Stage by stage- Part 2

This was the Kenton School stage that never was- the West Hall. The school was planned as two single sex schools but opened as one large comprehensive. This hall was converted into a lecture theatre with the seats generally arranged away from the stage. The proscenium was filled in and the actual stage itself was turned into two classrooms, one above the other. The stage side wall was knocked through to make a stairwell and windows were inserted. Whilst it wasn’t used as a stage, there was still a fair bit of playing to the gallery here though.

The room is now the school library, the shape of the proscenium is plainly visible.

Back to the classrooms, the upper room was used for RE in my first year, the lessons ran by an old biddy type (who looked like Hinge & Bracket rolled into one) that you typically find in church halls smiling at everyone.

By the time I had turned sixteen, it had been converted into the Sixth Form Centre. Upstairs was the lower Sixth common room which consisted of undulating padded benches round three sides with a counter and sink on the fourth wall (the stage back wall). Here lived the tea urn and the old valve radio.

The downstairs room was the upper sixth, lined with two rows of built in lockers either side and various tables suitable for playing cards on.


My last recollection of this staircase was that it was plain speckled magnolia walls- with heavy fog cascading over the lintel and down the stairs. I had this spare block of dry ice, a boiled tea urn, a free period and a curiosity as to how high it would fill the room.

(About eighteen inches, before we opened the door…)

Pirates off the Port bow…

Pirates of the Carribean is a signature Disney ride at four of the five Disney theme parks, California, Florida, Tokyo and Paris. (There is talk of building one at Hong Kong as well). It is essentially a boat based ride through diorama, populated by animatronic pirates. It is a rather long ride (10 minutes in Paris) with a couple of water splashes along the way.

The shortest one is at the Magic Kingdom in Florida, although we spent much more time in there than we intended in 2004…

The heavens had opened in Florida, so we dived into the nearest attraction, the Pirates Ride. All was well until the final scene, when the boat stopped moving. There were announcements to “remain seated, as the ride will resume momentarily”. Meanwhile, the music played and the adjacent pirates went through their repertoire of corny phrases. The next thing that happened was the working lights came on and shortly afterwards, the music stopped. Strangely, though, the pirates were still moving and every now and again they spoke a line or two. Then someone came onto the public announcement system advising us that the ride was broken down and that we would be rescued. We could see lots of activity on the dock ahead tantalisingly out of view.

After what seemed like an age (probably about ten minutes) someone turned up and advised us that help was on its way. It would take a bit longer though, because there were thirty or so boats around the ride, not all of which were easy to get at. (Including us!) Eventually, a couple of others turned up with a wooden plank complete with handrail, forming a bridge across from the sides to the boat.

We were carefully helped off, then led through the backstage bits. Even though we had been sat in that boat for half an hour, the sneak peek behind the scenes made up for it. We were taken behind a few scenes and through a large workshop, exiting the show building near some of the parade floats and making our way up through a gateway. Here a cast member was handing out our compensation chits, the chance to “jump the line” on an attraction of our choice.

“No strings attached!”

Stage by stage, Part 1

Revisiting my old school, the halls brought back a lot of memories.

The lower school hall (now called the South Hall) was not very theatrical but it did have a balcony and a large dimmer in the stage left cupboard that dimmed the six main sunflood downlighters and three PAR56 wall washers above the stage. On the downside, the hall didn’t black out, something I found to my cost when lighting Godspell in here. Having scrounged a large (for me) lighting rig from the Drama adviser along with an 18 way Mini II control system. We dismantled one of the main stage internally wired lighting bars and fixed it across two scaffolding towers on the balcony, for twelve circuits. (The school organised an electrician to get us extra power from a nearby cupboard fuse box, after he had been, most of the lower school electric clocks were running backwards). The third 6 way dimmer was placed down at the stage end to connect some side lighting and floor uplighters/backlighters. (The cupboards each side had a handy swing-out door above accessible by built-in ladder which made excellent perch lighting positions).

The show was more of a platform performance in that it was sung but not really acted too much and the first half was the school band. The staging was arranged as a thrust in the shape of a cross, with the musicians either side and three vertical banners were affixed to the back wall. We had roughly focussed the lights during the afternoon but when I pushed up the scene master fader for the start of the show I was surprised to see much of the audience light up as well! The throw was a bit too far for Patt. 123 Fresnels and barn doors don’t really work too well when spotted down. (We had to widen the beams on some of them and then shape them off which makes them a lot less bright).

