West Side Story – realising the dream with Splitbeam

Cape Town’s Fugard Theatre has a well-earned reputation for creating exciting and innovative theatre productions and has been making a significant impact on the South African Musical Theatre scene for some time.

When they, with the backing of Film, Television and Theatre Producer Eric Abraham, decided to mount a local non-replica, full size production of the heritage musical, West Side Story – they realised they would need the facilities of a venue like Artscape to accommodate the scale of this as a first-out-of-house production and would need to source the technical expertise from someone with a successful track record of coordinating full size musical productions on an international level.

Daniel Galloway (Producer at the Fugard) approached Artscape to host West Side Story in 2015. Artscape corroborated his plan to use the services of Theatre Rental company Splitbeam as the company to safely realise the technical and logistical parameters of a show of the scale they envisaged and as a result Splitbeam’s Managing Director Alistair Kilbee was brought on board as Technical Director to manage the logistical, technical and Health and Safety aspects.

When Set Designer, Johan Engels unexpectedly passed away in the early stages of planning the show he left only his initial pencil sketches for successor Connor Murphy to complete the designs. Together Kilbee and Murphy sat with show Director Matthew Wild, the concept drawings and some scale models and painstakingly worked out scene by scene the mechanics involved in bringing the sketches to life.

Part of the challenge on this particular production was that the set design incorporated hinged ‘concrete’ walls with steel fire escapes, a full sized Drugstore and a 12m wide crane. The set was estimated to weigh around 30 tons in total which made movement difficult and risky. Substituting aluminium for steel throughout brought the weight to 18 ton and creative use of stage machinery achieved the seamless scene changes required.

West Side Story enjoyed an extremely successful, sold-out run at the Artscape Opera House in Cape Town in 2015 and is now back by popular demand in Johannesburg at the start of 2017. The production runs at the Mandela Theatre (Joburg Theatre) from 24 January 2017.

Splitbeam fulfilled not only the Technical Direction role including all the logistics of scheduling, trucking, packing and risk assessment on both runs but also fulfilled much of the crewing requirement including a designated “festoon crew” complement of 4 technicians and a 16-strong stage crew.

Splitbeam also provided supplementary equipment for Lighting Designer Joshua Cutts lighting rig and all of the Rigging requirements for the production. Audio for the show was provided by Eastern Acoustics which sub hired the Midas Pro 9 and Pro 1 consoles from Splitbeam for Sound Designer Mark Malherbe’s sound design.

West Side story will run in Johannesburg until 5th March 2017.