Notes on a Variable Stage

I have nothing about the script or renderings to share this week, although they are still on schedule, meaning we have not passed the deadline yet. Instead, let’s talk logistics.

Bobby’s Birthday is the first test of what I hope will be a modular, reusable, and efficient system for designing, constructing, and installing dark rides and walkthroughs. The organizing unit of this system is a Stage, which is not that different from the traditional definition of a stage, although they’re generally smaller. (Birthday will have at least five Stages.) Stages will probably be built of frames made from 1/2" PVC in a 2’ grid, with legs at every other pipe intersection that will probably be about 2’ long. This is not an incredibly strong structure—it wouldn’t be suitable for a stage for actors, but for our props I think it should be just fine.

Each Stage is self-contained, meaning it also provides its own means of hanging backdrops and lights. Realistically, this probably just means that there are longer pipes rising up from each corner of the Stage (like a four-poster bed). The backdrop and deck of a Stage will be made of a continuous piece of painted fabric; lights will either be simple worklights on clamps or embedded LEDs. Figures and set pieces will just sit on the grid when possible; heavier-duty pieces will sit straight on the floor and rise up through holes in the floor fabric.

A Stage’s power management should also be organized internally, exposing just one cord to be connected to electricity. Ideally, each Stage just starts working when it’s plugged in and shuts down when it’s unplugged—no other setup required. Tripped fuses notwithstanding, Bobby’s Birthday should be operatable entirely from the switch on a large power strip.

Am I over-engineering this? I probably am! But I like constraints, and applying a standards-based approach to this show is helping me imagine it as something tangible. I think of it a bit like shipping containers: when one aspect of a system is fixed and well specified, the rest of the system is left alone to flow around those parameters. If I can stick to this system, everything from booking a space to planning a budget to designing a brand-new show will grow that much simpler.

That’s all for now. Next week you’ll see most of the script and most of the drawings, designed with this Variable Stage system in mind. I say “most” because while the whole thing will be done, I’m keeping the finale a secret for as long as possible.

If you’re in the US, I wish you a happy Thanksgiving! What’s your Thanksgiving Wish? My Thanksgiving Wish is that Obama pardons Chelsea Manning instead of some friggin turkeys. Bye!