Techies take over theatre

22:30, Jul 30 2014
Mama Mia! interns
Interns, from left, Ben Adam, 15, Hendrix Grant, 13, and Tahinga Winiana, 16, set up the lights and rigging at the Civic Theatre for Mamma Mia!

Mamma Mia!, delivering the fabulous music of ABBA, opens at the Civic Theatre next month. Each week we go backstage with Invercargill Musical Theatre to gain a rare insight into what it takes to produce a show of this calibre.

Last week the technical team moved into theatre.

The first job is to get everybody oriented to the theatre and talk through some general work safe procedures to make sure nothing silly happens.

As part of the team we have three young boys assisting with lighting installation and one young lass assisting with sound. The boys are at various high schools and the girl is doing the sound course at SIT. All are keen to learn about the ins and outs of working in theatre and we are keen to teach them to ensure we future proof the years ahead. The boys are affectionately known as "the children" and will retain that title until they are big enough to do something about it.

The lighting crew met last Sunday and went over the lighting plans and talked through the process we would be adopting to install the rig. We have two days to get the lighting fully rigged, installed and operational.

The boys will be assigned an adult each and everyone will work in pairs. The boys already have some good experience as we have been working with them with various shows over the past 12 months. The next two days will give them further experience in rigging, installing and checking lighting fixtures, patching, cabling and focusing.


All the lighting is installed accurately to measurements provided by the Capture Polar lighting visualiser, ensuring all the testing completed off site will be fully utilised.

On Saturday, the set arrives on site and touring mechanist David Gill will guide the installation. There will be 20 volunteers assisting with the installation from various backgrounds, including lawyers, builders, accountants, signwriters and roading technicians. Saturday's task is to get the set fully installed, apart from the jetty and tree. It will be a long day starting at 8am and finishing about 11pm.

Props and wardrobe teams will arrive and start piecing together their separate departments. Wardrobe will convert their room into a temporary laundromat to keep pace with the relentless stream of costume washing.

Sunday will see the installation of the jetty and tree. It will be a fiddly job left to just a few as the crew will break into groups with various jobs. The "children" will install practical lights, lights actually fixed to the set and provide assistance getting all the audio-visual gear set up.

There will be eight TV monitors set up around the backstage area to make sure the conductor can be seen by all the cast, no matter where they are. The backing vocalists and orchestra will also have monitors so they can keep in touch with the flow of the show and two more will be positioned side of stage so flymen and crew can take their visual cues.

David Sparks will take two of the crew and get on with the installation on the huge LED curtain at the rear of the stage. On Saturday night he will meet with director Stephen Robertson and together they will check and finalise all the audio-visual cues for the screen.

We hope to finish the day by getting a start on focusing the lights, pointing the lights in the direction they need to go, making sure they light what they are designed to.

On Monday, the stage for the orchestra will be built and sound will be getting their cables run and begin setting the orchestra infrastructure. It always surprises me the amount of work that goes into getting an orchestra rigged and ready to go. The sound crew will be working on this for most of the week.

For the lighting team it will be a lighting focusing day. It doesn't sound like much of a task but to do it properly soaks up a lot of time. The set will be unkind for focusing as the multiple levels will make it difficult to get to all the lights. For those assisting it is a long, slow, boring day that just never seems to end. No-one can leave until the set and lighting rig are fully complete. We have to be fully prepared for the next four days of lighting programming.

Tuesday through Friday is set for lighting programming. We have videoed the last full rehearsal of the show and will be using this as a visual timeline, as Stephen and I sit down and meticulously stitch the show together scene by scene. Into the script we will mark all the lighting cues as they are built, all the audio-visual cues, the flying cues, sound, props and scenery changes, as well as follow spot details. The document created will be what the stage manager will "call" or run the show from.

On Wednesday night the cast will arrive in theatre for the first time. Photos will be taken for the programme so various scenes will be set to create a good representation of the show. It will be slow and muddly as the cast will struggle with sorting costumes for the first time.

At this stage most of the programme has been designed and formatted, waiting for the final photographs to be inserted. It will be a late night for the programme team as all the photos have to be Photoshopped ready by 8am the next day to meet the printing deadlines.

Friday is the final day of lighting programming. Sound technician Terry Molloy will have arrived from Christchurch and will be putting the final touches to getting the orchestra installed. At 6pm there will be what is called the Sitzprobe. It is a sing through the show with all cast onstage, microphones fitted, the orchestra and backing vocalists in their new home behind the LED curtain.

It is the start of technical rehearsals and this one is dedicated to the sound boys. It is such a valuable rehearsal for them as they have the right to stop and start to get everything they need absolutely right. This is the only rehearsal that they have that right and if they get it wrong, they will be playing catchup all week.

The Sitzprobe is generally very slow to get going and initially pretty laborious as all the small details are taken care of. After a couple of hours of tinkering we will all get an idea of what the show will sound like, one of those moments musical director Michael Buick is extremely looking forward to.

Saturday and Sunday see two big days for all the cast. The technical rehearsals run from 9am till 10pm both days. All the crew is in place and slowly scene by scene the show is technically played out. A lot of people are going to spend a lot of time waiting as no details are left to chance. Stephen Robertson is a detail person. Nothing is rushed. Nothing is missed.

Neale Smith is technical director for the Mamma Mia! show.


Mamma Mia! is presented by Invercargill Musical Theatre at the Civic Theatre, August 6-16. Tickets from TicketDirect, ICC Booking Office, Esk St, Invercargill.

The Southland Times