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Attack of the Apps!

Todd Proffitt • TD Talk • December 2, 2013

Apps that should be in everyone's tool kit

Apps that should be in everyone’s tool kit

Want to use your tablet or phone for more than checking social media? Here’s our round-up of vital apps for backstage

The multi-tool has become a standard tool for most entertainment technicians. When you need a pair of pliers or a screwdriver it’s right there at your side. A new multi-tool may soon surpass your Gerber or Leatherman in how often you use it: the smartphone, smart device or tablet. Most of us carry one all the time anyways, so why not use it for something other than checking Facebook? Over the past couple of years apps for the TD have grown and matured into some powerful tools. I wrote about a few last year, here are some more worth getting.


There are a surprising number of rigging apps in both the iOS and Android stores. Before purchasing any rigging app it must be said that these apps do not take the place of training or experience. They should only be used if you could do the calculations manually and are meant to only speed up calculations. Most have a disclaimer at the beginning of the app that says just this.

The first rigging app I ever downloaded was iRigging by J.R. Clancy. It’s free in the iTunes Store and provides information on battens, stage ropes, sheaves, arbors, counterweights, motors, curtain and sheaves. It also helps calculate fleet angles (as do most rigging apps). Another full featured rigging app is RigCalc by Alex French, for iOS and Android devices. This app is based off the work off the original RigCalc by Delbert Hall, Phd. It has 18 different tools in the categories titled “Units and Math,” “Counterweight Systems,” “Forces and Geometry,” “Pulleys” and “Dynamic Forces.” The iOS version even shows you the formula used for the calculation. A couple more apps worth a quick mention in this category are: Bridle by Tricky-Design for Android devices and Bridle by Erik Berends in iTunes.


Nothing could be better suited to drafting than a 3-inch screen, right? Not really, but a phone can be used to do a quick check of a drawing, and a 10-inch tablet would be even better for simple measuring or reading drawings.

AutoCAD is the leader in this category with its AutoCAD 360 app by Autodesk, free for both iOS or Android devices. This app allows you to edit, share, get measurements and view drawings uploaded to its free AutoCAD 360 service. That service lets you work on a drawing on your tablet and also gives users the same functionality on its website, allowing people to collaborate in real time. You do not to own AutoCAD to use the service, you only need the ability to save a .dwg file.

Need to create a quick layout for a stage? Napkin Sketch Stage by Napkin Sketch is only $1.99 for iOS devices and you can use it to create a quick stage layout for a band or other small act. The base version is functional and useful but you can purchase expansion packs that add more show-specific items to your setup like a church, country show or jazz ensemble.  If you need something in between a sketch on a bar napkin and a scaled drawing, this program may help.

Nemetschek Vectorworks recently upgraded their Nomad app so it’s compatible with iOS 7, and it also works on Android devices. The app allows you to share Vectorworks files and has some markup and measuring capability. It does require a Vectorworks Service Select account.

Shop Apps

Need help with the build? Need to figure out spacing on a baluster or an uncommon stair tread? These apps may make planning go faster. (I’m still searching for the app that turns a tablet into a table saw. It’s not recommended to try the reverse. Swipe across a table saw and you may lose a finger…)

Two great resources for the shop are Handy Construction Calculators by Sidetop Software on Android and Home Builder Pro Calcs by Double Dog Studios for the iOS universe. Each provides a number of construction calculators for figuring out stair railings and other basic calculations. This app is more useful if you think a little outside the box. The wall stud calculator can be used to figure out toggle placement and spacing on a flat or support beams on a platform. Both apps provide a wealth of information.

How often have you just needed to quickly check level on a flat or just make sure a picture is level on a set? If all you need is a level there are several free apps available, but the iHandy Carpenter app by IHandy Carpenter for iOS and Android has a plumb bob, two different levels, a protractor and small tape measure.

In grad school one of the more challenging things I had to build was a butter churn. Figuring out the complex angles to cut on the table saw took a while. What I really needed was Compound Angles by Dan Hoffman and available in iTunes.

Too Many to Mention

In case you can’t tell, tech theatre apps are a passion of mine. I’ve gathered a list of more than 275 apps that can help out backstage. While I can’t fit them all in here, you can find my whole list online at Before I go, though, a few more that deserve a quick mention: Mobile Pro, by Infinity Softworks, is a calculator and reference tool “designed for construction pros” (iOS); BalusterPro by sgDROID is another good one for figuring out the distance between balusters on stairs or the spacing of other boards slats (iOS and Android); Cut Calculator by Bugfoot Studios will help you plan your cuts (iOS); Animated Knots by Grog is just what it says and is invaluable for training or a refresher (iOS, Android); Hydraulic by Dan Hoffman solves basic hydraulic cylinder calculations (iOS); Winch Sprockets also by Dan Hoffman calculates drum output line speed of existing rental winches (iOS); Technical Theatre Assistant by Strange Idea Enterprises allows carpenters to generate cut-lists and diagrams for set pieces and has calculators to help with carpentry tasks (Android). And finally, First Aid-American Red Cross is free from the American Red Cross and is available for Android and iOS.


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