Come Fly With Us

In this issue of Intermission Dishin':

RENO2020 involves more than the spaces you will see directly as patrons in the lobbies and box office. There is also significant work being done backstage to enhance your experience.

In this Intermission Dishin' newsletter, we'll show you some photos of the work taking place on our Fly System. What is a Fly System, you ask? Don't worry! We have that covered with a featured story on the Flys - thanks to Daniel Bennett our Technical Director.

We'll meet Daniel and two more Grand staff team members:
Jared Whitty, Head of Flys
Lauren Rebelo, Assistant Technical Director

We'll learn about their work at the Grand and what they are looking forward to when we re-open.

We've also listed a few of the amazing events taking place during Black History Month in London! Join us in learning out loud and celebrating the many Black Canadians who have so wonderfully contributed to our city and country!


This before shot will give you a sense of the complexity of the fly system as the team prepared to dismantle it.

Another view of the flys. The yellow bars are the battens and the thin cables pictured are the lifting lines. You'll read about these in the article below!


Looking down from as high as you can be backstage - the seats would be to your left.

You'll notice the weights that are used in the flys counterweight system.


We took lots of photos of the stage once the existing fly system was down as it is very rare to see the space this empty. This shot is taken from the stage looking directly up.

Another view of the cleared space from stage right. It's a great view of the fly floors and catwalks. The open doorway at bottom left leads into the IATSE space and Prop Shop - where some of the larger set pieces are stored - such as the staircases used in A Christmas Carol. The seats / audience would be located on your right.


In previous shots, you'll notice the slatted red upper level at the top known as the grid - this shot is taken from above that area. Can't be afraid of heights doing this work!

And in with the new! Installation begins on the new system and all its components! Exciting!!!


Creating Theatre Magic - The Fly System

by Daniel Bennett - Technical Director

During a show, have you ever wondered how the wall magically came from above? Or what is holding the lights that are above the stage? Well, that would by the fly system – a series of ropes, pulleys and counterweights that enable the fly operator to move components like scenery, lighting, and curtains quickly, quietly, and safely.

The first modern day counterweight fly system was installed in Austria in 1888, but the stagecraft of lifting dates back to the Greek theatre performed in 5th century BC. In fact, the Greek plot device deus ex machina meaning ‘God from the machine’, where a seemingly unsolvable problem in a story is suddenly resolved by an unlikely occurrence, is derived from Greek theatre’s tendency to fly divine characters in shows. Either way, the fly technology has been around for a while because of its function and ability to create theatre magic.

At the Grand on the Spriet Stage, our fly system is comprised of 46 battens (also called linesets).

Battens are steel pipes and for purposes of our stage, they are 56 feet long and 2 inches in diameter and run from stage left to stage right. They are spaced an average of 8 inches apart but there are a few odd sized gaps that can make planning difficult. At their ‘in position’ (which is the lowest they go), they sit about 4 feet above the stage and at their ‘out position’ (the highest they go), they sit 60 feet above the stage. Each batten has 5 aircraft cable lift lines that run to pulleys in the steel grid that is 65 feet above the stage.

The lifting lines then run over to stage left where they connect to the operating rope lines that are controlled by our Head Fly Operator, Jared Whitty, and his team. The team works on what is called a fly gallery that wraps around the entire stage at height of 23 feet above the stage.

Now, if you’re following the math, you may be wondering how the batten travels twice the distance of the operating line? That’s because we have a double purchase counterweight system. Counterweights are placed on an arbor that is attached to the operating line. This balances the load (weight) placed on the batten to make it achievable for the operator to the pull the load. The way the ropes run through our system, it enables us to halve the vertical travel of the operating line, which frees up space for our cast and crew on the stage. The trade-off is that you have to put double the weight on the arbor that can lead to some pretty large stacks of weights on the arbors. Pretty technical, we know – but goes to show you how complex the ‘behind the scenes’ work can be! Keep reading .. there’s more!

The fly system is the support network for all facets of a production. It allows technical artists to easily place lighting, sound, and projection at the right height to use the gear to its fullest potential. It allows scenery pieces to fly in and out during a production; add a track and some ropes, and items can also track from left to right. It helps lift heavy walls during a load in until we can attach them properly. But, with great power, comes great responsibility. As you can imagine, there are many safety considerations that our team needs to take into account.

The first is the load or weight that we are applying on the system. Each batten has a load limit for the total amount of weight that can be placed on a pipe, as well as a max point load that is the maximum weight that can be placed at one point. Whenever we are flying an object or series of objects, we have to calculate its weight so we ensure that we are not placing too much load on the system. Depending on the movement, we may have to calculate the potential dynamic load as well. Lots and lots of math!

We also have to ensure that the placement of all of the different elements won’t bump into each other as they fly in and fly out. The designers submit their desired positions for their gear and scenery pieces for the show, and as Technical Directors, we manage the negotiation for space in the air. We spend a lot of time generating computer-assisted drawings to plan this out. We use these drawings to place masking – black fabric that hides gear and scenery in stored positions that we don’t want the audience to see – which are also hung from the fly system.

