IA Stage emerges from behind the curtain
by Michael Oliver
From dark rides to immersive experiences, from theme parks to museums, haunted attractions, resorts, pop-ups and more, themed entertainment is dominated by the desire to tell a story. Little wonder that many in the themed entertainment world come to it with a theater background, from a world whose heart and soul is presenting the narrative in dramatic form and in real time. Little wonder, as well, that there are companies with a foot in each world, bringing their experience and expertise to serve both markets. One such company is InterAmerica Stage Inc. (IA Stage).
Located roughly 25 miles northeast of downtown Orlando, IA Stage has, since its inception in 1989, and without a great deal of fanfare, been working with many of the major players in themed entertainment, providing them with some of the most advanced stage equipment on the market, from overhead rigging and specialized stage machinery, to show action equipment, structural design and engineering services.
Mark Black, Founder and CEO of IA Stage, explained that his company became active in themed entertainment when clients sought him out during the company’s first years in business. “In the early ‘90s, I was approached to provide rigging services and equipment at a major theme park in Central Florida,” says Mark. “We accepted the offer and quickly became well-known, earning a reputation for being safe, efficient, accurate, and hardworking. We were soon present on all properties in the area on a daily basis.”
Connecting with ATL
In recent years, IA Stage has stepped up its visibility in the themed entertainment industry by participating in the Attractions Technology Lab (ATL). The raison d’etre of ATL is to showcase the tech components of themed experiences – and the collaborative nature of the industry – via working demonstrations of rides and attractions. Open to industry professionals, ATL events are scheduled around relevant trade shows for the convenience of those traveling to attend. (For more on the Attractions Technology Lab see InPark Magazine, Issue #96, “Full Access to the Toy Box,” April 2023.)
The next iteration of ATL will take place November 10-17, 2023, at Oceaneering Entertainment Systems in Orlando. IA Stage will be well represented there, featuring its SkyAscend™ self-climbing hoists and PL600 projector lifts. “Themed environment designers and consultants; technical staff; operators and managers; technology companies and influencers in the attractions industry should make a point of visiting,” says Mark.
IA Stage’s involvement with the ATL “started a few years ago when Christie and Alcorn McBride needed some rigging for their ATL at the ‘church’ [a workspace that formerly was a church, now used as a screening and demo room at Alcorn McBride],” says Mark. “We provided the rigging equipment and labor. That first rig included the motors that are still being used in the ‘church’ for demonstrations.”
The founding members of ATL are Alcorn McBride, Christie, Garner Holt Productions, Oceaneering and Weigl Controls. Mark says that being part of this group “feels like graduating to a new level. We had been recognized as serious riggers by venue owners, operation managers, design teams and so forth. Now we are being accepted as a helpful resource that all founding and associate firms involved with ATL and the industry it serves can depend on.” Being part of ATL helps IA Stage clarify to colleagues and potential clients the wide range of products and services available from the company. “We do a lot of different things and that certainly fills our days with new challenges and with pride!”
Top IA Stage products for themed entertainment
According to Mark, IA Stage products or services typically in demand for themed attractions include the following:
- Black masking drapes. “It goes without saying that you don’t want a park-goer to see what goes on behind the curtains. It would ruin the magic! IA Stage has installed miles of masking drapes.”
- Acoustic isolation and sound absorbing flexible panels and drapes. “In an immersive ride, it is imperative that audience members never hear the sounds of the machinery that help create the immersive environment. At IA Stage, we create and install sound absorbing panels and drapes that negate these sounds and aid in the fully immersive experience.”
- Show action doors. “These are the mechanized divisions often found between dark ride scenes. If it needs to fly in, fly out, drop, shake, twist, talk, or spit fire, IA Stage can engineer, fabricate, and install top-quality show action equipment. We’re a UL508A certified industrial control panel shop.”
- Hoists and winches of all kinds. “We manufacture fully customizable ANSI-E1.6 compliant hoists in our Central Florida facility. You’ll see chandelier hoists and lighting palettes in the themed entertainment industry, as well as motorized projector lifts.”
