If you think theatre scenery is built from timber, think again. While we may do more carpentry than any other single craft, less than half of what we do is carpentry.
Or 'engineering with wood' as it often seems when drawing things up! Frames are generally mortice and tennoned and we tend to screw on-edge flats. We can staple frames together but most of our work has a long hard life so needs to be robust. Otherwise, we clad with 3mm or 6mm Far Eastern ply or, for a better finish, 4mm Birch. We have access to a CNC cutter and a lathe for turning. Framework is rounded over on the back to reduce splinters.
Useful for small brackets, hinges or catches on timber scenery or re-enforcing areas of high load. Alternatively to replace timber on large pieces or flown items. Take for example 'Zorro'; two curved walls three floors high with lots of opening doors and shutters was completely built with steel frames then clad with ply. Also used for larger structural items like revolves or bridges.
This is the bit that the audience look at, the structure just holds up the paint (and texture)! We don't have a permanent Scenic Artist but we do have access to, and have worked with, the countries' best Artists. Scenic Art is a very important decision which ultimately is the designers choice (though the Production Manager may have something to say...) Our new building has a wooden floor throughout (43m x 20m) and a painting wall 8m x 20m. Access to the wall is limited to towers at the moment but there are plans to build a bridge. The underfloor heating means the building should always be warm enough to dry the paint and texture.
Mostly done by freelance Sculptors, so again we will discuss options with you but we have tackled things like a full size replica of Michelangelo's David (sculpted by Roger Cresswell),a curved sofa (Amy White), 5'high pumas (Chris Groombridge) & endless cornices (Nik, Jonny and the team). We coat poly with gesso, scrim, muslin or fibreglass depending on durability required.
This used to be out-sourced to Jon Miller studios (who began his trade with Stephen Pyle and Peter Evans) but Jonny got a bit lonely working by himself so came and joined us. We are proud to have one of the countries leading Scenic Fibreglassers working here at Set-Up.
ANIMATION AND AUTOMATION
We are often asked to make things move automatically or by remote control. Whether its dodgem cars to be driven around the stage for 'Dreamboats and Petticoats', a large crocodile for 'Peter Pan', microphones coming up out of the stage for ‘Ying Tong - a Walk with the Goons’, or a perspex door opening invisibly for 'Haunted', we can come up with a solution.
Large automation projects with big motors we will pass on to one of the stage engineering specialists but everything else we can do. If its a door that can be done with string and pulleys, we'll use string and pulleys. Simple is always best. Dodgems and boats have been motorised with mobility scooters, Ninky Nonks, Pinky Ponks and crocodiles have been built with robot technology and often operated by remote control. We have dabbled in hydraulics (microphones) linear actuators (shutters) and gas springs (falling walls or power assistance)
We were asked to recreate the Royal Opera House’s fabulously ornate proscenium arch but at 87% of full size. This involved photographing, measuring and drawing every detail within the prosc. Lots of processes were involved, and we decided to make a 2m column section, a 2m header section, a corner and 2 plinths (they are handed). We first made 5 patterns (finished sized positive form) from timber, steel, MDF, plaster and purpose made resin castings, then took fibreglass mould from these patterns. We then took multiple fibreglass casts from the moulds. These casts were assembled onto steel frames and were ready for filling, sanding and painting. That was just act 1! Act 2 was the same prosc arch that has collapsed and broken into pieces. For this we used the same moulds but put clay in to mask some of the detail. When the cast was taken, the form and general shape was correct but lots of the detail had been 'knocked off'. For act 3, the set had decayed into the stage so was a similar process to act 2.
This time the model was a rectangle of paper with 5 slits along its length. The paper was then helically rolled around an imaginary cylinder so that the slits opened up like louvres. The problem was the final size, at 17m x 7m it was quite a challenge and it wasn't till after the even that we discovered that 4 other workshops has walked away saying it wasn't possible. Twinwall polycarbonate with carbon fibre tubes inserted into the flutes created the right stiffness to form the shape.
There, we given you all our secrets, why not have a go yourself, but remember experience counts for a lot.