If tiptoeing across a 5-inch piece of steel 85 feet in the air towing 40 pounds of rope, cable and chain behind you sounds like a great day at the office, then perhaps you were born to be a rigger.
A rigger’s job is not the most glamorous, but it is the job with the most responsibility. There is no room for error. On any given tour there may be millions of dollars’ worth of equipment hanging over the heads of thousands of people. The rigger is entrusted with making sure that the gear stays securely in the air and the people on the ground are completely oblivious to the complicated systems and hours of work that went in to hanging the show.
On touring productions, there is a chief rigger, who oversees the tour rigging crew and local riggers hired by the venue. The first task of a chief rigger is to measure and plot the suspension points from which all gear will hang. The next is to determine cable lengths and load requirements necessary to fly the rig. The chief rigger must take into account the stress limits of the roof or ceiling of the venue, the load capacity of the motors and cables, and the distribution of weight for the gear to be hung. Today, most temporary rigging (like touring shows) uses chain motors that power an automated hoist system.
It is the local rigger’s job to set all points within the ceiling grid structure. Anything which is directly attached to the structure of the building is the responsibility of the crew hired by the venue. The local crew on the ground is responsible for raising their motors, using spansets (strong nylon straps) and shackles to attach truss, audio arrays, or scenery to the motor. When the gear is secured and ready to be flown out, the chief rigger and tour crew are responsible for all operation of the rigging system. The chief rigger is charged with ensuring the safety of the gear and the people within the venue at all times. Regular inspection, maintenance, and repair of gear are vital to safe operation, and are the job of each rigger who touches the equipment.
Skills & Education
Though it isn’t necessary to hold a specific degree to enter the rigging field, classes in architecture, production design, stagecraft, audio, and lighting are helpful. A keen understanding of physics and mathematics is needed calculate weight distribution, load capacity, and other factors associated with rigging. A good rigger should also have an excellent grasp of mechanics, electricity, and engineering. Every rigger is expected to be experienced in climbing and rappelling, as well as having an encyclopedic knowledge of knots. Most importantly, a rigger must understand and practice proper safety procedures and be trained in the specifications and use of rigging equipment.
What to Expect
A rigger’s job is stressful and hazardous—and a constant buzz for adrenaline junkies. You will regularly be working at heights, climbing and carrying heavy equipment. On a tour you can expect to work 18-hour days on a regular basis with few or no days off. Sleep may be a luxury on the road, but despite the deprivation, you are required to be sharp and attentive to the task at hand and to ensure the safe rig of all gear. Mistakes are costly and dangerous. There are different avenues to pursue in a rigging career: touring, venue, freelance, union and non-union. It is a matter of preference which lifestyle best fits your taste.
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