Hemp Rigging System

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A hemp rigging system is the oldest style of rigging in theaters; it utilizes ropes and sandbags to operate the system.
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The hemp system is the oldest system when it comes to rigging. It, also, is the simplest yet most dangerous type of rigging in theater. The hemp system is named after the use of the fiber the rope was made out of in the original rope rigging systems. The system involves a load on one end of the system and sandbags, acting as counterweights, on the other end of the system. The system is still in use in historic theaters nowadays and in some theaters that prefer its simplicity. Counterweight arbor rigging systems were the first to replace the hemp rigging systems and now motorized flying systems have become more present.


Single-Line System The simplest system contains a number of elements:

Head block - The pulley that the rope first runs through, it usually is above the pin rail and operator.

Loft block - The pulley that is above the load within the system, in combination with the head block the two make up the 'counterweight' aspect of the system.

Pin rail - A rail, usually at stage level, where a rope can be tied off to at the hauling end of the hemp system.

The single-line system is simply a load on one end of the system with a single line attached leading to a counterweight on the other side of the system.


Multiple-Line System A hemp system with two or more lines that all connect to the same load.

A batten is used with a multiple-line system. It is a bar that a load is attached to and that is held up by the multiple ropes in the hemp system.

The lines within the multiple-line system are identified by their lengths. The shortest line is closest to the head block while the longest line is farthest away from the head block.


Operating a hemp rigging system is cheaper for a theater to use, but it is more difficult. Being the more dangerous option in rigging, the control of a hemp rigging system requires careful attention and practice to ensure safety and efficient use within a theater.

There are two types of lines used in flying battens or loads in and out. The hand lines are the lines used for operating the system and act as the lift lines, as well. The jack line, a specific hand line, is used to help lift the sandbags if the load on the other end is not enough. The hand lines are used to fly a load out, while the jack lines help bring the loads in. Usually, hemp rigging systems are set so that when one of the lines is released, the load will lift automatically due to the sandbags being too heavy on the other side.


Glerum, Jay O. (2007). Stage Rigging Handbook.

Theater and Stage Rigging Terms

Rigging History