During the technical rehearsal process, we set ‘trim heights’ for all of the battens which is the height that the fly operator will move a piece of scenery to. The trim heights are marked with tape on the rope so the operator knows when to complete the movement. When the Stage Manager calls ‘go’, the fly operator moves the rope to the desired position in a duration that is set during the technical rehearsal process. It is pretty amazing how our operators can move pieces consistently and precisely for every performance and twice on days where we have two shows!

So, why are we replacing our entire fly system? With all the heavy lifting (pun intended) that our fly system does, it’s of the utmost importance that it is maintained regularly and replaced every few decades to ensure safety, and the fly system at the Grand was due to be replaced.

The new pulleys, operating lines, and line locks that are being installed will mean that the new fly system will be smoother and require less force to operate due to less friction in the system, making movements easier.

The battens are also getting repositioned so that their spacing is an even 8” apart. This will make the negotiation of space between departments easier. We are also increasing the point load of each batten.

Additionally, the fly system upgrades will see us getting new automation gear (machinery that moves scenery with the click of a button to a desired position) that can be used in conjunction with the fly system for extra-complicated movements (so you can expect moves that will really excite you!)

We were getting weighed down with the old, and we are so excited to take flight with the new fly system when we return.

Black History Month in London

February is Black History Month in Canada and there are many amazing events, activities and learning opportunities for everyone at every age. 

We encourage you to check out events organized by London's Black History Month Coordinating Committee that can be found on the London Public Library's website - CLICK HERE 

Also, Sunfest is celebrating music from the African Diaspora during Black History Month. Access more info by CLICKING HERE

You can also take a guided tour of the Black Lives Matter Wall of Posters showcased at Museum London and view current and past episodes of The Melanated View television series filmed at the Museum. CLICK HERE to access that free programming.

Lastly, in partnership with Obsidian Theatre, CBC GEM is streaming "21 Black Futures" beginning Friday, February 12.  

This not-to-be missed event features 21 playwrights, 21 directors, 21 actors and 21 visions of the future of Blackness - streamed in three 70 minute parts that will begin airing on Friday, February 12 with subsequent episodes on Friday February 19 and Friday, February 26.

Find more information on Obsidian Theatre's Website - CLICK HERE.

Get to know our team!

Meet Jared, Lauren, and Daniel

Jared Whitty, Head of Flys

Jared Whitty, Head of FlysJared's 'Office', the fly floor.

Pictured above on the left is Jared Whitty, Head of Flys, with his "office", the Fly Floor, on the right.

Jared Whitty has worked at the Grand for close to 20 years, the last 5 years in the role of Head of Flys.
Since November, Jared and Craig Pearson (Head Scenic Carpenter) have been working on the complete replacement of the Grand’s fly system on the Spriet Stage. A project slightly slowed by COVID, completion date for this undertaking is scheduled for mid-April.

What was your pathway that led you to your current position?

Jared Whitty
With each fly system unique to each theatre, a lot of my training was on-the-job. I learned a ton from Bernie Harrigan who had been the Grand’s Head of Flys for 35 years before he retired. There is lots of math involved and research you can do but there’s nothing like learning from one of the best. Bernie is like an uncle to me and we still hang out when we can.

What makes this an exciting project for you?

Jared Whitty
It's amazing that we are replacing the entire system, which I don’t believe has been done in 40 years. There have been upgrades made to various components and pieces but a complete replacement was due and I’m looking forward to training and getting to work with it. It keeps the job really fresh and exciting for me and gives the designers more options to work with as well. The addition of automation gear will also enhance what we are able to do and what the audiences will see. I’m really looking forward to getting back to my ‘regular’ duties and putting this brand new system to work!

Describe your most challenging or rewarding show.

Jared Whitty
Well, A Christmas Carol falls into both of those categories. The amount of scene changes, projection, and other design elements really kept me busy from the first minute of the show to the last (when the snow fell from the ceiling). In some productions I may only have 4 or 5 scene changes but Carol was really exciting to work on and it stands out for me.

Any inside scoop that people may not know?

Jared Whitty
A lot of people think that the sets or walls drop in with the push of a button or a computer and don’t realize that there is a person whose job it is to make that happen. The counterweight system means that I’m not pulling lines with all my strength but it is a physical job and it keeps me in shape for sure. I guess I can also admit that I’m not a huge fan of our friend “Batty” who makes an appearance every now and then. When my co-workers hear me say “I’ll be in my office” and a quick door slam, there’s a good chance that the bat is out flying around.

Do you ever get to see the productions?

Jared Whitty
I rarely sit in a seat and get the vantage point of a typical audience member. I do get to see shows from a monitor and with some of the productions I am able to see a few rows of the audience from where I am located on the fly floor. It's great to see their reactions but I'm always wondering if they can see me if I can see them!

What do you do outside of the theatre?

Jared Whitty
I'm 100% a family man and love hanging with my two kids – Jessica (8) and Mason (10). Jessica saw Mary Poppins last year as her first Grand show and she can’t wait to get back! When I was a kid and my dad worked at the Grand, I remember coming to work with him and getting a taste of what it was like having your office 25 feet up in the air. Now my kids come and experience the same thing with me in my office in the sky. I think that’s pretty cool.

