by Jez Bond

Day 3 and another few hours of listening, learning and – in the case of ‘Horizontal motion on stage’ – gasping in amazement!

The front door, attended one of our architects, Ben Jones, gave an insight into the requirements and desires for front of house areas tackling issues from acoustics of foyers through to spaces for concession stands (for merchandise).

In ‘The total cost of ownership’ a number of principles and strategies were put forward regarding asset management. It was clear that taking the time and care to design a building and then to construct it accurately without deviating from those plans gave the premises its best possible start. It was remarked that a staggering 40% of all defects requiring repair are a result of poor or incorrect initial construction. Furthermore, as 67% of all repair costs in a building are attributed to the internal fabric (i.e fixtures and fittings) it is important to bear this in mind when choosing the ironmongery and other such items. Some very common sense asset strategies were listed – and a mixed approach tailored to each particular building was deemed to be the best solution. It was noted by one member of the audience, however, that the smaller theatres – perhaps 95%of the theatres in a given country – were not able to afford the employment of asset managers nor either in-house or out-sourced maintenance contractors. These companies inevitably fall into adopting a ‘run to fail’ policy where no preventitive care/repairs are made and the equipment runs until it breaks down. Little support is in place for these companies and, for them, I would not expect to see a change in this field.

Now onto the most exciting of the conference’s sessions: ‘Horizontal motion on stage’. The introduction explained that there has been a visual demand towards horizontal motion (more common, in many shows, than vertical flying) and that the trend for scene changes to be lit and part of the action had been growing – and with this the need for trucks that were ever lower to the stage floor. Advances in the technology were superbly demonstrated by the speakers with the aid of video. Highlights were a new device which took both its power and its guide from an underfloor cable (embedded a few millimetres below the stage surface) and a truck that, due to “the reinvention of the wheel” was able to move in ways never before possible. The videos were truly inspiring! This ended with a quote from dutch artist Theo Jansen: “The walls between art and engineering exist only in our mind”…

Tim Foster gave his theatrical Petcha Kutcha at the start of the final session – which showed some examples of the work his firm had undertaken. Following this an enthusiastic debate ensued – and this tackled subjects from the past days as broad as the disadvantages of the design and build contract and how ‘experimental’ or flexible theatre spaces should be. The debate continued over many a pint (or glass of wine) at the Slug and Lettuce and we left looking forward to the theatre show in the morning: a fun chance to get our hands on some the equipment discussed. However fascinating it is to talk about the theories, I cant resist the boyish urge to run to the playground and ride on the swings!

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