Monday, March 3, 2014

Scenic Designs by Glenn Davis

Throughout the year I have the opportunity to create numerous scenic designs for our main stage at Willow Creek Church. It’s very humbling and exciting to play a part of such large projects that introduces art in such a large scale to our audience. Shown here are a few of the scenic projects that I created in 2013.  My hope is that God will be glorified in everything I do..

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Rigging Made Easy: Crimping Tools and Swages by Glenn Davis

The way I see it the stage world just looks better when you have more options toward supporting or flying scenery. At Willow Creek Church, suspending scenery is very common. At times, we may create over 100- 32’x 1/16” cable drops to suspend a certain weekend look that weighs a few thousand pounds. Even though it’s a lot of detailed work with the risk involved, I’m comfortable at the frequency of the process.  Creating cable ends with aircraft cable doesn’t have to be scary stuff. It can be quick and reliable when properly using the correct techniques, crimping tool and hardware. Let’s unpack some information and quickly eliminate some of your fears.



There are many great crimping tools on the market including the hand swage tools, cordless and hydraulic. One of my favorite crimping tools for under $300 is the bench model crimper. Http:// I’ve used this model for several years, and it consistently produces a great crimp every time. It is reasonably priced, convenient and reliable making it the best choice toward a crimping tool in my opinion. For cutting aircraft cable, you will need cutters that are designed for cutting this type of cable. There are many to choose from small to large. I use the smaller cable cutters for most of the 1/16” and 1/8” cables and the larger cable cutters for any size bigger. It’s best not to use a grinder to cut the cable because of the heat that is generated by grinding the cable will distort the metal properties in the cable that could cause failure. Now with all that said, I think we all have met the guy who isn’t prepared to waste his hard earned dollars on the right tools, getting by with using a bench vice, pliers, hammer or teeth. J Let me say this with your best interest in mind, those methods may cost nearly nothing but guarantees failure when the cable is pushed to the limits. Always use the correct crimping and cutting tools for your cable and swages.



There are three styles of swages, also called sleeves or ferrules, in common use; round swages are used for cable end stops; oval and double barrel swages are used to make a cable end loop. The double barrel is my favorite and most used swage. It keeps the cables in their proper places while crimping. All three swages are available in a variety of cable sizes and materials such as aluminum, copper, zinc plated and stainless steel. There has been many a discussion on which swage holds better under a shock load, copper swages or aluminum swages. From my experience and research the copper swages are shown to hold up better under a shock load, but both are equal under load weight. Depending on the applications aluminum and copper are used the most for indoor applications and zinc coated and stainless steel are used for outdoor use. Bear in mind, using two dissimilar metals or the wrong kind of swage material for outdoor use can set up a corrosive reaction resulting in failure in a short period of time. Remember corrosion can also happen by wrapping tape around the swage and cable. Tape is a no no..


Remember, always be aware of your responsibility toward creating a safe environment and improving upon those rigging skills. In the next article, we will discuss thimbles and crimping techniques.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Rigging Made Easy: Cable Gliders and Aircraft Cable by Glenn Davis

I’ve been hearing a lot lately from individuals who are working hard at scenic creativity that are disappointed there is very little information toward tips on rigging and rigging hardware. Almost every scenic project requires the suspension of some sort of scenic element that echoes back scary and dangerous.  Which leads me to the question that all of us ask sometime in our scenic life, why does suspension of scenery have to be so hard?  It’s consistently clear that gravity always seems to demonstrate why it is the most powerful force in the universe.  And if that were not enough to deal with, our  funny little brain is designed to repeat whatever we’ve already done and prefer it that way, even if you’re doing things the hard way. Scenic life can be soooo stressful!   

Consistently invest in yourself, constantly improving your skills, techniques and knowledge of hardware accessories will make life so much easier. In addition, it can lower cost and save you time. In the past several years there have been significant improvements toward hardware. Here are a few of my favorites.

One approach that helps with the rigging challenge is with the use of gripper gliders and aircraft cable.  Using the combination creates the illusion that a heavy scenic piece is freely floating, unanchored by gravity. Cable gliders and aircraft cable are designed to improve our rigging endeavors toward suspending and adjusting heights much easier.   

We frequently use aircraft cable to suspend scenery from the fly system battens. The stranded steel core adds strength and flexibility to the cable. Aircraft cable is classified by the number of strands in the cable multiplied by the number of wires in each strand. For example, the notation 7x7 indicates that the cable has seven strands made up of seven wires in each strand. We use 1/16” 7x7 black coated galvanized aircraft cable for most of our scenic needs and 1/8” 7x19 black coated galvanized aircraft cable for much heavier projects. Be sure to check with the manufacturer specs on the breaking strength and factor the 5:1 ratio. As an example, if 1/16” cable is rated 480 LBS breaking strength, divide 5 into 480, 96 LBS is the dynamic weight limit for that cable. If your scenic piece weighs 120 LBS, you would need two 1/16” aircraft cables to support the weight.  I will go into detail of creating cable ends using swages, thimbles and crimping tools in the next article. Here is a link to a great company I purchase our aircraft cable and rigging supplies from.  Http://

One of my most used hardware in rigging is cable gliders. A glider is a gripping mechanism for aircraft cable that locks onto the cable by ball bearings and can be easily move anywhere on the cable by pressing the quick release plunger. You can adjust a fraction of an inch or by any length. This makes hanging scenery quick, accurate and saves a lot of frustration toward repositioning something zillions of times. Just as aircraft cable, gliders are rated by the breaking strength of the glider with the 5:1 ratio to be applied. As an example, if the glider is rated at 300 LBS breaking strength then the dynamic weight limit is 60 LBS. Here is a link to a variety of gliders from.

Hopefully you will see this article as beginning steps toward  doing the right amount of research before doing something yourself. Skimping on hardware or not doing something proper is dumb and could kill someone. As a church we want to lead people to heaven, inadvertently, we don’t want to hand them an express ticket.  Remember, safety is the most important thing.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Stage Managers Are Super Heroes by Glenn Davis

Stage Managers Are Super Heroes   

If you were to ask people attending a weekend service or event, “When or how did a live scene change on stage in the dark?” Most people would not have a clue. Unnoticed and in charge of more things than anyone else in a live production, is one of the most valuable production individuals on the team, the Stage Manager. They are the Black Ops commander of the stage. They are so top secret; most individuals that attend a church service see them rarely. Very few know that a SM has super night vision capability, able to see in pitch blackness in order to move scenery to a destination. They are able to leap from behind a curtain in a split second, like a stealth bomber, dropping an arsenal of fresh batteries in a wireless microphone and disappear. They refer to pieces of equipment like they were people with feelings. Who are these unsung individuals that protect our domestic and foreign stage soils?


We all genuinely love seeing all of the different pieces of a weekend service or event come together. But without the help and support of a skilled SM the chances of success is highly unlikely. Most Production and Programming teams have the opportunity to see close hand the hard work that these gifted, dedicated individuals do toward crafting a seamless service but yet go unnoticed.  Their weekly actions, approach and “can do” attitude inspires us all. Amid the mayhem of live situations, they are still able to provide practical and organizational support toward the pastors, worship team and performing arts team.


It’s a pretty intimidating job when you think about it. They coordinate communication between all parties. Help individuals to be ready to move on or off stage in a timely manner. Move scenery and props in a live situation. Supervise safety, lock, unlock doors and manage break times. Sweep, mop and manage a crew of volunteers. Gaff label everything with amusing labels and strike a whole truck load of things after service. I once heard that a stage manager died, went to St Peter’s gates to talk to Peter when a blackout occurred for about 15 seconds.  When the lights came back on, the gates were struck, and Peter was gone. They do an incredible job toward detail, staying calm and focused.


One thing I’ve learned over the years, you listen to the stage manager and you do what they say. They have very little sympathy toward any lame excuses. They were there way early in the morning before anyone was there and they will be late leaving, hours after everyone leaves.  Beware! Any excuse or messing with an SM will cause them to devise a secret plan for your physical harm. Remember, they are superheroes with cunningness and brute strength, able to lift tall buildings and walks under them. Let’s show our respect, appreciation and attention to these unsung heroes. Take time today to tell them how much you appreciate them.


Things you won’t hear a stage manager say.

