so monstrous it is widely known as the most expensive set-up in rock concert history, with a price tag of a whopping $26-31 million...per set-up! And with over 100 shows played during the the 2 year tour, you do the math.

Aerial shot of the U2 360 tour stage set up, costing upwards of $31 million dollars per set-up.

The truth of the matter is that an enormous amount of behind-the-scenes work is put into any stage show, no matter how lavish or not it is. So, how’s this all accomplished? Two words: Entertainment Rigging.

You know all those crates and boxes roadies are in charge of? The ones that fill the rows upon rows of tractor trailers for large concert tours? Sure a couple of them have amps and guitars in them but for the most part they contain rigging. Miles of chain, piles of shackles and truckloads full of hoists.

To give you a glimpse into the amount of rigging set-up needed for an average arena concert, check out this time-lapse video below for the English rock band MUSE’s stage construction in Manchester from 2012. Notice the sheer amount of electric chain hoists needed to raise the stage and lighting grids, shown really well at 1:15.

Miles of chain, piles of shackles and truckloads full of hoists.

Entertainment rigging is not limited to arena concerts and Broadway theatre, but can be found in a numerous amounts of entertainment venues. From the circus and sporting events to trade shows and aquariums, entertainment rigging is everywhere. Even though designed to be discreet and hidden, entertainment rigging really is the star of the show, and literally lifts it to another level.

In 2015, Dodge introduced their new RAM Rebel at the North American International Auto Show in Detroit. With the use of 3 (CM Lodestar) motors, the introduction is turned into an event itself, animating the truck to coincide with the wall of screens and taking us on an adventure.

One of the biggest workhorses of entertainment rigging is the Lodestar hoist from CM (Columbus McKinnon). The Lodestar itself is a legend in the entertainment industry, and known for over three decades as best-in-class for safety and reliability. I can almost guarantee that a CM Lodestar was present at the last concert you went to.

The first CM Lodestar was manufactured in 1955, and in the past 60 years over a million have been produced. Available in both single and two speed varieties, both have rated capacities of 1/8 tons, 1/4 tons, 1/2 tons, 1 ton, 2 tons, and 3 tons.

Along with the Lodestar hoist, Columbus McKinnon offers a variety of entertainment hoists and rigging products for all concert and production types, and is a brand that is trusted among rigging professionals. .

Designed to be lightweight, portable and quiet, the CM Lodestar “motor” can be found at every type of entertainment locale. At the Moss Arts Center on the campus of Virginia Tech, CM Lodestars take a prominent role in their theatre grid as shown by stage and rigging supervisor Ryan Hasler, in the video below.

So the next time you’re in the crowd at the big game, walking the floors of a trade show hall or screaming yourself hoarse at your favourite bands concert, remember to look up, the real "stars" are above.

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