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Bush Theatre

Anthony Newton, production manager at the Bush Theatre in Shepherd's Bush, London, which for 39 years occupied a room over a pub in Goldhawk Road, is ebullient. As well he might be, for the award winning theatre's new 'found' home just around the corner is an exciting space with almost endless promise - rarely has 'small but perfectly formed' been a more fitting epithet.

Artistic Director Josie Rourke's four-year tenure to date has been defined in logistical terms by a long and ultimately successful fight to secure the company's use of the old Shepherd's Bush Library, whose Deeds stipulated the building must only be used as a museum or library. "So we opened a play script library in the main space," says Newton, "and got our foot in the door, the logic being that once we were here it would be more difficult to get rid of us."

Their other very great fortune was that the local authority was equally determined to see it continue to be run as a community building. When the theatre and its library moved in two years ago, as negotiations continued to secure a legal solution, a unique experiment named Where's My Seat? began in which the bare-brick space was explored by producers, directors, playwrights, actors and audiences, seeking the opinions of literally every user of the theatre. Thus was democratically developed a unique arrangement of spaces and an earthy, organic décor that extends to such details as the bar lighting.

Building and decorating work, explains Newton, was done largely by volunteers: "we have the skills here, the carpenters, set builders, and so on," he says, adding that teams from the nearby Westfield shopping centre and Disney Store helped out, "and Pencabe, our building contractor, was wonderful, they really 'got' our theatre concept from the building and were totally accommodating when we said things like, 'our carpenters can do that bit; could you move onto doing this?'" A theatre was born of a heady mix of volunteer and professional skills, and by artistic and community consensus.

Space works

While ideas and design for the public areas - which lend the reception, bar and lounge the air of a classy London foodie pub - were in development, serious consideration had to be given to making the auditorium space work.

Newton brought in a Stage Electrics team headed by Paul Roughton at an early point in the project, not only to supply and install lighting and power distribution but to devise a rigging solution for the auditorium. The pair had originally met on the National Student Drama Festival, at which Stage is an on-going technical sponsor, and about which Newton would have loved to talk up but for lack of space here.

The auditorium's major architectural "feature" is an approximately square central glass-brick skylight in a flat roof. As the theatre's vision was for a completely flexible performance space this would have to contain a small but technically excellent lighting rig as malleable as the floor space and moveable seating.

Continues Newton: "When Josie started, she knew that the theatre would move to new premises, so everything we bought was portable. So we worked with Stage Electrics on our wish lists, trying to make things fit budgets." The process was completed by a visit by Newton to Jeremy Roberts at ETC which led, among other things, to an order for 36 of the new Source 4 Fresnels. A number of the new Selador D40 Ice LED fixtures also found their way into the rig, part of an ever-greener lighting line-up at the Bush.

Yet it was the rig itself, or rather a custom designed and built Prolyte box truss, that is the unsung technical star of the show.
This unique construction fills the aforementioned central skylight, a space which turned out to be "not quite as square as promised" as Roughton diplomatically puts it. The skylight measures 6087 by 5768 mm and having said that, it's a bit crooked as well.

It sits directly over the other most radical change to the auditorium space, a 900mm deep pit sunk in the floor that yields an overall trim height of 3.8 metres from the original floor level.

Newton: "The building's glass block ceiling is obviously fairly non standard for a stage. We were very keen to keep it for the natural light which makes turnarounds so much more pleasurable," while for performances it is shuttered off with "a few sheets of builder's black plastic".
He continues: "Because the whole of the space could be used we needed a rig that would allow the whole of the space to be lit or any part of the space to be lit. It is too big a gap to bridge with just scaffold tubes and because it's a glass block ceiling there's nowhere to fix points to.
"So the obvious option was to go with truss. And I've used Prolyte Truss before and Stage Electrics supply it, and have it in their hire stock as well, so we were keen to use them for a complete custom solution.

"Roughton of Stage Electrics came over and took the measurements; came back with a design; and worked closely with Prolyte to come up with a practical, safe and accurate solution. Prolyte also custom manufactured four corner brackets that would allow the box structure to mount into the walls as they are, and account for the difference in wall lengths."

The whole piece is completed by transverse 12 ladder beam cross pieces that can be added or removed to suit lighting positions for any orientation of the auditorium and / or stage.

Newton: "We needed a flexible system because some shows will need a lighting position bang on centre stage and so we'll need a bar there. Some shows, though, will need a piece to be flown in centre stage so a bar in that position would mean you can't get past it. So the brief to Prolyte was something that can be as flexible as we are with the seating in there."

The rest of the room's lighting requirements are temporarily covered by scaffold tubes in a layout designed by Associate LD James Farncombe, also supplied by Stage Electrics and along with new access equipment and several hundred metres of cabling and distro - until the building is finalised the decision was agreed to resort to good old-fashioned cable runs rather than chasing out walls that might later be remodeled.
Newton adds: "The dressing rooms are still being built, and the production office is the next thing, which often gets left to the bottom of the list. And we're doing it ourselves so we'll have some fun with that!"

Also still in assessment is the house lighting system, although GDS is already in use for emergency lighting.
One of 12 London theatre partners in The Thrive Network' that includes Hampstead, The Young Vic, The Tricycle and Greenwich, the Bush was one of the founding members of the Eco Venues group and is home to the offices of Julie's Bicycle.

Bush TheatreIts latest production, 'The Kitchen Sink' by Tom Wells, was being built on ET's visit, accounting for the apparent visual chaos, the new floor pit accommodating a kitchen complete with working plumbing and several tons of sand.

Newton: "We had a pretty impressive opening production - an event piece of theatre which involved 66 pieces of work varying in length from a poem to a half hour play with a cast of eight and everything in between. And we needed to create a rig and a system that would accommodate 23 directors, 128 actors, eight design assistants, seven stage managers and a whole host of other people."

Bush Theatre"Will Evans, the lighting designer, understandably didn't want it to look like an end of year revue show so he maintained lighting uniformity and a palette of colours that worked he thought for the overall piece and then allowed each director to choose from that palette. But it was a much bigger show than our normal work will be and included projection."

"Stage did us a great rental package deal on all of the extra equipment because this show was scaled up massively from our normal model." He laughs: "The theory being that we won't ever go that big again - but the problem is that we've now proved that we can do it, and what's to stop us trying again? I like that we are over-ambitious because we constantly manage to achieve our ideas, and it's pretty rewarding doing that. Much better that way than any other."

 

 



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