Event Rigging – The Basics

WHAT IS RIGGING? Within the context of events, the word ‘rigging’ refers to the methods and equipment used to hold other equipment such as lighting, audio, video screens and set pieces in the correct position, often suspended overhead or in a vertical position.

Flown rigging is what most people will think of when speaking about rigging generally, and refers to the process of hanging equipment from the ceiling of a venue or other structure. It can take the form of static ‘drop wire’ suspension points, or commonly for technical production equipment will involve motor hoists which haul equipment vertically up and down a chain. This allows equipment to be set up and tested at shoulder height where it is easily accessible, before being raised to its final position. Often single motors will be linked by trusses in order to hang larger equipment, and sometimes riggers will install a ‘grid’ of truss to make the best use of the available rigging positions.

It is likely that your venue will only have certain positions where equipment can be hung. These are called ‘rigging points’. In larger venues it is possible to install temporary rigging points wherever you may require them by attaching to the roof beams with wires. However smaller venues such as hotels will often have fixed rigging points. These points will also have an ‘SWL’ or Safe Working Load. This is the weight of equipment that can be safely hung from the point.

Access equipment such as scissor lifts, access towers, and occasionally ladders will be required initially to attach the motor chain or drop wire to the rigging points.

Ground supports are dedicated structures put together specifically to hold the items for a specific production. Typically these will have vertical legs and some form of grid ‘ceiling’. In event rigging these are almost always comprised of aluminium trusses.

Ground supports can be ‘self climbing’, where the legs are fixed in position, but the grid can move vertically much like with overhead rigging.

Ground supports are very useful as they allow the production team to provide a self-contained design that does not rely on venue rigging points. The only requirements needed for a provider of a ground support is space and a suitable floor capacity.

The disadvantage of ground support is that they have legs which can cause sight-line or other aesthetic issues for a show. They can sometimes also be more costly to install if overhead rigging points are available.

Catenary wires are wires, chains or ropes that are held in tension horizontally. This is a technique that is typically only suitable for hanging fabrics, graphics, banners and other lightweight items. The reason for this is that the forces that can be exerted on the attachment points gets very great very quickly when the load is increased.

The benefit of catenary wires is that very long runs can be installed quickly and safely. Also they have aesthetic benefits over other systems (like truss or tube) as the wires are quite thin (often as thin as 3mm) so cannot easily be seen from the distance.

Sometimes there is no overhead rigging available, and a ground supported structure is not appropriate for any number of reasons such as cost or aesthetics. In this case it may be preferable to use a truss tower, tank trap, or wind-up stand. These can be more discreet and sit on the floor with equipment attached to the top of them. However they are often limited to lighter weight equipment and have stability considerations as well as needing adequate floor space available.

With engineering and production design there are appropriate and inappropriate methods. It is important to balance all the needs of the event, including cost, aesthetics, and weight capacity. However one factor that must be placed above all others when considering rigging is safety.

Installing and operating rigging equipment can be extremely dangerous, so it is highly important that rigging is designed and installed by a competent contractor. With the high pressure from various stakeholders in the events industry, it is easy to cut corners in a rigging design, which can have fatal consequences. PYTCH can provide advice, designs, and cost information – please get in touch to discuss your project.