My first year in junior college we built a revolve for a show. It was a huge affair with three different scenes, one of which had folding panels to change the setting quickly. In the center of this revolve was what we called the “delta unit,” which was a triangular space that led to each of the three scenes. I kid you not: it was easy (and known) for people to get lost in the thing.
That was my first revolve, and of course it was round. And, of course, going by the textbooks, we built up the floor around it so the whole surface would be at one level and the turntable wouldn’t be visible. It worked beautifully, but, being the first revolve most of us worked on, it also gave us the impression that revolves have to be round.
Your typical revolve, out of a textbook, is a round turntable in the middle of a built-up area. The backs and sides of the set, and the structure on it — and of course the dimensions — can be anything, but the basic idea is the same:
Now and then we see a revolve without the built-up area around it, which looks like a round platform:
Nothing wrong with this, as long as it fits visually into the overall design.
But it doesn’t have to be round. Years ago I designed a small, non-round revolve for Equus, which was about six feet on a side:
But it wasn’t square: the edges were ragged, so it looked like a rough wooden platform:
We can also take this idea a bit further and stack several levels on it, creating a sort of revolving hill or rock formation:
And here’s another way to look at a revolve, from a set I did for Shrek:
For this one, we used half of an existing 12′-diameter round revolve and built a square piece on the other side to create a tilted stand for a huge book:
So the revolve had the fairy-tale book on one side and Fiona’s bedroom on the other. You can see more on this on my web site, at Shrek.
Then, of course, there are those pieces that we think need a revolve, but really don’t. The barricade I designed for Les Miz, for instance, was a free-standing structure that turned all the way around but didn’t sit on a “typical” revolve. This photo shows half of it, from the “rebel” side. The complete unit was twenty feet across:
You can read more about this unit at Problem solving: the barricade in Les Miz.
Revolves can be wonderful tools to help tell a story, but the real trick is to think in terms of what the story needs to say, instead of what the physical piece of scenery “should” be.