The Richard J. Ernst Community Cultural Center is a state-run facility on the campus of Northern Virginia Community College (NVCC) in Annadale, VA, which regularly hosts a wide variety of events, from local and touring shows to dance recitals and theatrical performances. Installed in 1990, the venue's original rigging system eventually wore down over time. After years of exhaustive research, Pook Deimont & Ohl, Inc. (PDO) helped the venue replace the aging system with 12 variable-speed and two fixed-speed Prodigy® EXO hoists , three external E-stops, a Foundation® controller and a Foundation Handheld Remote (FHHR) .
PDO Senior Project Manager Kristian Vatalaro worked with NVCC Production Manager Lawson Earl and Mike Detomo from Cole & Denny Architects in order to find a rigging system that would meet all of their 'musts,' particularly those surrounding safety. The venue's original rigging system contained several drum-winch motors without any safety mechanisms. "After many years of regular use, we became concerned about the reliability and safety of our rigging system," says Earl. Due to its flexibility and smaller size, the EXO Hoist is great for new and retrofit installations. And since it can be installed within existing grids and loft blocks with three mounting options -- upright, underhung and vertical -- the venue's old drum winches could be replaced seamlessly.
ETC's line of Prodigy hoists was developed specifically to address many unmet needs of the entertainment rigging industry. "[EXO] is very adaptable to many configurations and it solves problems that other hoists cannot," describes Vatalaro. Once Earl learned about EXO, he was sold: "It really is the most flexible system we researched." "Prodigy hoists offer a lot of versatility in a neat package," echoes Vatalaro. It was hugely appealing since the Richard J. Ernst Community Cultural Center hosts a large variety of performances throughout the year.
Beyond versatility, Prodigy comes standard with a slew of safety features, such as slack-line detection, position encoders, load cell and load monitoring. "In order to prevent interference in the fly loft, features like load monitoring and slack-line detection were critical for us, because our space is very compact and we house many large set pieces on our lift lines," Earl explains. Foundation controllers were built for beginner and experienced operators alike. "Our own technicians run the space during productions," he says. "They float around from lighting to rigging to sound -- wherever they are needed at the time," which makes Foundation's ease of use and consistency in control essential. Its intuitive design provides easy menu navigation, along with complete control of all connected hoists via the Foundation network protocol.
Since the venue is a state-run facility, "we had to go through the city of Richmond for design and structural analysis first," explains Earl. Once the city knew about ETC Rigging's EXO Hoist and Foundation controller's many standard safety features, the venue's wish list and budget were both easily approved.
Today, Earl and his crew are very happy with their EXO hoists and Foundation controllers: "We did lots of side-by-side comparisons, and this control system has a lot more power and is more intuitive to use." Each of the venue's rigging-system components were installed in strategic locations: E-stops were placed on stage left, in the gallery and in the lighting booth; the Foundation controller on stage left; and the FHHR for use nearly anywhere in the venue. "Our system control is no longer confined to one area," Earl says. "We have increased sightlines, even when there are many people on stage."
Installation and training on the new ETC Rigging system began on January 4 th , 2016, and were completed by January 29 th . EXO's form factor and safety features, plus Foundation's intuitive and scalable control, met all their 'musts.' "We were pleased with the final installation. It finished on time and under a tight schedule," concludes Vatalaro. "The venue now has a far superior product with no compromises."
Photos courtesy of the Richard J. Ernst Community Cultural Center at Northern Virginia Community College.