[Skip to Content]

Set Changeover

The Asolo Repertory Theatre is one of the very few theaters in the world that presents its performances in “rotating repertory”. This means that a different show is presented daily, often two different shows on the same day. Visitors to Sarasota can see three to four in a weekend.

Rotating Repertory: How the Changeover Works

There is no question that it is a grueling task for the performers, but there is another side to the story that goes unseen by the audience. The actual “rotating” part of the repertory process. It is the work performed backstage by a group of hardworking stagehands, enabling actors to perform flawlessly onstage. And the work doesn’t end with the performance. It continues as a different setting is moved in place and technical equipment is changed out or modified.

Work begins almost as soon as the final curtain closes. Lighting and sound technicians begin disconnecting and clearing equipment from the set. A prop-master and carpenter grips begin removing furniture, set dressings, and hand-props. The fly-man starts pulling stage drapes and other set pieces into the fly space overhead using the system of pulleys and counterweights built into the theater.

Once all the surrounding gear is removed, carpenter grips can begin disassembling major components of the set; the flats or set walls and platforms. Most units are pinned or bolted together in sections that become self-supporting. The grips will usually start with pieces in the wings or farthest to the sides and work their way into a central piece that acts as the anchor of support for the rest of the set, They’ll use a variety of methods to move the pieces to storage including built-in wheelsets, furniture dollies, and “tip jacks” designed for moving large wall units.

This leaves the stage almost clear. The next step is to remove any floor coverings. Possible floor coverings include carpets; “ground-cloths”, a form of large painted canvas; linoleum like coverings called “Marley”; and even modular floors in large panels. The grips then work with the fly-man to remove large three-dimensional items from their overhead rigging, such as chandeliers and other lighting fixtures, storing them in crates offstage. Other overhead tasks can then be performed while the stage is clear. Lighting technicians may return to the stage to continue work they already completed in the “front of house” such as color changes, equipment trade-outs, and reloading effects gear with consumable materials. They will then move on to other off stage tasks such as loading new database information into the computers that automate the lighting and audio for each show.

At this point, the order of the tasks goes in reverse. New chandeliers and overhead pieces are installed and floor coverings moved into place. Set platforms and walls are assembled onstage, and technicians return to connect audio and electrical equipment. The prop-master begins placing furniture and set dressings.

All of this continues until all of the items that make up the next show are in place and ready to go. If this is a changeover between the matinee and evening shows, activity will continue right up until show-time for the upcoming performance. Various crews will rotate out for dinner as time allows. In the meantime, a system of checks begins, led by the stage manager. Leads from each of the crews go through lists to be sure each piece of equipment is in place and in working order. Any last minute repairs are made. Some of the most thorough checks are in lighting and sound as each piece of onstage equipment is tested. Tones are sent to all the speakers. Each of the several hundred lights is turned on and any automated features run through their paces. Once everything is known to be in place and in working order the stage manager will give an okay to “open the house”, and patrons will begin to fill the theater.