Marionette sets offer completely different challenges from normal play sets. Even our shorter shows for private bookings often have at least one change of scene, and the big theatre productions can have as many as nine different scenes within a show. In the theatre shows, where there is ample overhead room, the backdrops are layered first to last and are removed vertically. The travelling shows required more flexibility, since some venues are extremely limited for space, so whatever scene changes occur, they have to be self contained within the stage. For these shows, I created a main backdrop, against which sliding cutout sections can move back and forth, screening the main drop or other sliders to convey the different scenes.
The wings of our stage are always concealed by revolves, which are designed with a basic scene on each side, usually one interior and one exterior. Each side is created with grooves for sliding pieces that can go in and out; thus each revolve can act as host for a variety of scenes throughout a show. Like the backdrops, the sliders are lined up first to last, but they are usually painted on both sides, so that they can simply be reversed in a scene change, making each slider good for two scenes. The tops of the revolves contain steel hanging bars or swivelling rods which enable us to hang up puppets on stage if the scene demands more marionettes than we have hands available.
Specialty pieces are often used in our more complicated shows. In several of our Christmas shows, a revolve is used that has Santa’s sleigh on one side. The sleigh has to be disguised in subsequent scenes where it is not used, so specialty pieces can be built that fit over it and nestle against the revolve. In The Highwayman’s Christmas, a shed with a tree at the back and barrels against its wall was constructed to cover the sleigh for the Foxy Felon scene. It was set in place and lifted out by the tree trunk at the back, which served as an easily accessible handle.
In The Cinderella Caper, the plot revolves around the challenge of the transformation scene when the pumpkin has to turn into a coach. The naughty Cedric has implanted a virus in the computer that controls the operation and the pumpkin keeps exploding and collapsing at the critical moment. Ultimately, of course, the transformation is a success. This was created through a mixture of lighting and special cutouts. The outline of a pumpkin was created with orange rope lighting around the proscenium of the puppet stage, and outside this lighting was a second string of flashing white lights. The coach was a cutout decorated with bands of sequins and sprinkled with sparkle dust, and it was hidden behind a night sky drop. A tiny pumpkin was attached to a small moveable set piece which was set behind a long slot in the stage floor. A large pumpkin cutout was fitted on a moveable base below the stage, and at the appropriate moment, was raised up through the slot, blocking the view of the tiny pumpkin, which was moved out manually once it could not be seen. When the pumpkin was fully in place, the orange outline came on, framing it in light. Then the onstage lights were blacked out as the flashing lights came on. In a matter of seconds, the night drop was moved out, the pumpkin was dropped, and as the rope and flashing lights were dimmed, the stage lights came back on to reveal Cinderella’s coach. A magical moment, but amazingly simply once we had figured it out.
[box]Backdrops and Cutouts[/box]
The same backdrop can be used for more than one show if there is a compatible theme. A plain brick wall serves as a multi-purpose backdrop for our Halloween shows. With reversible centre pieces, the set is transformed from the street at night to Dracula’s castle, or the Phantom’s sewer.
In The Fairy Tale that Went Wrong, one reversible centre piece, surrounded by a back curtain, creates the show’s two scenes: Santa’s Workshop and Sleeping Beauty’s Castle.
The Guard Dog on Duty backdrop also serves for our Easter show, The Egg Detector. Both shows have sliding side panels, painted with trees, that frame the main drop. In Guard Dog on Duty, these remain static and simply screen the different cutouts when they’re not in use, but in the Egg Detector, they draw in and create the woodlands for the second scene.
GUARD DOG ON DUTY
THE EGG DETECTOR