ETC Rigging™ raises the bar on safety at Montana middle school

The rigging system in Helena Middle School’s 1,065-seat theater was in need of major repair to ensure safety. It had rope rigging equipment with original wood blocks that dated back to the 1930’s, five counterweight systems with wire guides from the 1950’s, and12 motorized yo-yo-style winches that had been installed in the 1970’s. Some parts of the system were even handmade. While the theater and its equipment had been well maintained through the years, the equipment no longer met current industry standards and posed potential safety hazards. ETC Prodigy® motorized hoists brought the theater up to code and provided safe, affordable and compact rigging solutions.

“Helena Middle School had been nursing their system along for years,” explains Steven Hagen of Secoa, an ETC dealer. Kevin Bieganek, owner and operator of Midwest Theatrical Concepts, performed an inspection on the rigging system and concluded that while some of the equipment might have lasted a few years longer, enough of it needed replacing that the system should be fully upgraded.

Secoa began looking for the best rigging solution for the school, but the theater’s size posed a problem. ETC Prodigy hoists feature Powerheads that are one-half the weight of other systems, making them the perfect fit for Helena Middle School. “We helped design a system to replace what they had and went through cost/benefit analysis,” says Hagen. “We looked at other manufacturers – including ourselves – but the only product that would go in, without major venue upgrades and a substantial amount of structural work, was ETC Prodigy.” Eighteen Prodigy hoists were ultimately installed – four of them for over-stage electrics, and the remaining are used to raise a movie screen and scenic elements.

Beam spacing at the venue posed another challenge: theaters usually have 10 feet of space between beams, but Helena Middle School’s beams are spaced 15 feet apart. Even though the Prodigy hoists’ compression tube system is designed for a maximum span of 14 feet, Secoa was able to work with ETC Senior Technical Product Manager Harvey Sweet to come up with a solution. Because of the strength and flexibility of the Prodigy system, Secoa was able to install normal pipe battens without having to add major structural steel to the building.

The Prodigy hoists allowed Secoa to reuse the existing raceways for the over-stage electrics, saving even more on installation costs. Says ETC Field Service Engineer Joel Furmanek: “An electrical remodel was done ten years ago and was still in good shape, so we could reinstall the raceways onto the new hoists.”

The installation was done in record time. Because the theater is booked more than 150 days per year – for events ranging from school activities, student shows and classes, to touring shows, dance performances, and other community presentations – trying to find time to do an installation this large was difficult. But, the ETC Rigging system installation went so smoothly that it only took Midwest Theatrical Concepts two weeks to complete. Says Hagen: “It got done in such a short amount of time, thanks to ETC being able to build the equipment and us being able to install that fast. The entire project, from beginning to end, was only two and a half months.” The rigging system got its first workout at a show on February 5th, 2011.

Gary Barker, stage and technical director for the theater, sums up the project: “The Prodigy hoists work really well and they’re operator-friendly.” Bieganek agrees: “ETC is right on track with their rigging products. They’re easy to understand, install and operate. After seeing what the Helena Middle School Theater was before this installation and after, I’m proud to have been a part of making it a safe, productive space for everyone to use for years to come.”

For more information on Prodigy hoists and other ETC Rigging products, visit


Helena Middle School, Montana

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“ETC is right on track with their rigging products. They’re easy to understand, install and operate. After seeing what the Helena Middle School Theater was before this installation and after, I’m proud to have been a part of making it a safe, productive space for everyone to use for years to come.”
-- Kevin Bieganek, owner and operator, Midwest Theatrical Concepts

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