- SkyDeck™ wire tension grid “provides safe maintenance access and fall protection for dark rides.”
- Installation and commissioning of millions of dollars’ worth of animated figures. “We started out as a rigging company, and specialty rigging is our…well, it’s our specialty! We’re proud to employ ETPC certified riggers, and we can move objects of any size and shape – from an F-20 jet to delicate Chihuly hanging glass sculptures – safely and respectfully.”
- Structural support. “IA Stage specializes in designing, fabricating, and installing structural support systems for lifts, props, catwalks, and many other pieces of equipment. Our team designs, engineers, fabricates, and installs secondary steel into facility structures for a multitude of clients. In concert with this we also provide the facilities’ structural engineers with all of the load and connection information necessary for them to integrate into a new or existing facility.”
- Safety systems. “I can’t stress the need for safety in the entertainment industry enough. Fall protection is still among the top ten frequently cited OSHA violations each year. Did you know that IA Stage is an authorized dealer of Tractel products? They provide world-class safety solutions for working-at-height, too.
Above all else, safety
Safety is one of the highest priorities for IA Stage and the company’s two primary markets (theater and themed entertainment). There is overlap, but each market has its particular needs.
“Whether we’re rigging for themed attractions or theater productions, the skills and knowledge required are quite similar,” he says. “The materials and techniques used in providing scenery and masking draperies also share many similarities.” Necessarily, “as we are working above an audience, performer, or a theme park goer, we look to safety above all else,” says Mark. “In fact, this slogan has become a key tagline for us – ‘Safety Above All Else!’”
The nature of the space and how it is used changes the approach and complexity when it comes to ensuring safety.
Guests walk or ride through an attractions space, putting humans and equipment into proximity in ways that don’t generally happen in conventional theater. Notes Mark, “Theme park machinery is designed to meet much higher engineering and safety standards, particularly when it involves rides.”
Mark cites the following as contributions to IA Stage’s outstanding safety record:
- SkyDeck™. “First and foremost, SkyDeck™ is a woven wire working surface that replaces catwalks and in many cases the need for fall protection. We have installed over 300 SkyDeck™ modular tension wire grid systems worldwide. It really is about Safety Above All Else.”
- Automatic railings along ride tracks. “The railings are there to protect our clients and their guests during ride loading or emergency evac situations. For example, the railings automatically move to safeguard the ride track.”
- Large projector lifts. “An example is our PL-600. This is an OS (Overhead Safety) rated lift with a 600-lbs lift capacity made for overhead use in rides or places where people are below.”
- SkyAscend™. “Our Overhead Safety rated self-climbing hoist, SkyAscend™, is equipped with a pantograph, so it can be safely brought down to floor level for maintenance and such. No ladders required and your feet never leave the ground. We make them in many configurations, and they can be used in dark rides or auditoriums alike.”
- Safety netting. “We’ve worked with the theme parks to provide safety netting, whether in a simple handrail application or ride safety netting, which prevents loose objects and curious hands from affecting the safe operations of a ride.”
“How did they get that there?”
Given the protean nature of the technology employed by the themed attractions and theater industries, one question that cries out to be asked of Mark Black and his company is how they remain fresh and up to date after more than three decades of working in these two very demanding and volatile industries. His answer was insightful: “The young talent on our staff certainly helps keep us fresh, but it is our clients’ constant needs for new remarkable effects and gags that makes us learn and adapt.”
When asked about the direction of future themed attractions, Mark sees the inescapable growth of immersive experiences: “We have all kinds of sensory effects already with motion bases, haptic, olfactory… And there will be more. Undoubtedly there will be more coming.”
With an R&D department filled with “an incredible group of designers and engineers…wizards at what they do,” as Mark describes them, committed to the challenge of those greater immersive experiences, InterAmerica Stage, Inc. appears well positioned to take on tomorrow with confidence. Although NDAs prevent them from giving specifics on some of their most impressive projects, Mark assures us that “if you have visited any park in Florida, you have most likely walked under or around our work.” He suggests, “Every once in a while, look up and ask yourself, ‘How did they get that there?’ Then think of IA Stage.” Visit www.iastage.com. •