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Montana Middle School Graduates to 21st Century Rigging System

PLSN Staff • News • March 12, 2011

HELENA, MT – The rigging system in Helena Middle School's 1,065-seat theater had plenty to offer in the way of a unique backstage history lesson: a rope rigging equipment with original wood blocks that dated back to the 1930s, five counterweight systems with wire guides from the 1950s and 12 motorized yo-yo-style winches that had been installed in the 1970s. Some parts of the system were even handmade. But for Kevin Bieganek, owner and operator of Midwest Theatrical Concepts, functionality and safety took a higher priority than historical preservation or nostalgia. Even if some of the equipment might have lasted a few years longer, he felt enough of it needed replacing that the system should be fully upgraded.


Steven Hagen of Secoa, an ETC dealer, agreed. "Helena Middle School had been nursing their system along for years," Hagen said. ETC Prodigy motorized hoists brought the theater up to code. To meet the school's budget, weight and space constraints, Secoa turned to ETC Prodigy hoists feature Powerheads, which are one-half the weight of other systems.


"We helped design a system to replace what they had and went through cost/benefit analysis," said Hagen. "We looked at other manufacturers – including ourselves – but the only product that would go in, without major venue upgrades and a substantial amount of structural work, was ETC Prodigy."


Eighteen Prodigy hoists were ultimately installed – four for over-stage electrics, and the rest for scenic elements and for a movie screen.


Although most theaters have 10 feet of space between beams, Helena Middle School's beams are spaced 15 feet apart – and the Prodigy hoists' compression tube system is designed for a maximum span of 14 feet.


Even so, Secoa was able to work with ETC senior technical product manager Harvey Sweet to come up with a solution and install normal pipe battens without having to add major structural steel to the building. The Prodigy hoists allowed Secoa to reuse the existing raceways for the over-stage electrics, which saved even more on installation costs.


"An electrical remodel was done 10 years ago and was still in good shape, so we could reinstall the raceways onto the new hoists," noted Joel Furmanek, ETC field service engineer. 


Because the theater is booked more than 150 days per year for events ranging from school activities, student shows and classes to touring shows, dance performances, and other community presentations, trying to find time to do an installation this large was difficult. But the ETC Rigging system installation went so smoothly that it only took Midwest Theatrical Concepts two weeks to complete.


"It got done in such a short amount of time, thanks to ETC being able to build the equipment and us being able to install that fast," Hagen noted. "The entire project, from beginning to end, was only two and a half months."


The rigging system got its first workout at a show on Feb. 5, 2011.


"The Prodigy hoists work really well and they're operator-friendly," said Gary Barker, stage and technical director for the theater.


Bieganek agreed. "ETC is right on track with their rigging products. They're easy to understand, install and operate. After seeing what the Helena Middle School Theater was before this installation and after, I'm proud to have been a part of making it a safe, productive space for everyone to use for years to come."


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