Sunday, October 4, 2015

Backstage at the Art Centre, Melbourne

C and I had tickets for Backstage Tour of The Arts Centre Melbourne on a Sunday morning. I wasn't sure what to expect but I knew we would see the inner sanctum of the arts and I was excited. We saw things beyond our wildest desire and were thrilled.
Our guide not only had supreme knowledge of the building, including history and what was currently showing and going on, she was very passionate about her subject. She was no nonsense, but had a little twinkle in her eye when telling us these fabulous stories.
Our small group were taken down underground to the lowest level, which is 6 floors underground and where all the corridors behind the 3 stages connect. These are the corridors the performers and musicians use. It is almost a large horseshoe/circular area around all three stages, each are being colour coded depending on which stage the corridors and subsequent dressing rooms belong to.
The first thing we saw as we entered these corridors were huge trunks, and many of them. Each trunk was full of ballet shoes, and each trunk only held one size, men and women's separated. it was something to behold. We're talking tens of thousands of ballet shoes!
Our guide told us stories of how the dressing rooms are sequenced, the more important you are the closer to stage door, some rooms held more than one person, little nuances of the art world, theatre, ballet etc having different set ups. It was completely fascinating.
We were very lucky to see the wigs and headpieces for the upcoming Sleeping Beauty being made. The wigmaster was working and spoke to us, explaining most of the costumes were on loan as is usually the case for the big ballets, but they still had extra pieces they added. He was working on lovely feather and flower headpieces, stunningly simple, but intricate in detail.
He spoke about adjusting costumes and how that was done and also about costume changes. Including one he was part of for Siggy (Sigrid Thornton) when she was doing an operatic thing that required multiple quick costume changes in between some of the songs. One change was 6 seconds. He said she would just stand there, slightly off stage with her arms out, and multiple people would change things quickly and at once and push her back on stage.
He told us about some of the tricks they did to streamline these processes, hair sewn into wigs or hats, everything already attached. Jewellery is magnetic, and is tossed around the neck etc, skirts sewn into each other and velcroed at the back, skirts worn under skirts, stockings on stockings. The talent has to trust the dressers and not be shy. The dressers have seen it all!
We were taken to the stage door of the orchestra pit of the main theatre, under the 45m X 45m x 45m stage. This was a complete and utter thrill, my orchestra days well and truly behind me, but as a kid I always dreamed of playing in such an environment. It was actually very tight, but I sat in a chair designated for a violin, and the music for some Stravinsky was sitting there. I felt a little sense of pride swell up inside! She told us about the pit and how it can move from below to a little higher and so forth all by mechanics, very exciting and high tech compared to most orchestra pits. She also explained how nowadays the brass section is a little removed from the rest of the orchestra due to OHS reasons!
We then made out way up on the stage and wow, it's huge. To stand centre stage and look out to where the audience would sit was magnificent. Again many bits of information about backstage, and how sets are moved in and out. You could see props waiting, ready for Sleeping Beauty, some signage, and large trunks marked for the ballet too.

This particular stage is highly fire protected, as it is the only stage in Australia that can fit Wagner's The Ring Cycle and with that comes fire, hence the protection, which is more than usual stages.
We then made out way to the next stage, slightly smaller, set around it a lot of plastic on the corridor floors as The Bangara Dance Theatre were working there at the moment, and the plastic ws down for their body paint.
We then went into the docking bays, which were huge, a semi trailer without cab can fit into there and is brought down there (remember we are underground) by huge hydraulics. and they all basically back onto the three stages. Our guide told us stories of the building being built, it was meant to go 10 stories down, with three large stages, but construction was stopped at 6 floors after the Westgate Bridge disaster. So Hammer Hall next door was built for the 3rd stage and within the 6 floor there was room for a 4th smaller stage.
We then went into the smaller stage, set up for a play at the time. It is an intimate theatre, and was great to be on the stage amongst the set.
We also visited rehearsal rooms, some with pianos in. They mostly had Yamahas and 4 Steinways but the theatre has sponsorship with Kwai, so they are the ones used for performance, the others hidden away. Steinways hidden!!!! Woah!!!

As we moved through these corridor there were often posters from productions including one for Hamlet starring and signed by the four leads - Cate Blanchett, Geoffrey Rush, David Wenham, and Richard Roxburgh...oh my, imagine seeing that!!!!!!

And after about 90 minutes we were done, what a wonderful experience, if you are a lover of the theatre this is a must see when you're next in Melbourne.

No comments: