ALGOR, IncALGOR, Inc Click Here For Printer Friendly VersionALGOR, Inc
In order to make a platform with two front-corner wings appear as if it was floating, Yale School of Drama graduate student Andrew Plumer created this 3-D beam design (upper left) with ALGOR’s Superdraw III finite element modeling tool and then performed linear static stress analysis on it (lower right) to verify its sturdiness. (Model courtesy of Andrew Plumer, Yale University School of Drama.)


In the theater, realistic scenery helps actors bring an author’s work to life by placing them in the world of the story. What would A Midsummer Night’s Dream be without a forest, or Romeo and Juliet without a balcony? Students in the Yale University School of Drama’s Master of Fine Arts (MFA) program for Technical Design and Production learn how to apply technology to the art of simulating dramatic settings. With only eight weeks to work on each production, students must budget for, draft and build designs that unite technical and aesthetic concerns to best represent surroundings for the players. In order to streamline the design workflow, Yale students use ALGOR software to model and analyze their designs.

For a production of The People vs. The God of Vengeance staged in the Yale Repertory Theatre in Spring 2000, MFA student Andrew Plumer faced the challenge of creating a platform that appeared to be floating, with a wide center section and a wing in each of the front corners of the stage. "The scenic designer [Tobin Ost] didn’t really want to see any support structure," Plumer said. "And the tricky part is that the only way in and out of the Repertory Theatre is through a door that’s 4 feet by 9 feet, 6 inches – every piece of the set has to fit through that door, so it’s not all one, solid piece."

Plumer learned to use the ALGOR software for Windows NT workstations, as well as AutoCAD modeling software, in his program’s biannual Finite Element Analysis (FEA) class. For this project, he created an FEA model consisting solely of 3-D beam elements with ALGOR’s Superdraw III finite element model-building tool. Plumer then performed linear static stress analysis on several design iterations.
The platform for The People vs. The God of Vengeance spanned the stage and included a wing in each front corner, and it was constructed and lit to appear as if the entire structure were floating. "It was largely successful once it was lit for the performance. You couldn’t really see the legs from the audience," according to platform designer Andrew Plumer. (Photo courtesy of Eugene Yang.)

The main design consideration was for the weight of the structure. The platform and substructure had to be lightweight for construction manageability and because most of the material would be suspended to simulate floating, but they still needed to be sturdy so actors would feel safe and the structure would not collapse.

Plumer explained that, "Optimization is a new science to theater engineering," when describing the loading applied to this design. On this platform there would be at most four performers, two in the center and two on either of the wings for a fairly even weight distribution. The design criterion used was L-over-360 for deflection in the center of the span, and Plumer anticipated 300 pounds on the wings and 300 pounds per person at various locations in the center, using distributed loads to mimic the pounds-per-square-foot loading he needed to exert on the structure.

Plumer considered the worst stresses and the deflection in evaluating analysis results for the worst scenario. His final model predominantly used 1½" by 1½" by 16-gauge steel box tube for the upper platform, 2" or 3" by 1/8" long structural steel box tube for anything vertical and smaller trussing members of 1" or 1½" steel box tube to fit between the structure’s legs. "There was a center span with four independent trusses bolted together with cross trusses; two side ‘wings’, which were separate pieces about a foot thick each; and the superstructure, legs and such, with four or five pieces for each side of the stage, all bolted and welded together on site. The structure’s total weight was about 2000 pounds."
This black and white composite shows scenes from The People vs. The God of Vengeance arranged to illustrate how Plumer’s platform seemed to be floating over the stage for the performance. (Background photo courtesy of Eugene Yang; superimposed performance photos, stage and platform levels, courtesy of T. Charles Erickson.)

In regard to how ALGOR helped him design the "floating" platform for The People vs. The God of Vengeance, Plumer said, "It was largely successful once it was lit for the performance. You couldn’t really see the legs from the audience." He also said that ALGOR aided him in designing theatrical sets able to be loaded through the narrow doorways so often found in theaters. "ALGOR helps you break set designs down into manageable pieces – I think no one piece weighed more than a couple hundred pounds."

© Copyright 2011 Autodesk, Inc. All rights reserved.   Privacy Policy —  Legal Notices & Trademarks —  Report Piracy