The Wheelie Set

Barbara —  March 28, 2014 — Leave a comment
The whole set - everything else is on wheels!

The whole set – everything else is on wheels!

So you have a big cast and a play with LOADS of different locations – any one of which would be a challenge to stage. I directed Terry Pratchett’s ‘Wyrd Sisters’ a few years back and had just that scenario. I’ve said it before .. I will do anything to avoid a scene change. That moment when people dressed in black come on and remove things and/or add things just kills it for me. So we have ‘the blasted heath’, a road somewhere, a theatre, Nanny Ogg’s kitchen, a dungeon with instruments of torure, the throne room, a garden/wood and many other locations that are only required for an odd minute here and there. Of course you’re not going to build up each location and remove it afterwards – it would take all night. But how can you do it quickly, convincingly and creatively?

Nanny Ogg's kitchen never actually leaves the stage. Turn it around and it becomes the throne room.

Nanny Ogg’s kitchen never actually leaves the stage. Turn it around and it becomes the throne room.

I decided that I would create a set that would work for most of the locations with a large portion of the stage bare to accommodate scenes with more cast. I knew I couldn’t get away with not touching the set at all – some changes will have to be made, but I was determined that the action would not stop and no ASMs would be seen wandering around. A raised area with railings worked as a general entrance and also the theatre balcony. The rostra at the back gave different acting spaces for scenes – the performance at the end in the castle for example made good use of it, a level above the dungeon gave the feeling that Nanny Ogg was ‘below’. A raised area upstage can be so useful if you have the means.

The theatre scene - raised up & with the balcony

The theatre scene – raised up & with the balcony

But I needed so many other bits and pieces to make each location interesting – so we devised a range of set pieces on wheels. We also used music to introduce each change of location and where required I used the ‘City Watch’ to march on and turn Nanny Ogg’s kitchen into the throne room whilst the Duke and Duchess made their entrance. It was amusing and the action continued. Musical signature moments are great because they signal up front to the audence where we’re going next. We had a torture chamber on wheels that could be pushed on quickly from SL without anyone even noticing. One of the witches wheeled on the washing tub that the demon was conjured from (with demon safely concealed within).

Granny Weatherwax threatens the demon as only she can

Granny Weatherwax threatens the demon as only she can

One of the benefits to the ‘wheel it on’ system is that you can create detailed set pieces that add a lot of interest to a relatively bare stage. Nanny Ogg’s dresser in her kitchen was tremendously detailed. It was so full of knick knacks and ‘stuff’ – but as the set was on wheels everything was glued or stapled down. Nothing ever moved. The torture instruments were also firmly attached.

The dungeon scene. Nanny, the ghost of the murdered king and some instruments of torture

The dungeon scene. Nanny, the ghost of the murdered king and some instruments of torture

Of course if you have a white backdrop you have the possibility of using some atmospheric lighting to set the scene as well. We used gobos as well as strong lighting on the backcloth. A spotlight followed the ghost of the king around and gave him a lovely spooky glow.

So simple - suddenly we're clearly outside. I loved the greenery here - great lighting without costing a fortune.

So simple – suddenly we’re clearly outside. I loved the greenery here – great lighting without costing a fortune.

It was quite a challenge in many ways and there’s no doubt that lighting and sound are crucial to successfully staging something like this. But the versatility of the space and the wheel-on set pieces allowed us to add interest and variety to each location quickly and creatively. It also gave me many happy hours sourcing odd bits and pieces for dressing Nanny Ogg’s dresser!

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Barbara

Barbara

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Writer of Offbeat plays for adults, youth theatres, schools and anyone else! Loves to write, design and direct own shows (is that greedy?)

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