5 theatre students assist with rigging at Eric Church concert in Boise

Left to right:  Joe Shelly, Jr., Stephanie Schlosser, Kennedy Wilcher, Bryce Allen, Abbey Smith and Liam Romano in Boise, Idaho.
Left to right: Joe Shelly, Jr., Stephanie Schlosser, Kennedy Wilcher, Bryce Allen, Abbey Smith and Liam Romano in Boise, Idaho.

Five Johnny Carson School of Theatre and Film design/tech students traveled to Boise, Idaho, in May with Assistant Professor of Practice Bryce Allen to get hands-on rigging training and professional experience while working a load-in and load-out for the Eric Church concert at the Extra Mile Arena.

This training is an educational outreach program sponsored by EKO Crewing in Boise, Idaho, and was coordinated by Allen.

“When I came here from northern Utah last year to take up the post as Technical Director here, I brought with me my entertainment rigging certification for the theatre, which is something that currently only two people in Nebraska have,” Allen said. “And it just so happened that one of my friends started his own company in Boise about the same time we moved to Lincoln. He basically now runs the entire entertainment crewing industry in the Boise area and eastern Idaho. He was really interested in continuing the education of the younger generation of riggers, which is difficult because it’s a very hard thing to do, and it’s a risky thing to learn. Shad Horn offered this opportunity through an educational outreach program from his company, and I took it.”

An entertainment rigger works on ropes, booms, lifts and hoists for a stage production, film or television show.

“For people that go on the upside, it’s you and a rope and about 100 pounds of machinery and about 100 feet in the air walking on an eight-inch beam or smaller,” Allen said. “There’s no sugar coating it. If you drop something or something falls during the process, bad things happen.”

The students that participated in the experience included graduate students Joseph Shelly, Jr., Stephanie Schlosser, Abbey Smith and Kennedy Wilcher and undergraduate student Liam Romano.

“Three of them were part of my entertainment rigging class that I’m teaching this semester,” Allen said. “Not everybody in my class was able to go, so I was able to fill the other two slots with some of my technical direction students.”

Allen was in charge of safety at the event.

“I was watching everybody’s backs, not only my students, but also the professionals that we worked with there and making sure everybody was doing what they needed to do and staying safe,” he said. “The students were shadowing professional riggers during the event so that they would have hands-on experience learning with professional people. I was careful to pair them with people that I know that I’ve worked with in the past that are able to provide that type of student training.”

All of the students had taken the entertainment rigging course either this semester or earlier.

“So they got a whole semester’s worth of math and physics and engineering and safety drilled into them,” Allen said. “And then we spent about two weeks before we left really going over the processes and the procedures and how you connect all these cables and shackles and chains and connect them correctly. And we practiced that.”

Schlosser got a variety of experience at the event.

“I was a down-rigger (and shadowed other down-riggers) for the Eric Church pre-load in, video for the actual load in, and backline for the load out,” she said. “I wasn’t involved in the actual concert, but I ended up bouncing between video, sound and stagehand duties throughout the load in and out.”

Allen said this kind of experiential learning is invaluable for his students.

“The classroom and the roadhouse or the big tour are two different beasts,” Allen said. “There’s a different urgency than what we have in the classroom, and it has quite a bit of pressure. In the classroom, we can spend six weeks learning these skills and perfecting them. Out there on the house, you’ve got two days—one day to put it up and one day to take it down. So there is no room for error.”

Schlosser said she was able to apply what she learned in the classroom.

“I was in a rigging class at the time we went on this trip, so being able to physically apply elements that we’d been studying—specifically in a real-world scenario—was invaluable. Career-wise, the experience gained could allow me to work in additional non-union production gigs that I previously haven’t had access to.”

Smith said in an educational environment, students learn a great deal, but in a controlled environment.

“Applying what we learn in a new environment with different people with different experiences of their own is a great way to test what we’ve learned and expand on it,” she said. “The real-world experience allows us to get a taste of what it’s actually like to do the work as a career rather than learning about it theoretically.”

Smith had worked on touring productions and concerts before, but did not have experience with rigging or working in an arena.

“I was prepared with the basic skills, but I wasn’t sure how or when they would be applied, so I wasn’t sure what to expect in that regard,” she said. “I definitely left with those gaps in knowledge filled a little more, and we were exposed to different work dynamics and personalities that are good for us to see if we plan to do it again.”

Her favorite part of the experience was working with specific people.

“I was lucky enough to find an experienced down rigger who let me shadow her,” Smith said. “After a while, she let me jump in and watched me and gave me feedback. I left feeling more confident after working with her because she was willing to take the time to teach on the call.”

Schlosser said the experience was beneficial.

“Rigging is an area I’ve existed around for years in theatre, but had never managed to break into,” she said. “I now have enough basic knowledge to pursue more non-union gigs and push that knowledge further than I otherwise could have.”

Allen said the students didn’t have room to second guess themselves.

“Learning during that pressure and seeing how people operate in that theatre of thought is important,” he said. “We’re teaching them that once they leave here, in some cases, this is what they’re going to be experiencing every once in a while and how to deal with it.”

Allen said his students did well at the concert.

“The Eric Church tour people were very pleased to see students on site,” Allen said. “The head rigger came up to me and said this is one of the coolest things they’ve seen in a long time. They were really pleased to have our students there, and they were pleased to have me there with them. And yeah, we all made little mistakes, but we all had each other’s backs. It was a big challenge, but it was a good thing all around.”

In addition to rigging, the students had the opportunity to shadow other crew members.

“We had some electricians with us and we had some technical directors,” Allen said. “So they got to work as electricians or carpenters or other things that interested them.”

Allen hopes to do it again in future semesters.

“It was a lot of fun,” he said. “I was really proud of my students, and I was pleased that they were able to get it done, and I hope to do it again.”