Load cells on the road with major musicals

Published On: July 17 2019


One of the UK’s most popular West End musicals, Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s The Phantom of the Opera, (https://uk.thephantomoftheopera.com/) is out on the road in the UK and Ireland next year, no doubt with a full set, impressive lighting and, of course, that pesky chandelier!

The US tour of The Phantom of the Opera back in 2015 featured an extensive lighting and sound rig featuring over 200 speakers, 85 moving lights and 10 tons of scenery, all loaded onto 20 trucks. That’s a lot of weight suspended above the performers’ heads, and a lot of load for theatre roofs and scenery towers that can date back to Victorian times.

So, in almost every modern stage or concert rig, load cells are playing a vital role in weighing the rig to ensure it stays within the venue’s capacity, and monitoring load distribution during rigging and performances.


Moving with the times

Theatre is the home of illusion, creating new worlds and places out of painted cloth, wood and, increasingly, moving staging and lighting. Most theatres have fixed rigging points, where the trusses can be attached, and accommodate up to a certain weight. The Rose Theatre in Kingston, for example, has a load capacity exceeding 2,500kg.

In a modern theatre production, items such as flats (scenery panels) will be flown (lifted) in and out of the stage area, sometimes at considerable speed. Increasingly, productions are using video screens which are heavy and again, may need to be hoisted out of the way at key moments.

So it’s important that touring productions not only have ways to ensure that their venue’s load weight is not exceeded, but also ways to monitor that load during the show as it shifts and changes.


Always on monitoring

According to an article in LSI, the 2019 world tour of The Phantom of the Opera, included the use of a 10 load cell system with wireless and blue tooth connectivity for “always on” monitoring. Rigging company Gearhouse Splitbeam MD Alistair Kilbee explained how these were used to monitor other load cells in the rig:

“The load on the motors can be monitored as the motors are moving scenery in and out to ensure safe load dispersion between the motors. The load cells have a battery life of up to 5,000 hours so we can confidently install them on a touring production where they will be in the rig for a month at a time. Each monitoring system has the capability to monitor up to 200 load cells allowing us to easily purchase additional load cells to add to our current system.”

It’s a neat solution that offers both safety and peace of mind, especially in such a complex show as Phantom. We love this time-lapse video of setting up the Phantom set on its US tour!


Rigging Eurovision’s screens

For the last couple of years, Eurovision Song Contest entrants have been performing on a stage that is nearly all screens. Images can be shown on every surface including the floor, providing some spectacular visuals for even the most dire of songs!

The 2018 Contest was held at the Lisbon Arena, where the total weight of the entire production was a staggering 220 tonnes. As Head Rigger Johannes Schau said:

“The venue itself posed its own challenges. The distance between the suspension points on the venue mother grid was very small. In addition to that the venue mother grid in the Altice Arena is built out of a very rigid truss system. In this case a tiny difference in height of the suspension points could have caused a major deviation of load compared to the support reactions of the structural calculation. We knew that the only way to ensure the structural safety was to deploy a load monitoring system.”

In total, for the 2018 show:

  • 118 load cells were used on the main grid
  • 42 load cells on the scenery elements
  • 15 load cells for the rear lighting wall

Held at the Tel Aviv Expo complex, the 2019 Eurovision Song Contest was a logistical challenge from the outset, with all the kit needing to be driven across Europe in 250 trucks, then shipped across the Mediterranean Sea to Israel. According to AV Magazine, the technical preparations took place 21 days before rehearsals even started! In addition to installing over 800 LED panels, the rigging team hung “185 tonnes worth of kit from 1,050 rigging points using 650 hoists, 110 Load Cells and 6,500 metres of truss.”


Singing the blues – outdoor festival stages

Out door events present a whole new set of challenges for those who need to build the stages from scratch. In addition to the physical weight of lights and speakers, designers need to factor in safety issues due to weather, especially wind speeds.

The outdoor stage at the 2018 Ottowa Blues Festival used 64 shackle load cells, one on each of the festival stage’s “house points”. Each act that performed were essentially on tour, requiring a different rig. So the organisers weighed each act on stage! As Mike Sorowka, MD at Paradigm Rigging explained in an article for ETNow magazine:

“The big addition for us this year was shuffling load cells onto the touring acts’ rigs as they came through. As the house rig was taken down in preparation for the next day’s act, we would recover the load cells from those points and reconfigure the layouts in the … logging and monitoring software to match the next day’s needs. Creating a base configuration of the load cells in the program made this process pretty easy – accounting for which cells were available, deciding their locations on the rigging plot for install the next day and then building a plot overall with these cells referenced to the appropriate source.”


Spectacular results with our UK-built load cells

Whatever kind of production you’re considering, we can help. We design and manufacture our own load cells here in the UK, so we can create bespoke solutions to your exact specifications, whether cabled or wireless. Call us with your requirements, or send us an email.

And if you fancy your chances as the next Christine, Raoul or Phantom, open auditions are in London in August 2019….