Problem solving: the barricade in Les Miz

One of my favorite things to say to young designers and techies is to avoid going with the obvious. It’s almost like saying, think outside the box, but without resorting to the cliché.

Case in point: a production of Les Miz I designed for a theatre group in Newark, CA. This group plays at the local high school, which has a nice auditorium, complete with stage, lights, control room, a shop right behind the stage, and so forth. However, the stage was designed more for choral concerts and dance recitals than for theatre: the proscenium opening is about forty feet wide by fourteen high, and the stage is twenty-eight feet deep. There is wing space on the sides, but not much. You get the idea.

The director of course wanted a huge barricade, and I had to agree: anything less than huge on that stage would have looked like a postage stamp. And of course the barricade has to revolve to show both sides. An early idea at a production meeting was to rent a 12’ revolve, but I nixed it, both from the standpoint that it would be too small and that it would create other problems. The barricade ended up being twenty feet wide (which was dictated by the amount of open space) by about seven high when covered with stuff, and four deep.

After a long discussion with myself while looking at the floor plan, I agreed that the barricade had to split in half, with one side stored in each wing. There was no other way. Then came the fun part: how to get it onstage, how to connect it together, and how to make it revolve.

The solution turned out to be simple, but I did have to get rid of all pre-conceived notions of “typical” revolves and wagons.

We installed a trailer jack (from Harbor Freight, which was right down the street) on one of the halves. There were two crew members inside each half, who pushed their halves onstage to meet right at a preselected spot. Then the trailer jack, which had a small piece of ply with a non-skid mat on the bottom, was cranked so the ply sat securely on the stage. It didn’t take much pressure to create a secure pivot point. Finally, the two halves were attached together with large C-clamps at the horizontal braces. The onstage end of each half was covered with rough brown burlap to hide the crew inside, and the top was left open for ventilation.

Barricade

What the audience saw was the two halves rolling on stage on their own (no one was visibly pushing them), come together, and revolve on cue. Then the two halves (each with eight dead bodies on it) separated and rolled back offstage. I didn’t take many photos of this show, but you can see a few on my web site, at http://www.georgefledo.net.

I make no claim that this is an original solution, but it worked well and was relatively simple.

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