The excitement of being a circus artist doing aerial performance gives us a lot of adrenaline and keeps us coming back to train harder than we knew was possible. One part of this fun art form that is often overlooked is the safety of the rigging and this can quite literally be the weakest link in not only your training but your whole career so it’s vital, let me reiterate, utterly, beyond doubt, super majorly important to be hyper aware of safety so that you can continue to perform, train or teach without setback. There are books and workshops on rigging safety and we have some resources at the end of the article. Here are some things you absolutely want to check before getting on your apparatus.
The last line of defense is how knowledgeable and attentive you are for your own safety! If you’re travelling and in new spaces or never check in your regular space, you need to cool your jets and bone up on your rigging terminology and technical prowess!
Is the beam secure? Don’t hang from a tree or weak wooden beam! Steel beams are secure. Take time to look and see what is holding you up.
Ask when the most recent rigging check was done. Don’t just assume it’s been done. Are you a timid person or new to the scene? Don’t be shy now, speak directly and make absolute sure it’s been checked by a professional. There should be a rigging inspection log you can see.
Give yourself extra safety with a crash pad, don’t be cheap. Wait until you have a real high quality crash pad to train (not a mattress in someone’s backyard).
For each apparatus, know what rigging you should have. For instance, for a tissue, you should have two carabiners, a swivel and a forged ring that are all in good condition and if there’s a pulley system, it also should be in good condition. Your eye isn’t trained and shouldn’t replace a real rigging check. Always check that the carabiners are locked, not damaged, not stuck open or closed, not cross loaded or overloaded.
There should be no holes in tissu. Holes larger than a nickel shouldn’t be sewn, the fabric is ready to be recycled.
All trainers should be trained by a certified rigger yearly. For instance, if you’re going to take a class, ask the trainer what rigger they trained with. If they can’t answer your question or brush you off, that’s not a good sign. Even if they took a class once, they need refreshers (think about CPR certifications right?).
You should know what a proper rig looks like and have a rigger walk you through everything. Just because someone says they know what they're doing doesn’t mean they haven’t overlooked something or aren’t overconfident. Don’t worry about coming across as rude when it’s about your safety, double check people’s work. You can read “Introduction to Rigging: Aerialist Essentials,” and “Stage Rigging Handbook,” to increase your understanding of the nuances of the equipment. You may also want to take a workshop from pros like Brett Copes and Jonathan Duell. There are blogs dedicated to rigging safety you so can read much more in depth! Peruse the web and familiarize yourself with the language and equipment.
We know ego’s can show up in the performance space but they shouldn’t get in the way of our safety. Make it your mission to help protect other artists and encourage them to learn about safe rigging and check wherever they go to! We are a circus community and need to support each other where it matters most!