Trap doors and beanstalks in amateur theatre


What are the challenges that face an amateur theatre set design team that the professionals take for granted?

I think the main challenges are getting enough volunteers to help build the set. Very often it falls on a small group which results in large workload for those involved.

Also storage of the set can prove problematic which means various bit of staging and backdrops can be scattered in various locations across the Edinburgh. This poses obvious problems when you’re trying to pull everything together. Space can also be a problem when you are trying to build and paint a set. Sometime the garage just isn’t big enough.

What was your biggest challenge on this set?

The biggest challenge this year was trying to work out how the magic beanstalk was going to grow up from the stage floor. We wanted it to look substantial enough to add dramatic effect as it emerges but that obviously caused issues with weight and height and how the tracks above can deal with this. Needless to say we managed to create just the right effect through a lot of trial and error and telescopic rings that grew through the trap door.

It was met with rapturous applause every night so we were fairly happy with the result.

What are the real challenges on the night?

On the night, as with putting on any show, the main challenge is just making sure, after all the hard work, that everything comes together.

It’s obviously important that everyone on stage knows their parts and really enjoy themselves but it makes a massive difference to an audience’s enjoyment when the lighting, the set and the music all work seamlessly with what the cast are doing. That’s why it’s so important to have as much time as possible to rehearse the technical side of the show prior to opening night.

What has been your worst set disaster?

The worst disaster was about 15 years ago when the day before opening night we realised we couldn’t get the backdrop curtains in time. This meant on the first night the cast were playing on a large empty stage with the back of the theatre clearly visible. It definitely didn’t add to the dramatic effect but the cast were real stars and, what is it they say, 'The show must go on!'.

Which set were you most proud of?

I thought the set we had for our recent production of Oliver was superb. With the help of the lighting it produced a fantastically authentic Dickensian atmosphere that helped the cast get into character and enhanced the experience for our audience.

What is the most satisfying part of working behind the scenes?

I would say that seeing all that hard work come together is what everyone backstage loves. There’s also something really exciting in seeing the set you’ve built all lit up and ready to go for the first time.

What’s also very important and very satisfying is the bond you build with your production team. When you have that sense of everyone pulling together it makes the experience all the more enjoyable.