Meet the theatre consultant
Gavin Green reckons he’s visited up two to three hundred different theatres all over the world. Important stuff when you’re a leading theatre consultant working as part of the team who are transforming one of the world’s most visited theatres. Here he tells us about his work on creating a new and exciting theatre for the RSC.
'Every job is different and every theatre company has different needs. We like to start with a blank piece of paper, get to know the client and team and understand what it is we are trying to achieve both artistically and commercially. Although the RSC's brief was very clear - get as many people sat as close to the stage as possible, the form of theatre, in this case a thrust stage is a statement of how the company approaches its work - and our job is to interpret that into a built form.
'Our journey on the project began in 2004 when we began work on The Courtyard Theatre, the RSC's temporary theatre. We presented our initial designs in the Executive Director's kitchen and when we got the job we worked tirelessly for 6 months to bring all the ideas together into a really exciting scheme. Our reputation is based on collaboration - these types of projects are team efforts and everyone involved in the Courtyard project pulled out all the stops.
'We knew we had to seat around 1,000 people as close to the stage as we could physically and comfortably get. By spring 2005 we had developed 6 complete auditoria, modelled in white card at a 1:25 scale - which is big and at 'theatre' scale allowing directors used to looking at set-designs to understand the proposal. Each design had extensive computer modelling to test audience sightlines, generating views that you might see of the stage from each seat.
'In the longer term we knew that we had to fit this style of auditorium within the footprint of the existing Royal Shakespeare Theatre site and the Courtyard gave us was a fantastic prototype to work from. Working with Bennetts Architects on the RST, we've been able to use the feedback from the audience and those working in the theatre to develop the new design - and even now we are still using the Courtyard to test ideas at real life scale.
'It's not just the auditorium design we focus on, the theatre consultant's role involves designing all of the technical equipment above and under the stage, all the complex sound systems and audio visual equipment in the building, as well as planning the wider building right down to the most minute details. The location of the get-in and box office, whether the dressing room windows open, the height of a rigging block to a technical gantry and the location of a plug socket are all critical to a theatre building working successfully. Every decision you make can have a hundred implications for the actors, technical operations, front of house and the audience. Theatre's are working building - making them phenomenally complicated!
'What's important is that we understand how 'theatre' works as well as the specific nature of a project. After the conceptual design for an auditorium, comes the detail and endless months of coordination between the different project disciplines.
'In terms of seating for example, the angle of a seat in the gallery can impact on how much that audience member can see of the stage. If the angle is changed only slightly it can result in the audience member seeing an extra half metre of stage or not seeing it all - which wouldn't be good!
'There are many things like this that have to be considered: density of seats including width and front to back dimensions; leg room, balancing the performer routes around the seats; getting the aisles in the right location; audience escape routes; accessibility of the building and sightlines, all of which have implications on the acoustics. Theatre's aren't cinemas, that critical mass of an audience experiencing the play together is important. Different seat widths can make a difference of an extra 20 to 30 seats in the auditorium with big implications on the projected income over the years.
'The Courtyard Theatre has developed into a phenomenally exciting and successful space and our aim is to improve upon it in the new theatre. The best thing about The Courtyard was the first night when people's jaws dropped walking into the room. It was as if no one could comprehend what had been done inside the rusty box. The atmosphere the architect and all the team had created was fantastic. On the first night of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre I'd like to experience the same level of surprise and excitement, with just a few more comfy seats!'
Gavin Green is a Design Director for Charcoalblue, Theatre Consultants.