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Theatre Journal 52.2 (2000) 295-297

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Book Review

Structural Design for the Stage

Structural Design for the Stage. By Alys E. Holden and Bronislaw J. Sammler. Woburn: Focal Press, 1999; pp. 320. $44.95 paper.

Book-length treatments of advanced topics in technical theatre are rare, and practitioners needing serious insight into the field have come to rely on sources originating outside their own industry. This is especially true for the analysis and design of the structural elements of stage scenery. While [End Page 295] good technical designers certainly make use of the empirical traditions of their craft, the best know to look beyond rules of thumb for answers to engineering problems. Structural Design for the Stage by Alys Holden and Bronislaw Sammler is the first book to reach well beyond traditionally available stagecraft texts and present a systematic approach to structural design using methods consistent with those in the field of engineering. The authors have designed a text for instruction at the graduate level that brings many of the far-flung resources that technicians occasionally consult and synthesizes these with practical examples using the materials and methods common to theatre and scenic construction.

Holden and Sammler are successful in providing what they state as the purpose for this book. That is, a "firm foundation in structural engineering allows a technical designer to explore viable alternatives as well as providing paradigms of thinking about structural systems" (1). This foundation is based on two principles, first that the technical designer must be able to analyze and quantify the loads on the scenery she designs, and second, that she then apply that knowledge in her choices as part of the structural design process. While this mathematically-based topic might seem daunting to many technicians, the authors offer a careful non-calculus based discussion of engineering statics and strength of materials that is appropriate to its audience in that it grants them their knowledge of theatrical construction techniques. While classroom-based presentation suits the material best, both student and professional technical designers will likely continue to consult this valuable resource throughout their careers.

Structural Design for the Stage is organized similarly to many introductory structures texts aimed at architects and builders in residential and commercial construction. The authors begin with a discussion of statics and stress analysis for beams in chapters two and three, then move into the geometric properties of structural shapes in the fourth chapter. At this point, the focus moves rapidly to the structural design process, splitting that by the choice of materials: chapters five, six, and seven detail the design process for wooden beams, columns, and combined loading members respectively; chapters eight through ten discuss the same processes for fabrication in steel; all use the method of Allowable Stress Design. Truss design is covered in chapter eleven, and it is interesting to note that cable systems, structural tools commonly employed in theatre, are detailed together with trusses, presumably as their design shares a common analytic technique. The final chapter discusses the use of plywood in theatrical structures. This includes thorough coverage of panel grades and their relation to design values and is followed by procedures for design of uniformly loaded plywood decking and stressed skin panels.

Theatre technicians are collectors of miscellanea, and as a result, the appendices included with the text are almost worth the cost of the book alone. This end-matter represents a substantial set of reference material for both practicing theatre technicians and students. Among the most useful are a review of relevant math, principally the algebra, geometry, and trigonometry, necessary to navigate the examples and problems in the text; a listing of commonly used formulas used in the solution of beam analysis problems; diagrams and formulas of the geometric properties of structural shapes; reference values for sawn lumber and plywood design; reference values for steel design-including pipe, mechanical and structural tubing, angles, and channels (design values for steel I-beams are not included); and solutions for the even-numbered problems in the text. Like the appendices at the end, the "Concept Boxes" and "Math Notes" found...


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