Despite having lived in the Leeds area for over a decade and being a Theatre Technical obsessive, I haven’t been behind the scenes at the remarkable Leeds Grand, discounting a visit to the understage rehearsal room a couple of years ago to see the recording of an interview with Warren Smith, the larger than life General Manager.
Of course, I’ve seen dozens of shows there, good and bad. However, when I heard that the ABTT had organised a visit, that provided me with the impetus to rejoin and get along to the event.
The event turned out to be very popular so that the party was split in two in order to visit the various spaces without (too much) overcrowding.
Crossing the stage on the way to the new rehearsal workshops, we paused to admire the house. The view from upstage on a big stage is rather odd without an audience, namely a very large wall with hole in, beyond which is another room full of empty seats. I’d particularly felt this once at the Sheffield Lyceum working there for a few days whilst the building was “dark” (i.e. no show in) and the stage stripped of all masking in order to clean the dust out of the grid area above. This view reminded me a little of that experience…
After seeing the new spaces, we were then treated to a ride on their massive lorry lift, which raises 40 Tonne wagons from street to stage, nearly 6m above street level.
This must be an absolute boon for the crew, although it is really just making the best of an awkward job as a modern theatre such as the Lowry will be able to cater for several trucks at once with them simply backing up the way they can at Tescos round the back. The Grand used to have to haul everything up and down with a winch & presumably a block & tackle in the earlier days when the scenery & cloths used to arrive from the train station on a hand cart. Now scenery and props can be stored on the connecting bridge seen in the photo, as well as the comparatively spacious original backstage areas. It is still necessary to brave the weather somewhat, as can be seen by the raised hoods amongst the riders.
A new flying system replaces the old, driven from a computerised panel on the fly floor. The system has a precision of a couple of milimetres so that once a position has been plotted it will reliably return to that setting night after night. As moving heavy scenery above actors can be a dangerous business, the system includes various safety features to detect anything unexpected. A dead man’s handle approach on the control panels ensures the brakes will be immediately applied if the operator lets go or the panel is disturbed. It is also designed with performance in mind so that up to four combinations of complex movements can be individually controlled and the speed adjusted to suit slight variation sin performance. (The Grand is the home to Opera North so music sets the pace for most shows).
Up on the grid 70′ above the stage, 64 sets of hoists (32 each side) do the actual lifting work. Each assembly has a long drum upon which five sets of steel wire ropes wind and unwind in their allotted grooves. This photo shows the mesh floor and the stage way down below.
We were also given a chance to see Leeds’ forgotten theatre, the Assembly Room. There is hope to re-open that as a performance space in phase two, but in the meantime it is used as a rehearsal space, asbestos removal permitting…