- An Invitation to vist the Theatre -

Date & Time: Thursday 18th Oct 2007.

Location of Start : Theatre by the Lake, Keswick, Cumbria, Uk.

Details : A backstage theatre visit organised by the theatre themselves

With : Mr Patric Gilchrist, Ann and seven other visitors.

The Old Blue Box Travelling Theatre

The precursor to the new Theatre


Keswick's Theatre by the Lake developed out of the legacy left by the travelling theatre of the 1950's and 60's.

The Old Blue Box was the moveable theatre that travelled the country and the Century Theatre Players entertained in towns all round Northern England. It eventually stopped travelling (failed it's MOT as it was described) and came to rest in Keswick. It survived here for many years and in so doing provided live theatre for the town and it's visitors well into the 1990's.

With the help of a large Lottery Grant the new theatre was born and opened eight years ago on the site of the old Blue Box. It now plays to 125,000 people a year instead of the old Century Theatre's 25,000, a tribute if any was needed, to the foresight and hard work of it's artists and staff.

We have personnally enjoyed the theatre's productions every year since we moved to Cumbria,

so this year we welomed the opportunity to enjoy a behind-the-scenes tour of the building itself.

The stage was set for tonight's production of "Taking Steps"

Our host for the tour was Mr Patric Gilchrist,

MD no less of the Theatre Company.

We started in the 'Gods'

the top row of seating of the 400 seat auditorium.

My apologies for any blurred photos as they were all taken quickly as we toured the building.

(Flash was occasionally augmented with timed exposures to enable me to capture the surroundings, not just the foreground. With hand held exposure it's sometimes a problem keeping the camera still.)

If the Stage is the heart of the performance . . .
. . . the Stage Manager's desk is the nerve centre !

Everything on the night revolved around this desk,

from the three minute call for the audience,

to the entrance cues for the artists

and lighting cues for the technicians.

Here if needed, is the prompt

though the professional staff pride themselves in not calling for it.

The Props Table - do not touch.
The gantry system for raising and lowering scenery.
This is tomorrow night's set, waiting in the wings.

Any production needs meticulous planning and weeks of technical work, in addition to the artist's rehearsal times.

This is the lighting workshop, which included the shelves of coloured gels for the spots and floodlights.

Opposite are more spare lamps and cables.

Once set, they aim not to change the lighting rig for the duration of the performance season. That needs a great deal of planning.

Below stage - more storage if required
The theatre even has it's own laundry.
Upstairs are the dressing rooms with tonight's clothing ready.
The Green Room notice board.

The dressing rooms were complete with traditional make up lights and mirrors, and the notices in the artists common room ranged from press cuttings and reviews to well wishing letters and even a menu from the local take-away restaurant.

It was wired for sound and closed circuit television so that the artists not actually on stage could keep an eye on the performance.

The Sound Desk at the back of the auditorium . . .
. . . and the Lighting Desk in the same room.

The sound and lighting is semi-automated but still very much in need of human interaction during each performance. From here the special effects, sounds and lighting changes during the performance are co-ordinated.

A computer program stores the lighting options, but normally it is the work of two people to control the sound systems to the left and to maintain that split second timing of lighting changes to the right. This make all the difference between success and disaster each evening.

The Studio Lighting Rig
Our host explains how they use the Studio for alternative productions

A smaller 70 seat performance area houses the more specialist and avante-garde productions. These run concurrently with the main auditorium productions most nights. The studio has it's own sound and lighting system, albeit smaller than the main stage.

The current building extensions will enlarge this area to allow easier use and extra versatility. The bar downstairs will be bigger too !

The bronze sculpture unveiled on the opening night in 1999.
Some of the ceramic artwork celebrating the theatre's origins.

Returning to the main auditorium we finish our tour and leave knowing a little more of how the theatre works.

Our thanks must go to Mr Patric Gilchrist for his excellent tour, to the staff who introduced us to each specialist areas, and to all the paid and volunteer staff who make the theatre a success night after night.

We've two more plays to see this summer, and the Winter Season brochure is sitting next to me as I type.

Long may it all continue.

- - - o o o - - -

Technical note: Pictures taken with a Canon G7 Digital camera.

Resized in Photoshop, and built up on a Dreamweaver web builder.

This site best viewed with . . . someone with the knowledge and passion.

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