Whispers from the Wings

Always some way to go

January 9, 2014

We opened the shows this week with a double first night followed by a highly enjoyable pie and mash bash in the Scott Bar of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre.

As I'm sure you've gathered from these blogs, the process of getting these shows on has been pretty relentless, but we have made evident progress in this last push over the hill.

Actually, I remember that in my last blog series for the RSC I likened the process of getting a play on, and creating a performance, to a long hill climb. Have you often thought you had the summit of a hill you are climbing in sight only to discover, when you get there, that it was simply yet another rise you had to climb, and that the next apparent summit still lay ahead of you?

Well I find this business is always a bit like that. The shows may be open now, but there is always going to be some way to go. Cues can still be tighter, we can open scenes with more energy and drive, we can still pass the ball more effectively on stage.

I'm sure none of us would doubt that, with a long and complex narrative like the one in these two plays, the efficiency of our team work and the momentum we bring to each scene are both absolutely vital.

One of our very expensive Vari-Lites hangs it's head in readinessIn the spotlight
While we've been sitting in the auditorium waiting our turn in the seemingly endless rehearsals, I've been learning a bit about all the other stuff that goes on around us.

I've already told you how much I admire the lighting plot because it is so varied and specific. Well, those virtues might not be so achievable without the state-of-the-art lighting equipment available to us. Many of our lanterns are capable of doing many different things during the course of the play because the power cable running to each of them is accompanied by a data cable that can make them do amazing things.

It can point in any direction, it can move a light beam across the stage, it can be a wide flood or a tight spot, it can be any one of millions of colours. Each of these lanterns has moveable cyan, yellow and magenta gates, different percentages of which can reproduce any colour we need.

I remember the days when half the coloured gels in the lanterns were steel and half were straw. Well, now we can have light straw, dark straw, medium dark straw, pastoral straw, pastoral-comedy straw or whatever straw you could ever wish for or perceive.

You can beam any pattern onto the stage by inserting moveable cut-out filters, called gobos, into the lanterns.

All this means that the same lantern can flood the stage with a flamey-red pattern one minute and then direct a brilliant white spotlight through the haze onto a single character the next. Amazing.

The men's quick change area backstageMultiple-purpose actors
We do a similar thing with the actors. One minute the actor playing George Boleyn exits down left and the next minute he enters up right as Edward Seymour. Backstage there is a permanent blur of actors running to and from the quick change area yelling ''scuse me – quick change!' at the top of their whisper as hazardous furniture and fittings are whisked out of their paths.

Yvonne, a long-established dresser here at the RSC, told me that she has seventy quick changes during the course of the two shows. Many of them are simultaneous as two or three actresses change character at the same time.

It sounds like mayhem, but mistakes can be disastrous for the play so the seemingly impossible is achieved. I remember the head of Swan Running Wardrobe, Amy, telling me a couple of years ago that I needn't worry about a necessary complete change of costume (including wig and beard) because I had a whole ninety seconds – she'd timed it in rehearsal!

Top image: One of our very expensive Vari-Lites hangs it's head in readiness.
Bottom image: The men's quick change area backstage.

by Nick Day  |  No comments yet

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