1.       I think Godly thoughts when someone screams in my wireless in-ear Comm.

2.       Can you construct the props beefy and heavier?

3.       Casters, who needs casters! 

4.       I love scene changes, let’s add one more.

5.       You can use my gaff tape any time you want.

6.       I love wearing black clothing so much, that’s all I shop for.

7.       Spiking the stage, are you kidding me? That’s a waste of tape.

8.       Scenic is more important, go ahead and block stage entrances we’ll work around them.

9.       You have 1 minute before you go on stage, go ahead and take that potty break. 

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Safety Toward Rigging by Glenn Davis

I read an article recently that said, “Gravity is a contributing factor in nearly all accidents involving fallen objects.” Even though, that is a pretty humorous statement, the fact is it takes a lot of overwhelming work to overcome gravity. When it comes to rigging “probably” or “maybe” safe, is not the most reassuring words either. Things fall down unless we take preventive steps to prevent them from doing so. Rigging suspended scenery, truss, lighting, curtains and screens depend on top quality hardware, materials and the know-how.  Knowing the basic structural properties of any materials used for rigging is critical to understand. Safety, reliable training, inspection, personal responsibility and efficiency are high values we must hold to.

The biggest challenge and what will actually be the back bone of rigging is being aware of trustworthy hardware and the working load limits. Buy rigging hardware from companies that specialize in rigging is essential. Most of their web sites have a detailed description of the hardware and its load rating. Stay away from buying rigging hardware look-a-likes at a local lumber company. They are not safe for overhead use.

Knowing the breaking strength of materials, the weight of scenery flown and the correct construction techniques are just as valuable. If you’re not for sure of the breaking strength, do a controlled test.  Using quality wood that have few knots and the correct grain structure is a crucial something to be aware of as well. All wooden frame scenery that will be flown has to be constructed with rigging in mind in order to take the stress and load.  The use of wood glue, screws instead of nails and bolts with washers is a good safe practice.  It’s the responsibility of the scenic carpenter and scenic designer to use the right materials, fasteners and added attention to make sure it is constructed properly to eliminate any failure. Make it a point before any object is flown check all rigging points, hardware and the weight of scenery matched with the appropriate ratings. Routine inspections of hardware and materials should be done often. Include discussing safety plans with your stage team if something were to fail so your team will know how to respond.

For churches that have a line batten systems, having designated trained individuals that knows what to inspection and how to properly use, the line batten system is a must. Scenery changes during a live event can involve moving a ton of weight vertically, in a matter of a few seconds. Some common knowledge among your team should be, know the lifting capacity of your line battens. Never stand under counter weighting or under scenery when hoisting. Call out “clear the rail or area” before loading or hoisting and to wait for a response that it is “clear” from individuals close to those areas.

When using secondary rigging such as motorized chain hoists know how much each chain hoist can safely lift and equally important, how much the hoist attachment point can support. Have your hoist inspected and tested periodically.

No one should do stage rigging until they have been thoroughly trained. Never risk the life of someone based on probably or maybe safe. If you intend to hang heavy objects over people’s heads, please value doing it correctly. Visit, or for video tips on rigging and scenic construction in the weeks to come.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

COH Scenic Design 2011

As a scenic designer, it’s always exciting to be involved in creating a beautiful set that is new and significant for a series. 

Recently, I had the opportunity to design and construct a scenic set for a “three week series” called Celebration of Hope.  During this series, attention was focused on the compassion and justice needs of the poverty stricken in the community and through out the third world with shelter being a key focus.

The challenge in creating this set was showing a representation toward the need for shelter but also create an environment for celebration. In the past several months, thousands of Willow families, staff and volunteers have given countless hours toward serving the needy and had given enormous amounts of financial assistance to help eradicate poverty. Designing a set that was both abstract and surrealistic helped us to achieve the proper balance.

The set materials were made from thin cedar wood siding, red corrugated vinyl, weathered wood from old storage pallets, bamboo poles, rope and 1” pink foam. The entire set was rigged from line sets and supported with 1/16” aircraft cables and gliders.

To create the “third world feel” and “representation of shelter” there were several techniques involved. The cedar siding was left unpainted, ripped apart and randomly placed in a vertical line. The corrugated red vinyl was lightly sprayed with watered down gray paint to resemble rusty tin and were randomly cut and assembled. The weather boards were randomly attached to the back side of the vinyl to protrude out. The use of two inch diameter rope was a notable addition and was placed above each element to give the impression that it was holding it up. 160 one inch bamboo poles were assembled to form three back wall layers. The foam was painted brown, cut eight inch widths and hot glued together to form the upper appearance of roof lines.

