iWeiss Modernizes the National Theatre with Align Rigging

by Michael Eddy
A before and after shot of the rigging system at Washington D.C.'s National Theatre. Photo by Anita Willis
A before and after shot of the rigging system at Washington D.C.'s National Theatre. Photo by Anita Willis

Washington D.C.’s historic National Theatre, founded in 1835, has operated as a hemp house for 182 years. The rigging for shows was all done with hemp ropes, a lot of sand bags, and a lot of muscle. Thanks to a dedicated crew of talented stage hands, countless theater productions were successfully mounted and run for all that time. This summer iWeiss changed the theater over to their Align Rigging System. It will be quite a change for crews who work the load-ins and outs.

In a nostolgic look back, the short film above is from the AFL-CIO Americans at Work series looking at the job of stage hands/electricians/props and flys during a load-in at the National Theatre for the 1960 production of My Fair Lady, starring Diane Todd and Michael Evans.

Of course, Executive Director of the National Theatre, Sarah K. Bartlo-Chaplin realized that in today’s cost-conscious competitive producing environment, efficiency was going to be key in landing not only longer running shows but also one and two-night stands. “We need to load-in and load-out quicker and more cost effectively.”

So, in preparation for Tina Fey’s Mean Girls opening, the decision was made to convert the theater from hemp to counterweight rigging. iWeiss Vice President Richard Parks and Project Manager Russ Dusek made a presentation to their Board, guaranteeing the work and the time frame, and iWeiss was contracted to take on the job.

Under PM Dusek and local foreman John “Chip” Daley, demolition began on July 10th. Before installing the new rigging using iWeiss’ Align rigging equipment line, modifications and additions were made to the structural steel, electrical conduits, and sprinkler lines were re-routed and a new load bridge was installed.

Stage Hand George Cannon (foreground) empties one of the massive sand bags during the rigging renovation of the National Theatre in Washington D.C. iWeiss installed 60 Double Purchase sets on 6” centers with the rail above the stage floor allowing for maximum stage space. In addition, iWeiss installed a new Clincher Winch and trip system for the fire curtain. The new Align rigging system was commissioned 69 days later on September 17th. During the demolition, eight-tons of sand was removed from the theater’s sand bag system of counterweight.

“…what a sincere pleasure it was to work with your PM Russ Dusek,” commented Bartlo-Chaplin. “Even given the unique circumstances of this project, Russ was always incredibly responsive and respectful…  He, and the iWeiss team, are the reason the system got completed on time.”

Some of the sand bags from the old rigging system at the National Theatre. The renovation removed eight tons of sand in the end.Further information from iWeiss: www.iweiss.com