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First Direct Arena Leeds


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I live in Leeds and we finally have an Arena. It is described as a Super-Theatre configuration in that it is an enormous version of the West Yorkshire Playhouse Quarry Theatre, seating in what is more-or-less one sweeping tier focussed on the stage.


I was fortunate enough to be able to crew for a Classical Spectacular show last month and have a few technical observations that Blue roomers may (or may not) be interested in.


Being an arena, there is no stage or fly tower as such, just a large alcove with a grid above covering most of the alcove. (I will return to the grid later).


The back wall has black masking and the side walls also have masking which can be adjusted to travel between the wall and at right angles forming a Prosc of sorts. (I only saw it with the tracks at about 30 degrees to the wall, forming rudimentary wing spaces). The legs stopped at about 7' above the stage floor SL due to the large number of orchestra and choir who would need to get on and off for this show but I could see eyelets on the lower seam so the masking could be added to the floor. (The backcloth seemed to have a similar arrangement for the doors).


All the doors on the back wall lead into the loading dock which has a three truck tailgate arrangement as well as a couple of compactor skips and room for several box vans (& Durham Marenghi's car!). It looked dodgy on the plans but works much better than I expected. (Well, provided you only have three Artic for your show, beyond that it is awkward as they have to park in a holding area some distance away).


One of the back wall doors is a guillotine shutter so you can drive big trucks in for the early stages of the get-in. Once the stage is in place though, it is somewhat obstructed.


There isn't really anything stage right as the Arena is close to the ring road on that side so the majority of facilities are stage left. There are double doors SL & SR upstage in the side which I imagine go to power distribution closets. There are floor trenches for power & service distribution which looked to be about 18" square, they reminded me of the arrangement in Birmingham NEC.


The flat front seating area is clear for initial get-in and rigging, then the seats are put out on the afternoon of the show. Each seat has a blackboard paint square and they renumber them to match the seating configuration.


Either side of the stage there is a width of floor designated as a fire route. (The green man signs are hidden behind the masking). At first I assumed it was for the audience but the resident crew said it was only for evacuating the stage area. (They put velvet ropes in front of the stage all the way to the splay wall as part of the seating rollout).


Backstage is L shaped. The first part of the L is toilets/showers, crew room, first aid and the venue security room. After the dog leg, there are production offices and then you pass through an exit route to the actual dressing room block. You could be in any arena back there really.


There isn't actually a stage door as such. The staff entrance puts you onto a staircase which takes you up to first floor offices and changing rooms. There is a door into the security room but they probably don't appreciate it being used as a short-cut. The road crew (& choir etc). enter through a door in a roller shutter into what is the behind-stage covered alley. At that end there are a few sundry rooms for OB use and so on before leading on to the loading bay proper.


Now the exciting bit (well for me anyway!) Our trip to the grid to rig the airburst pyro. There are three ways to get to the grid, two of which I had figured out from a visit previously (before the first show). Stage Right, there is a caged vertical ladder arrangement which the riggers told me later was the quickest and easiest way up provided you didn't have anything bigger than a rigger's rope. The second way was right at the back of the top tier, a short vertical ladder leads up to the extensive catwalk system and then you make your way through the massive steels towards the stage.


We took the third way, guided by a local crewman (who had to stay up with us whilst we were working). We went backstage, through the security room, up the staff entrance stairs then along the corridor to an innocuous door. Beyond this was a triangular steel staircase that went up & up inside the Stage Left splay well, ending up at a door almost at roof level. On the way up, we passed a door which went to their control room which has windows looking out into the auditorium (I didn't see inside, but gather they control the house lights from in there on the BMS).


Now that we were through the door and way up high, we then found that we had to go down again a considerable way to get to the grid itself. Access was reasonably clear here and I felt safe, but one of my colleagues was wary because the steel decking was a bit springy. It was pretty clear up there (& well lit), just a bit of weaving between diagonal beams required. There was a loading diagram up there but I didn't get a chance to snap it.


I didn't see any dedicated rigging points, just straps on beams or bridled between beams. As all of the flown trussing and arrays had climbing hoists then it was very tidy aloft.


I only went on the front third of the grid, the back two thirds was down a few steps and the decking ran at right angles to the front third for some reason. There was a shortage of fixing points above the wings as that wasn't gridded all the way to the side wall, instead it had access walkways. This was a bit of a nuisance as it meant the vertical Pyro trussing had to go where it could be rigged rather than where the Head Firer wanted it.


Come show time, most of the back wall doors get locked and access is via the far pair of doors SR and the Dressing Room Corridor SL. There was (paper) signage to FOH from backstage, but it basically took you SR and then you had to walk through the auditorium, there wasn't a pass dor as such. (I was given directions by a security man and ended up in their beer store area, very sharp looking picket fencing for preventing shrinkage.)


The far end of the dressing room block had doors through into FOH but I don't know where.


A few other bits & bobs- No light lock from Stage Left into the Dressing room Block, no blues. My Wife complained to me about the first aid room door that light poured out of every time someone went through it during the show. There didn't appear to be a show relay or cueing facilities backstage although there was a House PA for announcements. The crew room was rather small, the caterers found it very cramped. I've never seen a 3 phase Ceeform directly over a sink before! There didn't appear to be a Green Room for the performers. The sound guys said the accoustic was very good although a bit boomy. I did notice some peculiar slap reflections from the grid in certain spots but I think they were local to me. It was unusual for the LX guys to see the show from FOH in an elevated position at the back of the first tier, most of the time they would be on the flat behind the mosh pit.


Anyway, I look forward to working there again and have tickets for various up and coming shows.

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