Our production of Puccini’s La Bohème boasts one of the quickest, major set changes ever seen on our stage. From Act I to Act II, La Bohème’s setting changes from a rooftop and garret (loft) to a Parisian street.
The main set piece – the garret – is rotated to reveal its opposite side – a two-story building with a ground level cafe. This may not seem like a big deal. It’s just rotating a set piece. How difficult can that be? Difficult – very difficult. It isn’t just a light-weight structure or a façade that can be easily maneuvered. This garret is a giant 1500-square-foot, 30,000-pound structure – the equivalent of a three-story house. Moving it requires planning, precision and a great deal of practice. That’s because the structure needs to be moved manually (yes, manually, by a team of 20 production crew members) and hit very specific, pre-determined marks on the stage.
It’s a feat not only for the stage crew members, but also for the stage management team, led by Production Stage Manager Lyla Forlani. To complete the change, Forlani communicates with her team of assistant stage managers (ASMs) through a series of cues (the precise moments when she tells everyone involved what they have to do and when to do it). ASM’s hear her calls through headsets and other production staff also hear Forlani through squawk boxes (also known as “biscuits”), which are backstage intercoms. Forlani calls a grand total of 16 different cues.
Few companies will attempt this feat of a change. Most companies have a longer pause or intermission between Acts I and II of La Bohème. Not us!
The first time the change was rehearsed in 1993, it took 50 crew members seven hours to complete. The team is still rehearsing and it now takes less than five minutes.
That’s nothing short of backstage magic.
Go behind the curtain to see the Act I to II set change below, introduced by Rupert Hemmings, Senior Director, Production, and Jeff Kleeman, Technical Director, and coordinated by Lyla Forlani, Production Stage Manager.
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