BACKSTAGE EXCLUSIVE with Mark Stiven
31 May 2016
Following Mark Stiven’s Sleeping Beauty Get-In/Get-Out Time-lapse videos Nick, our Audience Engagement Coordinator was able to speak to him about his work with the Company and gain an insight into being backstage on New Adventures' productions.
Please explain a bit about your backstage role with New Adventures:
My role on Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty is Flyman. A Flyman is responsible for all the moving scenery that ‘flys’ in from above the stage, a prime example of which would be the front cloth for a show, which is what you usually see before the beginning of a show. There is a fair few more scenic items on our show than just the front cloth to move, the trickiest of which are two sets of real silver birch trees, yes that's REAL trees! On the show there are a team of four local staff on the Fly Floor who assist me with the operation of the various flying sequences or cues, some of which can be fairly busy sequences. As the representative from the company, I both teach and 'call' the fly plot during the week as well as operating some of the cues myself. It is my responsibility to try and replicate the same show in each venue with different staff each week.
Aside from just the operation of the show I also am responsible for ensuring that all the flying pieces 'fly' past each other without bumping or hitting. This is done by brailing up in the grid. The grid is the load bearing structure high above the stage from which everything is suspended including the fly bars to which our scenery is attached. The fly bars are part of the 'in-house' structure and are a series of metal tubes/pipes that are attached (via pulleys and steel wire rope) to counterweights at the side of the stage. these bars run horizontally across the stage and have fixed spacing between them. As our set doesn't necessarily reflect the same spacing of the bars, sometimes I have to pull the steel wires that are attached to bar up or downstage. I do this by using extra pulleys in the grid, to increase the gaps between the scenic pieces.
Finally, as Flyman and essentially the deputy to the Master Carpenter, I am responsible for packing the show into the trucks each weekend. Not only is it important to ensure the the set remains in one piece whilst it travels, it is also important that it arrives in the order that people need it when we reach the next venue. After all, there is no merit in having the first thing needed in the building, buried deep at the back of the third truck!
Did you complete any formal training in Technical Theatre has helped you to get to where you are today?
Yes, I studied at the Royal Central School of Speech & Drama, in London, on the Technical & Production Management Course, however I have been involved with theatre in some capacity from since I can remember. I think my first real experience of production in theatre would have been from my time in Stage 65 at Salisbury Playhouse. The Playhouse also happened to be where I later gained one of my first jobs in theatre as a casual stage technician.
When did you first join the Company and how did you discover New Adventures?
I first discovered Matthew Bourne after having been taken on a school trip to see Edward Scissorhands on its first outing at Sadler’s Wells, in 2005 and was somewhat blown away by the style of production that was shown. I remember also seeing Swan Lake with my parents and knowing that someday I'd like to work on one of these productions. At university I was fortunate to have been mentored by the late Petrus Bertschinger, who worked with Matthew at the beginning of his career with Adventures in Motion Pictures 25 years ago, as the first Production Manager. It was he who helped to set me up with a work placement on the 2010 tour of Swan Lake. Later on in this tour I was taken on as Technical Swing and I haven't really looked back since!
Do you have a highlight from the Sleeping Beauty 2015/16 tour so far and is there anything in particular that you are looking forward to?
I think a highlight on the tour so far was opening night in Milan. For me this was a particularly tricky venue as the fly floor was split over three levels, one of which was motorised. As well as this, the fly bars were rather close to each other, making it pretty difficult to maneuver the bars around in the grid. In the end and after a great deal of forward planning, rehearsal and an excellent Fly team the show went ahead without fault, much to our relief!
What’s it like constantly being on tour and do you enjoy it?
It is tough, I won't sugarcoat that point. When you are required to change city every week you need to have your wits about you and be well organised. Being part of the backstage team your weekends are taken up with packing up the show, travelling and then loading back into the next venue, it can become physically very tiring. This said, the experience that you gain on the road is in my opinion invaluable. Not only do you get a chance to hone your skills set and apply them to all manner of scenarios, you also get to see so many places that you otherwise would rarely have the time to get to. Touring over the past few years has taken me not only all round the UK but to Ireland, Italy (a few times), Russia and soon to be Asia. I think it helps you develop as a person as you become more open minded to how other people and cultures work- it's fascinating!
What is the favourite show that you have worked on so far with the Company?
I think my favourite Bourne show so far is Swan Lake. To me it has and I think always will have a very special place in my heart. It is not only an incredibly powerful show but it was my first professional job out of university and the start to what has been a brilliant journey within the New Adventures family.
What would be your advice for those looking to get involved in Technical Theatre?
First and foremost, go out and get a name for yourself. Get a job in your local theatre as a casual staff member and try to work on as many different types of shows as you can. This will open your eyes to jobs that you won't necessarily come across in the university environment. Ask questions and get yourself involved in what is going on around you. The worst you can do is sit back and wait for something to happen. I started with Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake on a work placement, following the Production Manager, David Evans around. I made a point of shadowing as many people as possible and getting somewhat involved in the build of the show, this in turn put me in good stead for taking on the role of Technical Swing, when they were looking for one later on in the tour. As I had experience in different roles I could then decide later on what I wanted to develop further.
If you haven’t had a chance to watch the Sleeping Beauty Get-In/Get-Out videos here they are below: