At the recent ABTT Theatre Show awards, the newest innovation from the Stage Technologies mechanical design team took the prize for ‘Best Engineering Product 2010’. The split pulley is a simple mechanism that makes performer flying, specifically at an angle out over the audience, easier and neater than ever before.
Steel wire rope is fed into the pulley as normal, but the secret is in the carefully-engineered pulley sheave. The sheave is spilt in two and an electrical signal causes the two halves to move apart on demand, enabling the rope to drop through.
Ted Moore, director of rental services at Stage Technologies, summarises the benefits of the new mechanism using Mary Poppins as an example. ‘For a flight out over the auditorium you need to rig two winches. In the original production of Mary Poppins, when Mary flew out over the audience in the finale, the second rope was static and taped to the side of the proscenium with a bit of gaffa tape. Before the flying took place, a stagehand had to clip the rope to Mary as part of the action, which broke the flow of the scene and required a bigger suspension of disbelief (excuse the pun!) from the audience. In the recent production of the show in Finland, we used the split pulley to enable pre-rigging and better rope management, so that the performer’s harness is already attached to both ropes when she walks on stage, with no slack rope showing at any point.’
It’s an inconspicuous modification but it reaps big rewards – the performer isn’t worried about lines and rigging, the storytelling isn’t held back or interrupted and it makes the lives of rigging teams much easier.
Design and manufacture of the pulley took place at the company’s London workshop and the rigging system was also tested here before shipping out to Finland.