January 21, 2008

Jack of all Things Third

You've got to be a "jack of all trades" if you work in a scene shop. Our shop consists of a base team of just nine employees; Technical Director, Associate Technical Director, Shop Foreman, Master Carpenter, Scenery Mechanic, three Carpenters, and a purchaser. We will then hire in general and specialty labor as required. But titles can sometimes be misleading. Our guys may each have their specialties but there is a wide range of skills needed by all to build a set like we did for Third. Our shop foreman, Brian Sears, took some photos along the way to show you what we mean.

This is a model photograph of the opening scene of the play. Scenic Design by Ralph Funicello. The eleven settings in this production move on and off stage with seemingly very little effort, but there is a lot going on behind the scenes. There are seven electric motorized winches, all controlled by computer, driving much of the action. There are four "palettes", which are pretty much big sleds, that are driven by steel cables built into tracks in the stage floor (think San Francisco's Cable Cars). Two of these sleds move up and down stage carrying the big rooms, such as the kitchen, offices, and bedroom. Two more sleds move left and right just upstage of the proscenium. These carry smaller furniture items, like a bench, tables, and a couch. Then there are two giant sliding wall panels that open up to reveal the scenery as it moves up and down stage. The last motor brings the large bookstore facade in an out from the fly loft to the deck. We also use pneumatics to operate some door panels in the wings that open for scene changes; think Star Trek. A crew of four backstage operate the motors, load and unload the furniture and settings from the sleds, and run the "Flys" which bring in light fixtures, walls, and even make it snow.

Some of our automation equipment is off the shelf, but much of it is custom made right here in our shops. This grooved drum, on which the cable winds, was machined in our metal working shop.

Our Metal Muncher, above, is taking a bite out of some steel in this photo making a long horizontal groove. This part (I think) is what we call a "dog" and is what helps make a hard connection from the sled to the cable in the deck.

Our carpenters usually start a scenic piece by framing it out in steel. Yes, that means they weld too. We frame in steel mostly because it is very strong for it's weight. And we don't like our scenery to be too heavy.

Then comes the wood - in this case a lot of paneled walls and windows. You get to be good with angles, bevels, and miters pretty quick. Wood glue is added for additional strength, and so that we can use fewer nails and staples, as they make dimples that need to be filled. After the shop has a unit all built, filled and sanded, it is sent down to the paint shop for it's treatment. Our three scenic artists turned plywood and pine into some stately oak for this production of Third.

Engineering all of this automation, rigging it and installing it takes a good amount of expertise, and we've got that in spades from our Technical Directors and Shop Foreman. Adam, our ATD, moves a cable winch into place onstage for the flying wall. The motors for the sleds are located below the stage in our "trap room".

Here is Nate spreading down some adhesive as part of the installation of the carpet tiles. The carpet is the secret weapon in this show. It is the perfect surface for sliding the scenery around on and, since most units don't have wheels, we don't have the rumble rumble of the casters drumming on a wooden floor. Another advantage is that the platforms are only just over an inch tall, significantly reducing the usual height of a traditional wagon.

In review, for this production, our shop staff were engineers, draftsmen, computer programmers, riggers, machinists, welders, master carpenters, electricians, and carpet layers just to throw a few titles at you.

Oops - forgot - the sink in this kitchen unit has running water. Add plumber to the list.

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