Our technical day at Create Theatre in Mansfield started out much like a school trip; the STEP UP Creatives Ensemble gathered at New Perspectives HQ, packed lunches at the ready and boarded the tour bus, looking forward to what the day would hold. As my main interests are stage and production management, doing a mock “get in” and “get out” was invaluable experience. As I came to realise later, a professional set up in the theatre is all about logic, organisation and following tried and tested methods.
First of all we had a quick tour around Create Theatre because a number of us had never visited before. The facilities are state-of-the-art, and as we are staging one of the STEP UP shows here on 2 July, it was the perfect opportunity to get to grips with the layout of the building and the studio beforehand.
Before letting us loose on the equipment and set, Mandy (Production Manager at New Perspectives) explained to us the importance of going about the set up in a certain way. We’d brought with us the set and kit for A Christmas Carol, and Mandy pointed out where we should place each item within the performance space. The crates containing cables and other technical equipment/props were placed in a neat line across the front of the space nearest the audience and the set was laid out logically in the middle. Mandy explained how New Perspectives, as a touring company, must design the set and lighting so that it can be transferred from venue to venue, whether a theatre such as Create, or a village hall. Therefore, we did not use the extensive lighting already installed at Create; instead we rigged up the lighting equipment we had brought with us at three corners of the performance space. As we began it became clear how much the processes we were learning would help when we come to rehearse and tour our own show.
Mandy talked us through the kit and there are a plethora of technical names that I won’t list here (but include, for instance, the intriguingly named “Socapex Spider”, a type of cable) and showed us how to set up the different lanterns on the lighting stand. We then split into groups, some of us rigging the lighting and others building the set under instruction from Dan. It was great to get hands on experience – we took it in turns to ascend the ladder while someone else held on to it as support. It turned out to be more difficult than Mandy, as a seasoned pro, had made it look! But once we had got passed the first tentative, slightly wobbly, attempts, it became easier as our confidence grew.
Throughout the morning, Mandy pointed out the small but vital processes that make everyone’s lives easier during the get in and get out (there’s something so brilliantly no-nonsense about those terms…) For instance, all the lighting equipment and cables were number coded so we knew what was supposed to go where. Colour coding is also used so that everything in the space is laid out in exactly the same way at each venue. When the lighting and set were fully rigged we stepped back to admire our handiwork.
We were then asked to think about how the audience is taken into consideration when designing the set and lighting. What did we want them to see? What did we want to hide from them? And what by necessity was on show but “hidden” as best as possible? For instance, the lighting stands, lanterns and cables were in view but by making them black and as neat as possible, the audience’s attention would not be drawn to them, and they fade into the background so that all the focus is on the set.
At the end of the day we essentially reversed the process we had gone through in the morning. I can’t stress enough how clear the importance of being extremely organised during the get in and get out became. On de-rigging the lights there was a small triumph for me as I managed to unplug a cable that had defeated the rest of my group, woo! Alas, my success was dampened slightly when I was picked out to loop a cable following Mandy’s demonstration and proved to be, to put it bluntly, rubbish at it. Even such an apparently small thing as looping cables correctly, Mandy pointed out, is important. Packing them away incorrectly can damage the inner workings of the cable and reduce its lifespan.
So all in all this was a rather different day to any we’d had previously, being less performance focused, and I think it gave us all a lot more confidence with the technical aspects of staging a production. It was both enjoyable and informative, and made me realise all the more how much I want to work in theatre – hopefully I can improve my cable looping skills with a lot more practice! Thanks again to Mandy and Dan for taking the time to share their extensive experience and knowledge with us.
Charlotte Tomlinson, STEP UP Creatives Ensemble 2013