Last night I saw St Albans college's production of Copacabana. I go watch their productions every year. Maybe, the fact that I am great friends with the events director and musical director has a lot to do with it, but I'd like to think that the fact that their productions are always of top quality also plays a big role here.
St Albans believe in minimalistic stage setups. Their production does not have any backdrops, flats or scenery of any kind that can not be carried on by the actors. For this show they mainly used a projector showing images on a big screen. For the nightclub scenes, the cast members carry a few tables and chairs unto the stage. That is the totality of their scenery.
This approach has many obvious advantages.
- It is cheap. Many productions spend a significant part of their budget on building extensive sets which will be destroyed and thrown into the bin after the show. St Albans believe in spending money where it matters (in their view).
- It saves time. Building sets takes time. With many productions, the set building starts even long before cast rehearsals start.
- It is flexible. Having extensive sets that takes a long time to build makes it impossible for the director to change his mind - or scenes - close to the opening night.
- No setup time for scene changes. Let's face it. One way of killing the magic for an audience is to make them sit in the dark for 5 minutes while you change the sets.
- And most important of all. The audience buys it. The show sold out. The audience do not need to see a very elaborate set that looks like a airport to know that the cast is taking a flight to Cuba. A simple image of an airport and airplane projected against the backwall convince them.
I am sure many of you will give us many reasons why elaborate set designs are important. Protea Stage (where I am involved with the production of Aladdin), prides them on their set designs. For Bottoms Up we've build a whole flat on the stage, complete with walls, doors, decor, front door, bathroom door, kitchen door, etc, etc. It looked good and we were proud of it. For Aladdin, we are going a lot further. Just come and see. Many of the people have the opinion that it will be the best we have done so far.
Point is, some production companies put a lot of effort into set designs. If you have the skills and the resources available, there is no reason not to. It adds a lot to the show. However, sometimes you can get away with a lot less.
The music, singing, acting and choreography all is top class. After the event, I had the honor to chat to Rainer von Schlichting, the musical director. I learned a few interesting things from him.
- Even though it is an amateur production, they hire professional musicians. Rainer believes that it is money well spend. Working with amateur musicians adds considerable problems and stresses and needs significantly more time for rehearsals.
- They make use of a professional theatre. Even though they have a school hall large enough to house the production, they stage their annual musical in the Atterbury theatre. That takes a lot of stress out of the process, including the ticket sales. The theatre provides professional sound and lighting, including headset microphones. They do not need to spend a lot of money on sound equipment and lighting, worry about finding qualified light and sound engineers, and is always assured of having the latest technology available. Off course this will only work if there are any professional theaters in town!
- They only do one show a year. Rehearsals started in February. That is a total of ten months of rehearsal. That might be an overkill. Most amateur productions do just fine with only three months rehearsals, making two or three shows a year possible.
If you are in town (Pretoria) this weekend, go watch Copacabana at the Atterbury theatre. It will be a great experience.