Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan
The Bridge Theatre is a new theatre next to Tower Bridge in London. The venue is designed to be a flexible space, enabling the auditorium to be reconfigured for different styles of production. We provided the automation for their first production “Young Marx”, where the theatre’s auditorium was set up in a traditional proscenium style. For their second production “Julius Caesar” the seats in the auditorium were removed to create a “pit” where the actors and audience mingle, creating a unique immersive presentation of the production.
The majority of the show, designed by Bunny Christie, is performed on and around eight large lifts that rise and descend to form the various different settings for the production. Because of the unique staging, the lifts are moving nearby audience members. A team of marshals ensure that the audience are clear and safe at all times.
To find the best solution for the production we spent time in discussion with the director and designer about the ways in which they wanted the lifts to perform. The end product of an automation system is motion. Movement. Getting that right is a fundamental part of creating a seamless experience for a production. In the same way that you would choose certain dance styles and music to fit the tone of a production, you have to think about the way automation creates movement and what kind of motion suits the production.
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan
Because of these discussions, we were able to really understand the performance required from the lifts, which in turn meant we could use very narrow requirements when selecting the equipment for the show. This approach allowed us to provide the maximum number of lifts within the production’s budget.
The other advantage of these discussions, and getting involved in these early creative talks, was that the production could be designed and staged with the capabilities of the lifts in mind. What happens on productions where you don’t design with those capabilities in mind, is that you end up with equipment not being used to it’s full potential or missing out on interesting staging possibilities. This often happens when automation is added at the end of the design process, where it becomes merely a functional tool. When you integrate automation as part of the creative design process, it can inform and inspire any number of creative opportunities.
The added challenge of the audience surrounding these lifts during the production was taken into account. The team of marshals successfully manage the audience to be clear and safe at all times, but in a way where it doesn’t feel like they are being pushed from pillar to post. Keeping the audience members, and the performing cast, safe is our top priority.
For this production, as well as having an operator on the control desk, we had a second “spotter” in the auditorium who could operate an enable switch. This takes the form of a handle which has to be pressed to allow movement. During the course of the production, if there are any issues, the lifts can be brought to a safe stop by letting go of the handle.
We sourced the lifts for the production, and retrofitted them with encoders which could read the position of each lift. We also built a custom control system to manage the movement of all the lifts. Whilst the control cabinet we built was custom, the underlying technology is the same as we use in our standard products and equipment. This meant that the operators were able to use our standard control desk (which they already had experience with from “Young Marx”) to run the production.
Read about the other productions we have been involved with.
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