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Les Miserables Scenery


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Hey guys,

I'm currently working as SM at CRGSchool in Colchester - a role which basically encompasses all things technical theatre. We have just got the rights to perform the schools edition of Les Mis in December - and I have the joyous task of designing and building the scenery... For various reasons we are working on a highly limited budget, however everyone involved is looking at this as the big show. It should be the best we've done in the memory of current student and staff, as well as remaining so for a long time to come. It is also likely to be my last major show before I leave the school after many years, so I want to go out with a bang! The stage we have is pretty big, but doesn't have any form of official fly rail and the wings are ridiculously small... Having had preliminary discussions with the director, we have come up with some basic ideas - I know have to work out how to make them feasible...

He wants to have a raised area at the back of the stage to add more dimensions, and wants that to remain throughout the show, this should be fine as we already have steel deck. However, we have decided that we need to come up with some way of indicating two separate halves of the stage, as if separated by a gate for the 'heart full of love' scene. We also want to do the barricade properly and make a spectacle of Javert's suicide. As mentioned before, there really isn't any space in the wings for scenery, so anything big, like the barricade needs to transform from something else which has been on stage since the start of the show... In terms of the bridge scene, I was thinking of pulling a piece of the steel deck forward centre stage from the raised back section - but haven't worked out how to convert normal steel deck and scaffold poles into a wheeled truck... We are also extending the stage forward with more steel deck, so thought we could lower one of these pieces during the scene so the actor falls through the stage...

So, long winded explanation over, these are the questions:

1. How to build a barricade which can stay on stage for the whole show

2. How to create a sense of separation

3. How to make normal steel deck into a wheeled truck

4. How to drop down a piece of steel deck mid-show

Any help, alternative ideas or things I've missed please do say.

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For the barricade, have it open up to create a box set for the indoor scenes and have a swipe track to bring a curtain/gauze in-front of it for the other outdoor scenes. If using a gauze, you can "refer" to the baricade in other scenes (notably Empty Chairs, where some silhouetted action in-front of the barricade through a guaze looks nice).


The Gate should be easy. Just have one, set at about 45degrees in the middle of the stage. It only needs to be about 30cm taller than the height of the highest character to stand near it. Have a pillar on each side and don't actually have it opening. A couple of stage weights to stop it moving and bob's your uncle.


Put Cosette on the side that's angled up stage, Marrius on the side angled down stage. The piece only has to convey separation, they could actually move down stage of this and interact in a pseudo-dream manner if the director so wishes.


Use lighting and colour to show the separation, light it in such a way where they're never in the same light source. Lots of contrast and use of different colours on the two sides of the stage should go a long way.


You can hire wheels to use as Steeldeck legs easily enough. Of course, if the raised back section is too high, it wouldn't be feasible to make it wheel forwards safely. Also, you may find the wheels foul on the legs of the adjacent decks when you try to move it out from the back structure.


Dropping the Steeldeck is difficult and easy to get wrong, try and avoid it if you can.



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You could always buy a new top for the steeldeck and cut a trap, to one side of the steelwork. I did this quite successfully (says OFSTED)

In contrast, in a technical theatre lesson, the students discussed and resolved authentic problems of stagecraft, such as how to lower a coffin on stage, and benefited from the professional knowledge and experience of the teacher. Both the students and the teacher gave proper consideration to health and safety issues.

We cut a trapdoor (for a coffin in this case) and apart from the bolts, we built a metal frame which was under it for extra support to the trap, which was removed by an erk (student) who lived under the stage for the 2nd half!

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-the wheel issue shouldnt be an issue! (say that quickly when your drunk! haha)


Simply use fixed braked (2 of them) casters in thus direction required to travel.


I did this for a show where we had a line of 8x4 sections of deck and throughout the show, each section perodically travelled D/S. Powered by actors - not automation....


The guaze idea on a curved track is nice. If you had 2 sections of gauze - that then gives you a center parting to enable the bridge and gate scene to be played with no restriction and you can light the guaze from the front and some gobo breakup.


Mind you - in the past, I did a schools version of this - and they just had the barrier there on 2 large sections of deck either side of stage and when it came to the big scene - thus mentioned decks simply tracked togther by the same method as mentioned above. Fixed casters. Everyone knew the barrier was gonna feature anyway so why bother try and hide it ? Once the lighting turned to masses of stark backlight and loads of smoke and the music - the 2 sections of barrier sliding togther looked magnifico. :)

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having done this in a space that is no way anything like a theatre, we had 3 large and far too heavy solid blocks approx 6 ft by 3ft by 4ft tall, that were used to show the barricade, along with the cast "Building the barricade" using tables, chairs, and any thing else we were using as set/props. we also had a bridge section that sat over the top of 2 of the blocks, approx 3ft apart, for the suicide, and used the tunnel underneath for the sewers, with lots of up lighting and down lighting for sewer lighting.

We had an actual gate (which has since been a prison door and all sorts!!) and a small section of box with wall wallpaper on (looked good!) to show the garden, bit of leafy break up and an interesting shade of green in some lanterns, ta dah!!!


have some fun, but also don't think you need completely different sets for different place, lighting, tables and chairs, small props and using separate areas of the stage for different things work really well.

With lack of wing space ( we had none apart from a corridor behind the stage) make it clear and tidy, and practice how it all work, with and without the cast!!!!

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In the way back when when I did this at school we used a manual revolve which was a great help on the barricade scenes.


The gate was as Josh suggests.


The bridge is tricky without fly space.


We used a good deal of projection for "atmosphere" (projection was new and funky back then).


I think I've thrown all my drawings etc. away but I'll see what I can dig out.



As an awesome aside Mr George Blagden who played Grantiere in the film of Les Mis started out in our production of it, I found the cast photo the other day!

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When I did the schools edition last year, we had a small, low set piece for the bridge that Javert could climb over the edge of, with a discrete black step in front for him to perch on (barely a foot off the ground). Low fog and animated lighting provided the effect of the river flowing under it. As he jumped, the generics blacked out and the moving heads swooshed upwards and faded, representative of a splash. Timing was split-second critical but when done right, looked really effective.
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