Touring to schools is different from touring to venues in one major way. The performers set up the show in schools. In venues, you frequently have stagehands. School tours also often have to set up and tear down the same show at two different locations in a day.
Here’s what I’m thinking about when I design a set for a school tour.
- Each item that needs to be carried in counts for about five minutes of set up time, which means that each item added to the set adds five minutes.
- Each item that has to be carried by two people counts as two items–ten minutes
- Each loose pin hinge or bolt with wingnut adds one to two minutes. (Oh, and by the end of the tour, all loose pins will be replaced by coathangers because the performers will have lost them.)
- Each movement required to set it up counts for thirty seconds.
For instance, say that I have a light and two walls next to each other. Each requires an upright support. If they can all use the same upright, I’ve cut two items. In an ideal world, an item will come out of the truck with a single person, go straight to the place where it needs to be and snap in place. Better yet, that same person can carry in multiple items at once–here I trade extra movements (set the items down, unpack) for extra trips. Extra trips cost more time, so the extra movements are worth it.
- Cut every extra ounce. If I cut enough ounces, I’ve cut a pound. Since in a school tour the performers are the ones who do the set up, it’s vital to make the set as light as possible. It also makes it more likely that they can carry multiple items in a trip, thus reducing setup time and saving their energy for performance.
- Sticky out things suck. When you have to shove something into a van or truck and pull it out every day, you will curse the one bracket that sticks out and catches on everything.
- Measuring adds time, focusing adds time so I want a set that locks together so that distances are fixed. For some shows this isn’t a real issue, but anytime I am doing work with shadows or Czech black it becomes vital.
So my goal is to reduce all of these. The fewer items and the lighter they are means the better the performance will be. That doesn’t mean a simple set, it just means a lot of thought and time building it. The set in this picture is 20′ x 20′, sets up in half an hour and comes out of a standard van. Then we do a forty-five minute operetta with two people and eighteen puppets. We couldn’t do that with a heavier set.