Aerial Acts – Coming to a Space Near You

By Roger

Published September 2019

I want to talk about this with house hands and generalist technicians, because I need to change something I’m doing. And maybe you might, too. Because an aerialist act is coming to your space just like it did to mine.

“In two weeks,” the production manager told us, “a variety show, dance concert would come into our theater.” Recently, they added a new act to their itinerary but it was no big deal. “It’s gonna be what it’s gonna be,” he said from the doorway. “We’ve dealt with worse. Nothing we hadn’t seen before, really… and there is an aerialist.”

A flood of concern swept over me. You see, I’m the Head Carpenter & Rigger for our space, so I’m pretty skilled already. Still, a thousand questions flooded to mind. Which type of act? How many performers? When would we get to meet to plan the rig? Will we meet to plan the rig? Do they have a plan already? What are they providing and what would we provide???

“They’ll have it all,” I was told. “Silks. Two performers. Oh, it has to fly in during the show & then disappear…um…during the dance.”


I was lucky. The big problems had already been solved by another rigger I respected. We talked & I made it happen. The aerialist did not have all the gear, but we worked it out & I called in a favor or two. And I talked to other riggers.

If this hasn’t happened to you, it will: aerialist acts are gaining popularity & sophistication. Audiences love them and are clamoring for more. As we all struggle to claim our share of the business, the day will come when an aerial act will land in your space with or without your input.

Some good news: reputable schools abound in our vicinity, regularly turning out a cadre of trained performers with sound aerial rigging skills. The performers are largely capable of installing their own rigs, once points are identified. The schools stress rigging safety & are downright mean about who gets to rig & who absolutely does not. And, there are people with reliable rigging skills available locally and they are willing to talk.

But there is bad, bad news too. In the rush to get on stage, partly trained performers are leaping ahead of their skills. And the acts are spreading out to bars “with a stage” or newly established ‘Event Centers’ in converted strip malls often without dedicated staff. Performers lack the vocabulary to talk to the venue technicians (if any) about forces their act will generate. And our technicians rarely have engineering load tables for their spaces, the ability to read them, or the acumen to understand the complexity of the situation.

I have a rig grid rated for 50,000 pounds. I have solidly anchored points to deal with side loads and combined loading. I am an ETCP rigger & I know how to use the shock load formula. And I know when to call on professionals to check my math.
But I want to talk with you, friendly reader, because we are both house hands, or you’re a performer wondering if that beam is really strong enough, or you’ve laid awake hoping the trick goes off and everyone goes home all right. We both know a little about this area yet we feel behind the curve.    

So please let’s make this little change: let’s stop just worrying and actually talk about aerial rigging. Let’s get together in one room – technicians, performers, venue managers, and anyone else interested. Let’s make a contact sheet of competent persons willing to get phone calls or emails titled, “Help – rigging questions.” And let’s find the gaps in our knowledge and seek someone to help fill those gaps.

And I’ll start: email me and I will be happy to talk about rigging. We’ll get together, talk, and make some changes.

Roger Rosvold

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