Our furtive & discreet focussing was also thrown into disarray when we found that the Band had joined us for the second half up on the balcony. The show went well though with the Finale’ being particularly impressively lit (well, I would say that!) We toured that show into several Churches round the area, improvising the lighting according to local conditions. (We had two follow-spots with excellent operators, my mates Wally & Brian).

We did one show in a church down the side of Fenwicks in the City Centre where at the end, the local preacherman wanted to say a few words and it turned into a full blown sermon. We were over-running Patt 23Ns with 1000 Watt lamps and we were worried that the lamps might be damaged so we cheated them out after the first ten minutes. On checking afterwards, one of the lamp envelopes had softened sufficiently to have sagged at the base and blistered at the top.

The other memory of the school hall balcony was where I first became a Young Scientist.

Camera Obscura

The title simply means “dark room” but it was a Victorian technology trick par excellence.

My first Camera Obscura was in Bristol in the 70s, in Clifton overlooking the suspension bridge. A former snuff mill had been converted to a Camera Obscura in what was called the Clifton Observatory circa 1828. After a short climb up the tower, you were ushered in to a dark circular space with a saucer-shaped table in the centre. The operator operated a handle and a couple of looped ropes in order to focus the image on the local landmarks, the main one of interest being the suspension bridge. Whilst being a simple glorified pinhole camera, the effect is electic, like a slide projector image suddely coming to life with movement of a bird or passers-by.

The site had another curiousity- tunnels under the cliff to a viewpoint below. It was still open twenty years later but was now manually (Rats- t’internet has munged the rest of the post!)

Fright Nights

An email went round work yesterday about a sponsored spook-sit at Bolling Hall in November. by the catering staff. The idea is to spend an overnight session in all the scary bits of the hall, where the unexplained things happen.

Bolling Hall is the most famous haunted building in Bradford and even recently appeared on Living TV’s Most Haunted. The ghosts of the Hall date from various historical backgrounds but are famous for being active. There are over 20 reported sightings and incidents of paranormal activity and we believe it’s a night not to be missed!

In the past some of the things reported include the sound of a baby crying has been heard all around the hall and ladies’ voices are heard.

In 1900 when J.M. Tankard lived at the hall one of the maids was meeting her fiancé in the east part of the grounds when they saw a group of Parliamentarian officers approaching them who suddenly disappeared. Back in the 1940’s the head attendant reported seeing a lady in period dress floating 3ft off the ground in the entrance and gliding over to the fireplace and disappearing into it.

The staff like the “Blue Room” the least – people have experienced the feelings as if you are being watched, and a man with long coats tails has been seen by the fireplace in here.

In 1643 the first ghost was sighted at Bolling Hall. The head of the Royalist army, the Earl of Newcastle (who was based there) felt his bedclothes being pulled away from him and saw the ghost of a lady wringing her hands and saying ‘pity poor Bradford’. As a result he changed his orders from his troops to kill all in Bradford to only kill those who offered armed resistance. As a result only 10 people were recorded as being killed in the siege.

And there is much, much more! Fright Nights have organised an overnight investigation of Bolling Hall with access to all its haunted areas. The experience includes an exclusive tour of the location, use of the latest ghost hunting equipment and overnight investigation.

With over 20 years experience within the paranormal, Fright Nights will also undertake a series of psychic experiments including glass moving and you will be joined by a clairvoyant medium through the night.

Now I’m a bit of a skeptic when it comes to the supernatural, although that is not to say that I haven’t been a little spooked in an empty theatre in the middle of the night. It is interesting that there is a Company devoted to running such activities so there is obviously money in it. you can see more here, but their ISP seems a bit flaky.

Serious investigation, trickery, Entertainment, or perhaps a mixture of all three? I’m a bit too much of an early bird these days and if I went I’d be wrecked for the weekend. It might be a laugh though!

My shot of the ghost room doesn’t have anything unusual (apart from a dummy in the bed), but the BBC claim there is something spooky in their 3D panorama.