For its most recent large scale performance, DUCTAC presented Sweeney Todd. S&S sits down with Jaimie Todd, Craig Burgess and Serge Lutfi, to take a look behind the scenes of this gratuitously bloody play.
As lovers of musicals, we here at S&S were looking forward to learning just how the DUCTAC team were planning on presenting the gratuitously bloody play, Sweeney Todd. But we were surprised when set designer, Jaimie Todd, revealed that there wouldn’t be a drop of fake blood to be found on set.
“We did start looking into blood recipes, tubes and squeeze bottles, but we decided that it was probably not appropriate, given it’s Dubai, to make things too gory,” Todd admits.
“Also, another thing is that, this is a set that was put together by us (to save money), not one created by another company. So it would have been very difficult to also stage a lot of liquid going everywhere without the surfaces being highly treated--which would have also cost more money.
“Also, without a lot of people cleaning everything all the time, it would have made things even more complicated. So we actually cut out any actual liquid, as it would have just been quite difficult to maintain,” he explains.
Sound engineer, Serge Lutfi, adds, “I would have liked to have seen a bit more blood, but obviously the budget didn’t allow for that. The thing is, compared to producing this on a stage in New York or London, where the budget is pretty different and they could afford to have five to six different sets of clothing for each actor, we couldn’t afford to do that.”
However, it did not seem as though all was lost in terms of the play’s gory features. Todd explains that they had managed to use water and LED lighting to give the illusion that blood was being poured down a drain during various scenes in the play.
“We have, however, converted the steps up to the main stage into drains, where we’ve propped a few LED lights onto the bottom step,” he reveals.
“The next step is an actual fish tank, which slides in and out and then on top of that we have a drain cover. This way, it looked like one of the characters is pouring blood down the drain.
“We’re actually using water and LED lights to make the water itself look more like blood. Probably a lot safer than splashing the audience with red food colouring,” he laughs.
So if the blood was represented more so via the lighting, rather than physically, we wondered what kind of kit lighting technician, Craig Burgess, decided to use throughout the production.
“Over all, we’re using a combination of conventional fixtures and moving light fixtures,” Burgess says.
“The moving heads we have are ROBE 1200 and ROBE 575. We also have some ROBE 250 at the sides for side light. It’s mostly conventional rig. We also used coloured washes and focus spots in isolated areas,” explains Burgess.
But taking a step back from the gory details, Todd reveals that the building process of the set itself required a great deal of work and attention, over an incredibly short period of time. Everything actually began in London, followed by one large meeting.
“The producer, choreographer and lighting technician came over,” he explains. “We had gone through rough ideas and I had a model, a first stage model, so they could see what I was looking for. It’s tricky this one because you’ve got a tipping chair which has got to work every single time. And then you’ve got to get people down a trap doors so you need some height to start with.
Article continues on next page ...
“So we start off with working on the chair and figuring out exactly what we needed. The budget for the set here wouldn’t have even paid for the making of the chair, which would have cost 8,000 pounds in the West End, so we actually hired the chair to be shipped over from London.
“In the end, we ended up with this set which, unlike most sets, doesn’t have any masking around it. It’s a standalone object on the stage and we’ve cleared everything out of the theatre: masking, boarders and legs--it’s just this one massive black box,” he adds.
Compared to the amount of time spent on CATS, the rehearsal period was a mere two to three weeks from start to finish, which Todd reveals was, “incredibly difficult for a show as big as Sweeney Todd.”
He adds, “If this was the West End, you’d be looking at a rehearsal time of five weeks and then another two weeks before you even start dress rehearsals.”
Todd continues, explaining that the setup began four days from the get out of the previous show. At this point, the crew needed to ensure that the basic structure of the set was up and secure for the actors to be able to rehearse on.
“After that we were building parts of the set in the dark, at lunch time and at the end of the day we’d be shifting sections in and fitting it up. A good deal of the time, the actors were working on a set that was slowly being built around them,” explains Todd.
