Tech Blog Another Opening

By Chris Armstrong, longtime techie.

In this second post, I'm going to cover the first Summer Show I was involved with, a cabaret of famous classic musicals set in the old Langwith dining room. I cut my teeth operating the follow-spots for this one rather than kicking people up the backside backstage. My opposite number for this was Tor, who took on the role despite being usually on stage - thus reversing her plans to move people from backstage to onstage. I spent most of the rehearsals turning the light on her, blinding her. 'Twas hilarious.

2005's Another Openin' showed off some of the versatility of the flat system; by stripping out the central section the set could be assembled to be less wide, making it fit snugly into the corner of the dining hall, rather than flat against the wall as other performances had been. The steps from Ida made a reappearance, this time painted black and put into the centre of the stage to raise some of the performers a little higher - such as Laura McCrea's rendition of Cabaret (with a feather boa, I think). Combining this with many of the audience sat around tables with drinks produced a cabaret atmosphere that hasn't really been replicated since. The set itself was painted black and adorned with some of the logos of the shows that were featured. These were painted in the run up to the show and enlarged using the trick of projecting the image onto a larger sheet and tracing it - I can't remember which ones I did, probably the Starlight Express and Lion King ones. I also don't remember if they were held up by actual sticky-fixers or blu-tac, but they held up well, even under the heat from the lights.

The thing about Langwith is that it isn't even like a black-box theatre. The entire venue has to be converted as nothing is provided that is usable in there. Firstly, the issue is blacking it out to the point where you can rely on your lights, rather than whatever comes from outside. This was particularly challenging given the skylights in the room and its massive height. For this, the society owns a few curtains attached to metal rails that would slot in and cut out most of the light from the ceiling, a few curtains and improvising with torn up bin bags sorted the rest of the black-out problem.1 A lighting rig and PA were found and set up and angled down to the floor and the cast were amplified using only standing microphones, rather than wireless which was the norm for a few years afterwards. This worked quite well, with the choreography and musical style suiting people just standing close to microphones or taking them out to sing with them in hand. The lighting was a simple affair, needing just a few washes of colour and changes for the sake of mood half way through some songs and most of the time the principals were just under spots. Because of the audience being at ground level, we needed to raise the follow-spots higher. In more recent shows this has involved hiring in some raised staging. However, for this one it involved stealing borrowing the stage blocks from Central Hall and dragging them all the way to Langwith. Now, this seems like an incredibly short distance, it is when you're walking. When you're having to use at least 10 people to drag one of these blocks the long way round in the black of the night, it's several miles. These things don't fall into the usually "fucking heavy" category, if you hear a philosopher with too much time on their hands ponder the question "can God create an object so heavy he himself can't lift it?" the answer is yes, they're Central Halls stage blocks.

The band was small, but effective, tucked away to stage left where they could be heard but not intrusively. It was primarily two keyboards, so that one could play piano parts while the other took the role of a string/synth section, the rest consisted of drums, bass and saxophone, although Robbie also doubled up his keyboard duties with a cornet.

The rest of the production was straightforward Summer Show stuff. Narration between musical numbers was provided by Alex Gurney in fine tradition, and the songs were presented in chronological order; starting with the title number from Cole Porter's Anything Goes from 1934 and ending with Circle of Life from The Lion King, which was 1994. An odd number to finish with but it was suitably epic for an ending, particularly with the follow spots running around randomly to give a bit of a light show. Costumes were cobbled together by the cast and directors - if they were even used - and most complicated ones involved dressing up in what we already had. This show also featured Chris Charlton's first outing as Jean Valjean, fulfilling a long standing fantasy of his, and a performance of Summer Nights from Grease where the final note wasn't a horrid screech (an excellent decision on behalf of the directors).

Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License