Once the scenic elements where in place it became the lighting designers project to enhance the texture and dimension of materials with help from a pallet of gobos, effects and color. The conventional rig comprised of SGM Giotto 400 washes, Martin 2k’s, Vari-Lite 3000 spots and floor support from the Robes LT Series, swaths of saturated color made the larger-than scale scenic environment exceedingly warm and significant. There were times it only took a gesture of light at a side angle or steep angle that made the difference in the world turning the stage into an art form.

The use of video was an excellent addition that helped foster more possibilities toward creativity instead of just static scenery for three weeks. Two 162”x 95” screens allowed for a 16 x 9 video format and two 12k Barco projectors showed the audience the quality and quantity of large-scale color photographs so believable that the screen seemed to disappear.

Strategically placing scenery for several different camera angles can be a challenge. Several layers of scenery were purposely place to add depth and dimension. Captured by camera for IMAG it created a realistic visual experience for 25,000 individuals that attended each weekend.
Scenic design is a powerful tool that can change the way we view things. It’s essential to spend valuable time on things that will have a redeeming experience. In summary, the key to any successful scenic project is to know the content, uncompromising attention to detail, careful preparation, staying within budget and keeping on schedule for execution. This project followed those guidelines and delivered an unmatched quality, consistency and value that provided a visual cohesion and framed an experience that many will remember. It’s a pretty cool moment when you create a meaningful design that comes to life for the first time knowing it will impact many individuals. A gift offered to God.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A Production Team's Adventure in a Third World Country

Dear friends,
Have you ever dreamed of adventure, doing something that counts with your life, helping people to learn new skills and develop strong friendships along the way while encountering your faith with God? On February 17-22 that dream became a reality for the four of us from the production department at Willow Creek, South Barrington. We had an amazing opportunity to partner with two churches, “ICAS and ICC,” in the Dominican Republic. Not only did we have the opportunity to work along side their team installing new equipment for lighting but we were also able to give extensive leadership training and open dialogue with their staff and volunteers. At the end of the day many commented to us and each other that they were so glad that we had come and that the training was outstanding and edifying; learning things that they had never been taught before. I must say it was a celebration for us all to see and experience how God is working through them.
So many incredible things happened on the mission trip that are so difficult to explain. For three of us, this was the first time we’ve visited the Dominican Republic. The city of Santo Domingo and the location of both churches is a complicated and vibrant place. Ironically, within a block or two of these churches there are portions of the city that are wealthy and clean; however, the unbelievably poor sections are side-by-side with the wealthy areas. The streets are lined with vehicles ranging from expensive automobiles carrying nicely dressed business men, to poor ragged street urchins pedaling rusty bicycles carrying case loads of fruit, looking ready to fall apart at any time. As we walked but only a few steps from the ICAS church we saw first hand the deplorable poverty. Many were in small one-room 6’ x 8’structures with dirt floors and cement walls. Most do not have any government assistance. No clean water, no sewerage system, no educational system and no food assistance. People stared at us with a combination of curiosity mixed with a bit of caution. Greeting us was the children who seemed to huddle closer to us, starring up at us with large brown eyes and ear-to-ear grins on their faces. I’m inspired and marvel at both ICC and ICAS energy, effort and focus toward caring for people that do not have much respect or hope. When the church service started we began to see a sea of people swarming the streets around the area of the church grounds, you begin to reflect upon the simple love of God and the poorest of the poor. Seeing ICC and ICAS engaged in all sorts of ministries that serve directly to the needs of the poor within their neighborhood and within the homeless population is awe-inspiring.

Can God use your gifts anywhere… you just have to say yes. Going on such short term mission trips like these does change you, the way you view life and even your likes and dislikes are likely to change. It’s funny how God will stretch you. Then about the time you’ve recovered, He does it again. It never gets easier, it just gets crazier. But yeah, that’s adventure. The surprising part is how you find yourself getting hooked on the uncomfortable. We arrived at 11pm in Chicago, very tired but elated, celebrating what we learned and the ways God used our team to make an eternal impact on the lives of so many. There were some tears and there was hope expressed that we would return again. The impact and friendship we made those six days will never be forgotten. It was one of the most fruitful mission trips I have ever experienced.

Short-term mission trips are a powerful way to have your eyes opened, and your faith strengthened, and you soul refreshed! What could be more invigorating and life-changing than stepping out of your culture; your safety-zone to do something for Christ?