Falling Ceilings and Revolving Audiences.

NIDA scenic construction students push creativity to a new level in live productions

The NIDA June Student Productions Season saw innovation in scenic construction send audiences on a spin.

A production of the play Perfect Stranger placed the audience on the revolving stage, while Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again collapsed the full set during each performance, including the ceiling.

Perfect Stranger was written by Hilary Bell and directed by guest director Kate Champion.

“The challenge was to stage this play with 35 characters and 34 locations as a live theatrical experience,” said Kate.

“I was drawn into the visceral effect of its sense of perpetual movement. Even when reading it you sense it swirl about you with its intrigue and mystery. Intoxicating stuff but how do you stage such a play?”

Set Designer Hayden Relf and Costume Designer Hannah Taylor (Both BFA Design for Performance year 3) met with Kate to tussle over how to bring this evolving story to the stage.

“We wanted to avoid the audience witnessing the many changes of scenery. We wanted the various scenes to seem to appear out of nowhere. We landed on the exciting idea of putting the audience on a revolve to create the spinning perspective from within!” said Kate.

The audience capacity was limited due to the maximum weight that the revolve could take.

“It was an incredible feat for the whole team, from the very demanding build of the set to lighting and sound design, quick changes and agile prop requirements. We also made the actor Ebony Tucker disappear in a puff of smoke and had Amy Joyce enter through a waterfall.

“My favourite moment was at the beginning of the play - the lights go down - Harrison Quast (BFA Acting year 3) enters as the old man, slowly walking in from the left of our vision then very gradually something unnerving happens - are the walls moving? Collectively the audience realises that the seating bank is turning - priceless. I even heard one woman quite audibly say ‘what’s happening!’. It was like being at the start of a ghost train ride and that was just the beginning!”

Heather Fairbairn directed Alice Birch’s exposure of patriarchy in Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. The play disrupts accepted models of storytelling by deconstructing language, character and form. The production was designed by Angelina Meany (BFA Design for Performance year 3) in collaboration with Phoenix McKay on costumes.

Assistant Director Alexei Ymer-Welsby explained that “the concept behind the stage construction was to have the performers deconstruct the set by literally ripping it apart - a metaphor for their 'deconstruction' of patriarchal norms at the centre of the play.

“In rehearsals, we used a full-scale markup of the scenography so we could choreograph in a detailed and controlled way how the actors would go about pulling off cabinets, inverting tables and smashing plates. In the performances, this precision enabled the actors to safely go about 'destroying' the set while giving the audience the impression that it was entirely spontaneous and anarchic.”

Matthew Hinton in his final year of the BFA (Scenic Construction and Technologies) worked as the Constructions Supervisor. He explains that “the set was a dollhouse aesthetic pink room. It looked pristine from the start, but by the end of the show, most of the walls were stripped, cupboards were tipped, and a ceiling section had caved in.

“Working on a set that has to be pulled apart twice a day had unique challenges!” said Matthew. “I learned a vast amount about prototyping and the ongoing development of ideas. I worked with a designer and our props supervisor Rachel Hallett (BFA Properties and Objects year 3) to ensure that each aspect of the set moved and fitted together as seamlessly as possible. A clear highlight was the first time that we dropped the ceiling in the space. Weeks of planning, building and installing all culminated in one moment of a test and justified the hundreds of hours the team had put into the production.”

Applications for the 2022 intake of all NIDA BFA courses will close on Thursday 30 September.

This year, it’s free to apply, and in 2022, approximately $600,000 worth of NIDA Scholarships, including Indigenous Scholarships, will be available to assist students with living expenses and/or tuition fees.

Visit apply.nida.edu.au for more information and to apply.

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again. images by Gaye Gerard