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Watch video: Production Manager Tim Palmer shows us the sets for Alice

Watch video: Production Manager Tim Palmer talks about his career.

Find out about a working day with the Technical Team

Helping a Christmas tree escape, making sure human-sized mice don’t slip and looking after the giant head of Tchaikovsky sounds like the most surreal of dreams, but it’s all in a day’s work on tour for Scottish Ballet’s Technical team.

It’s hard to believe when you see the scale of Scottish Ballet’s productions, but the sets, lighting, sound and special effects are all looked after by the Company’s in-house technical team of five, with a handful of extra technical crew hired for touring, depending on the production. The department is divided into two sections: staging, which oversees the sets, and electrics, which includes lighting, sound and pyrotechnics.

For brand new productions, the Technical team is involved from the very beginning of the design stages, working with the choreographer and designer to make their vision reality, often working from miniature models and scaling them up to create the sets you see on stage. For example, when The Nutcracker was first performed in 2003, the team had to work out the practicalities of creating a giant plant pot for the Christmas tree which is strong enough for dancers to climb on but can also be dismantled into components which can be easily transported to each theatre.

In terms of sets, The Nutcracker is the biggest show in Scottish Ballet’s current repertoire, requiring five 45-foot articulated lorries to transport everything required for the tour.

“We take everything except electricity and water,” laughs Production Manager Tim Palmer, but he’s only half joking. For a lengthy run of shows like The Nutcracker tour, the team will be away from base from early December to the beginning of February; nothing can be left behind.

Indeed, every last detail is accounted for when planning for a tour as the technical schedule is so tight. “There simply isn’t time to make things up on the road,” Tim explains. “We have to know where absolutely everything is so the shows can run as smoothly as possible.”

Technical’s tour journey usually starts the week before a production is due to open when they load all the trucks and head off to the first venue. When they reach the theatre, the trucks are unloaded (known as the get in), and preparations for the show begin. The fit up – setting up the stage – is a meticulous process which usually takes two 12-hour days.

“The golden rule for every production is that is has to look the same in every theatre; if you see a show in Edinburgh, it should look exactly the same on stage in Aberdeen,” explains Technical Manager George Thomson.

“But every theatre is different,” adds Chief Stage Technician David Taylor. “Every stage is a different size; some are flat and some are sloped, which makes replicating the same show every night quite challenging.”

On day two, the electrics have to be set up, which includes all lighting and pyrotechnics. The team works from a lighting plan to position the lights and will then test the lighting set up for every single scene to make sure it looks as the designer specified. This has to be done by early evening as the dancers will have arrived at the theatre for their daily class: running late is not an option as it would have a domino effect on the entire Company.

On the day the production opens, there will be a dress rehearsal in the afternoon with full lighting, and the additional technical staff at the theatre (around eight for this tour) will have to be trained in a matter of hours before the show opens.

“We have a deadline of 7.30pm,” says Chief Electrician Matthew Strachan, “and there’s no room to go over by even five minutes because the audience will be in the theatre, waiting.”

Indeed, this is an incredibly tight timescale as touring musical productions of a similar size will often have up to two weeks to do what the Technical team does in two days, but as Tim explains, working in such a small team has its advantages. “We’ve worked closely together for many years and we get on really well – you don’t get this kind of camaraderie in every company.”

Once the curtain is up, the team has to make sure everything runs smoothly and safely. “Things very rarely go wrong because of the intense planning process,” says George, “But on the odd occasion something does happen, we all tend to think in the same way as we have worked together for so long, and any problems are fixed really quickly.”

After the show, the team has to clear and sweep the stage ready for class the next day, and after the final show in the theatre, the six-hour get out process commences, and the lorries are loaded up, ready for the next leg of the tour. “Daily and weekly, we’re the first people into the theatre,” says George, “and the last people to leave!”


Watch film: setting up the stage for Alice


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