Daniel Bennett, Technical Director &
Lauren Rebelo, Assistant Technical Director

Daniel and Lauren sit at a table in the Production Office with a small model of the stage and design plans for a play.Daniel and Lauren smile as they stand in front of a Prom Queen-themed Grand Theatre van at PRIDE 2018.

On the left, Daniel (L) and Lauren (R) are hard at work in the Production Office. Right, Daniel and Lauren at PRIDE 2018.

What are your primary duties as a TD?

Daniel Bennett
As a Technical Director, I am responsible for facilitating the designer’s vision and ensuring that it can be achieved on time, on budget and safely. I work with the creative team to understand the needs of the show and what the priorities from a creative standpoint. For example, how long does it need to rain? How fast does the revolve need to spin? What area are we trying to hit with the projectors? Then, we work with our team of technical artists across lighting, sound, video, props, wardrobe, carpentry and scenic art to figure out how to achieve the designs. I cost the ideas to assess affordability and generate a schedule in conjunction with the Production Manager to see if we can build and install it in time. We propose solutions that hopefully balance the art and the logistics and determine the best plan with the team. After, that, we manage the build and delivery of the components to the stage and after an average of 7 months of work... there is a show on stage!

What are your primary duties as an Assistant TD?

Lauren Rebelo
Along with Daniel, I help manage the theatre's production departments (Carpentry, Scenic Art, Props, Wardrobe, and Stage). Each production has a new team of designers who submit their drawings and plans to us. Together we research and cost the designs, and then negotiate them within the budget and timeline available. Then we purchase materials and create technical drawings that make it possible for our teams to build the show you see on stage. I like to say that it's really just a lot of running around with a measuring tape… but there really is more to it!

What was your pathway that led you to the Grand?

Daniel Bennett
I started acting in theatre in high school when an English teacher recognized my love of performing in a class project. While studying Neuroscience and Psychology at the University of Toronto, I was President of the Trinity College Dramatic Society and directed musicals. It was during this time when I realized that I was spending much more time making theatre than actual studying, I pursued theatre professionally. I went to the National Theatre School of Canada in Production Design and Technical Arts Program graduating in 2017 while working in Toronto during the summers. I came to the Grand in 2017 as the Apprentice Technical Director and a few years later, was happy to accept the role of Technical Director. I also love taking the opportunity to sound and lighting design when I can.
Lauren Rebelo
I got my Bachelor of Arts in Media, Information & Technoculture at Western, but during my undergrad found myself spending most of my hours doing backstage theatre work for fun. A few years after graduating I realized I could turn theatre into a career, so I went to Fanshawe and studied Theatre Arts Technical Production. Through Fanshawe I met Paul - the former Technical Director for the Grand and I was absolutely fascinated hearing about his job. Within a few months I became one of his apprentices, and never left!

What has been your most challenging production to-date thus far as technical requirements go?

Daniel Bennett
Mary Poppins was the most challenging show I have worked on to date. Mary Poppins hinges on the ‘magic’ such as her flying, going up the chimney, and the collapsing kitchen. As Technical Directors, our team is responsible for making that magic happen so there was a lot of logistic planning. Negotiating physical theatre space between all of the departments (i.e. sound, lighting, projection, set etc.) was exceptionally challenging and exacting. Part of my role is creating the Ground Plan and Section drawings which show the overhead and side views of the stage and how it fits together. Generating the drawings for this show took A LOT of time.
Lauren Rebelo
I got to take the lead on the wonderfully ambitious production of Cabaret on the McManus stage. We really pushed the limits of what had been done in that space, meaning I got to learn A LOT, but I've never been more proud of the work we did and what we achieved.

We are in the business of telling stories, so tell us something we wouldn’t know (if you hadn’t told us)!

Daniel Bennett
If you were not a TD, you would never suspect how much math there is! Between figuring out the loads that set piece place on our grid, crunching budget numbers, looking at the spread of projector lenses on a surface, there are numbers everywhere you look.

Editors note: Daniel is also an amazing figure skater, he can play the piano like nobody’s business and we’ve all seen his dance moves during the PRIDE parades! Amazing!
Lauren Rebelo
A big part of our job is ensuring safety for everyone involved in a production. This means that we are heavily involved in research and rehearsal for a lot of the special effects you see on stage, and sometimes we are the first to try things out. For our production of Mary Poppins last season I got to be a stand-in for flying rehearsals and let the stage crew practise sending me up into the air. I was far less graceful than Mary but it was fun!

What are you most looking forward to upon return to the theatre post COVID?

Daniel Bennett
I am most excited to gather with talented creators again. I am an extrovert and my role as TD is managerial in nature – I thrive in the collaboration between designers, directors and technical artists. I miss the sense of community. I miss the audience reactions. I miss finding solutions. I am hopeful that we’ll be back again (relatively) soon and can’t wait for that day!
Lauren Rebelo
The palpable excitement of hundreds of people in a theatre collectively experiencing the magic we've created on stage for them!
Support the Grand

471 Richmond St.

London, ON N6A 3E4