J.R. Clancy's Altus system for Arts centre

Thursday, 30 September 2010
J.R. Clancy's Altus system for Arts centreThe Altus from J.R. Clancy
USA - Bucknell University's Weis Centre for the Performing Arts serves the Lewisburg, Pennsylvania university as its primary concert hall and performance space for theatre and dance. In addition to student performances, the centre hosts more than a dozen professional events each year, and the annual convocation and other ceremonial events take place there as well. Lectures, community events, and recitals for music students round out the hall's daily schedule.

When the Weis Centre was constructed in 1988, its automated rigging control system was top of the line: 15 line shafts and a Shamrock controller designed and manufactured by J. R. Clancy. The system remained in top working order until 1995, says technical designer Dale Hourlland. "The Shamrock was damaged by a power anomaly, which also took out the computer that ran the lifts in our orchestra pit, and our lighting system," he said. "We replaced the Shamrock with the new Shamrock 5000 - also from Clancy - which we had until very recently. It's pretty impressive to say that we had the same control system from 1995 until now."

While the system ran efficiently throughout its lifespan, it had begun to show some signs of progressive aging by 2009. "Everything would work fine, and then one day I'd turn it on and half the linesets wouldn't work," Hourlland said. "I'd have to turn it off and turn it back on, and then it would be fine."

In the meantime, newer systems had come onto the market with features the older system did not provide. "The previous system was really good for what it did," Hourlland said. "But the old system had no targeting, no feedback. It didn't have a good, clear view of the rigging system and what it was doing."

In early 2010, when the 15-year-old controller's hardware began to reach the end of its usefulness, Hourlland contacted J. R. Clancy, the company that provided the two previous systems.

Hourlland worked closely with Larry Eschelbacher, Clancy's manager of controls engineering, to choose the right system and ensure its compatibility with his existing line shafts. The final choice: Altus, the latest off-the-shelf system designed specifically for mid-level rigging systems like the one at Bucknell.

Altus allows Hourlland and his student crew to create up to 200 cues, with different speeds and targets for each hoist. The intuitive 12" touch screen makes it easy to create cues and run shows. When variable speed hoists are in place, users can set acceleration and deceleration velocity, creating dramatic visuals for dramas, musicals, and concerts. Altus plays the programmed movements reliably, allowing modifications on the fly during the performance.

"The new control system is phenomenal," Hourlland said. "Altus is very intuitive, and there's plenty of feedback there. You know all the time what things are doing and when they are doing them." This is particularly important in a college setting, where student crew members can change every semester-or even every week, depending on their course schedules and availability.

(Jim Evans)

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