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West Side Story

WSS

Ground-breaking when it made its 1957 Broadway debut, West Side Story's modern musical take on the tale of Romeo and Juliet has been beguiling audiences ever since. Its themes of love, hate, the desire to belong and crossing cultural divides have remained every bit as pertinent, ensuring sold-out performances around the world for over 50 years.

The 2008 UK tour of West Side Story was the first production at which Stage Electrics provided video as well as lighting. Now, after a sell-out season at Sadler's Wells, the show has once more hit the road, with Stage Electrics again supplying equipment.

After fitting up and technical rehearsals in Wimbledon, the tour began in Liverpool. From there the Sharks and the Jets have been continuing their rivalry across England, Scotland and the Republic of Ireland, ultimately taking in 18 different venues before finishing up at His Majesty's Theatre, Aberdeen, in August next year.

WSSProduced by Ambassador Theatre Group, the company and production team chose to continue the relationship with Stage Electrics that was forged on the 2008 tour. Although the way the show works hasn't changed since that tour ended, there have been ongoing technical updates while it has been staged in other countries. Working alongside Production Manager Simon Gooding, Senior Production Electrician Dino Anthony and Re-lighter Adam Sutton, touring chief electrician Adam Frost says, this tour is "the same but different."

"It is constantly being updated technically, but the principles are the same. The show and the idea of how it works hasn't changed," he says. "There are still no follow spots, all of that work is done by two moving lights which are worked really hard."

While large, the set is comparatively straightforward - upstage is a large white cyc, on each side a structure that represents the outside of New York apartment blocks. The cast can climb up and down these 'houses' (as the crew call them), aided by moving ladders (in the style of American fire escapes), while the structures themselves are on a downstage pivot, allowing them to move.

"At one point the stage left house comes all the way downstage and part of the stage right house comes out as well. It adds a visual dynamic to the set which complements the mood of the scene," says Adam.

Much of the show's scene setting is done using the video package supplied by Stage Electrics. A Panasonic PT-EX12KU LCD projector projects imagery on to the white cyc, the content hosted by a Catalyst media server and backup, triggered from the lighting system..

"We project various New York scenes, going back to the same image every time we revisit that particular area in the story," says Adam. "To add variety the projector can track across, allowing the picture to move. It can be scaled down and give the impression of the set moving on and off."

The projector is controlled by the show's ETC EOS lighting console, also supplied by Stage Electrics, along with a comprehensive lighting package. This includes Source Fours, Martin MAC 700s, Vari-Lite VL3000s and VL3500s, Chroma-Q Color Force 72 LED battens and over 50 Rainbow colour scrollers.

WSS"The lighting is really clever, Peter Halbsgut's design really helping to create atmosphere. It's not just there on a plate, lit really brightly so you can just sit back and take it in," says Adam. "Certain scenes are lit to make them feel a little claustrophobic. For example in the scene with the rumble, where Riff and Bernardo die, you feel genuinely close to the action. It's lit in such a way that the audience really has to concentrate on what's happening. It's very moody, very personal and gives the audience that sense of involvement, so they really appreciate what's going on."

Further atmosphere is added by the Color Force battens which light the cyc, adding depth and different dimensions to the backscene, while shadows cast by the houses are used as an integral part of the design.

"In some ways you can look at the set like a big gobo. If you shine a light through it, what you get on the other side is a load of mangled metalwork and a beam of light through it. It looks really nice," says Adam.

With a gruelling tour to service, the key criteria for the equipment was reliability and that it needed to be reasonably compact. An excellent relationship with the rental company is obviously crucial, not only in terms of technical assistance, but in having the confidence that the equipment is in optimum condition. It's the kind of service that Stage Electrics excels in.

"The key to it is having a good working relationship," says Adam. "We have developed that with the Stage Electrics team, It makes it really easy to work together, as there's never any boundary to overcome.

"They had an engineer on site with us throughout the Wimbledon fit up process and then for the first few shows in Liverpool, as a backup. Once the show had settled down it was fine, but I know I can ring Mark any time. We're safe in his hands, aided by the big team behind him. It all helps to get the job done as quickly and efficiently as possible."

WSS

Adam's most difficult task comes each time the show moves to a new venue, especially as they vary considerably in size. Side Towers are pre-loaded with Source Fours, which can just be wheeled in, but re-lighting the show each time involves good, old fashioned hard work.

"It would be great if I could turn the lights on in each venue and they would be pointing more-or-less in the same place. But because it's a moving structure and it can go down stage, it makes life a bit harder. The houses can be set anywhere between nine and 11 metres apart so, if we've moved from a larger venue to a small venue with a narrower stage, we'll use the nine metre version... which means everything is offset by a metre either side," he says.

"We are lucky to have two days for setup at each new venue, because it takes a while for everything to be sorted out. On paper it looks fairly simple but, with moving scenery and lighting being used on different-sized stages, it's definitely a challenging show to tour."



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