“In addition, we had to make sure that all of the structures were secure in the first four days and sharing the space with the actors. It’s never an easy thing because during that point you need to fit in all your cables and wires,” he adds.
And with the prep-work seemed to come a few problems that the crew had to work around.
“Masking the entrances and exits, making sure the ensemble can get on and off stage without being seen, required that we expose the fly floor,” reveals Todd.
“It’s also caused a bit of problem with sound getting trapped in the flys. So in order to accommodate this, we’ve put some sound boards back in but much higher up so they’re not visible to the audience.”
Lutfi adds, “Jamie built the set and obviously, being set designer, didn’t take into consideration the speakers. So that was a bit of a challenge to figure out how to position the speakers on the set. But with a tiny bit of compromise, everybody seems to be happy with how.”
“Yes, as a designer, if anybody could design speakers which are a tiny bit smaller that would be lovely. I know you need something that’s a certain size to carry the sound, but the lights seem to be getting smaller and smaller, but speakers never change size,” jokes Todd.
Todd continues explaining that it’s not just the chair that required a good amount of
attention to ensure it worked every time. “You’ve got a bake oven with lights in it and it needed to look as though it was on fire, along with a smoke machine. It also has to contain a person, who gets thrown into the oven itself, safely.
“We have a lot of lights underneath the set, so you feel as though there are other rooms disappearing underneath. A lot of the scenes are at quite a high level so that’s quite difficult to organise and sort out..”
Article continues on next page ...
Building off of S&S’s interest in Health & Safety (H&S) we wondered what was implemented, both during the setup and the performance, to ensure the cast and crew’s safety. “It’s a difficult one, because there are actors at height and there’s a level of risk for any show,” admits Todd.
“So there is that risk. One of the reasons we got them in on the set rehearsing was so that they got use to it early on in the process. The front of the stage is 1.8m off the deck and has a small toe board but doesn’t have a handrail because it would have totally destroyed the look.
We felt that there was a good enough space up there so that they didn’t feel as though they were falling off and there’s enough white tape. We also watched the blocking and made sure that nothing was too far--really, it’s no worse than being in a tube station. You’ve got to talk people through.
“Something else that had to happen was that we needed to hold special tech rehearsals with the actors who were going down the trap door and walk them through the entire process.
I actually did some personal tests on my own to try it out first. We’ve had to talk people through it and there are risks in this show. It’s just making people aware of the risks and how best to avoid them,” he adds.
Lufti adds, “A lot of the show is pretty dark during each scene change and there’s a potential to trip. But that’s why we have rehearsals to make sure that everyone has their heads around it.”
Finally, we were interested to find out what the crew thought to be the technology highlight of the show.
“The highlight was definitely the people getting killed and going down the trap door. There was definite excitement around the concept of people actually disappearing; so much so we heard a huge response from the audience last night when they first saw this,” he adds.
Article continues on next page ...
- 1x ETC ION console
- 6x Robe 1200 Spot
- 8x Robe 575 Wash
- 20x 1200 Fresnels
- 24x Par 64
- 22x Selecon Pacific Profiles
- 15x James Thomas Birdies
- 2x LED Pars
- 12x Colour Scrollers
- 3x Jem ZR33 smoke machine
- 3x Jem 24/7 haze machines
- 8x Strand wall rack dimmers
- 1x Soundcraft GB4/32 console
- 2x Tannoy VQNet 60 (main PA)
- 2x Tannoy VQNet 218 (main PA)
- 2x Turbosound TQ 315 (centre cluster)
- 4x Turbosound TCS-35 (front fills)
- 2x EAW JF290z (stage monitoring)
- 2x Turbosound TFM 212 (stage montoring)
- 2x Turbosound TQ 315 (stage montoring)
- 2x Turbosound TQ 425 (stage montoring)
- 6x Sennheiser EM 300 G3 wireless systems
- 10x Shure SLX wireless systems
- 10x Sennheiser MKE-1 Microphones
- 6x DPA 4060 Microphones
- 3x Crown IT 1200 amplifiers
- Klark Technic EQ & compressors