When Neal Checkoway, director of Lakeside Little Theatre’s upcoming show “Betrayal” by Harold Pinter, found himself facing the nightmarish challenge of nine complete set changes in a two-act play, he realized there was only one solution. He needed a revolving stage and he knew just the man to design and build it.
In early July, Checkoway contacted engineer Dave Hutchinson with a basic specification. The “Revolve” should be 24 feet in diameter, under six inches high and able to carry static and dynamic loads of up to 4.5 tons. In addition, it must be able to fit through the stage-loading door.
To ensure the Revolve was reusable, Hutchinson decided to construct it out of 8’ x 4’ plywood and this economy of sheet pre-empted use of the more conventional spider-web frame design.
His initial design concept involved laying out pieces of cardboard to represent the plywood sheets to scale. Then he committed the concept to paper, including other essential structural elements, to provide a visual image. Without drawing equipment, this involved taping letter paper together to resemble a conventional drawing sheet.
Hutchinson toured steel stock holders, machinists and suppliers around Lakeside. He decided to use 2” x 1” rolled hollow section for the sub-frame and quarter-inch plates to mount the castors. Here a major consideration was the positioning of the castor plates within the sub-frame, to comply with the height limitation.
Equipped with a new drawing board and equipment, Hutchinson created elaborate scale drawings. Then, with much of the design complete, it was time to visit Ron and Al Young at their machine shop opposite Soriana in Chapala, to discuss details with machinist Al and welder Antonio (Tony) Espiritu Rosales.
Hutchinson says that the whole design and detailing phase alone took around 250 man-hours. “But that doesn’t include the many moments on the mirador with a pipe and a beer and then having to run downstairs to make critical notes,” he laughs.
Inevitably there were snags. Of the 48 castors ordered in August only 12 had materialized by late September. Similar issues plagued the 54 high-tensile bolts. Both problems were resolved by trips to Guadalajara.
Hutchinson spent many more hours liaising and overseeing construction with the machinist and welder. By mid-September castor plates were being milled and the sub-frame was ready for fabrication. By month’s end, the steelwork was cut and drilled. Fabrication was complete.
The day after the previous show’s set was “struck” (removed) on Monday, October 13 – and after Hutchinson’s team briefing – the crew set to work and completed the subfloor and Revolve frame in just three hours! The plywood “floor” was added later. (To see the crew in action see www.youtube.com/watch?v=ccKdopuXtLk.)
The construction crew comprised Richard Bansbach, Chet Beeswanger, Alan Bowers, David Bryen, Neal Checkoway, Jonathan Kollin, Neils Peterson, Terry Soden and Richard Thompson; plus “gofer, note-taker and videographer” Karen Lee.
Hutchinson said, “Special thanks have to go to Richard Bansbach for all his help throughout and to a great bunch of lads who worked truly as a team. Thank you gentlemen.”
Although the product of all this inspiration and hard work will not be visible to audiences during the show, being concealed by the set floor, its multiple benefits will be all too obvious.
Divided into quadrants, the Revolve enables one scene to proceed, while three other hidden sets are ready to be pushed into position by two people, as required. This is achieved via Hutchinson’s “key” which slots into the centre of any of the four quadrants’ baseplates. In the same way, once quadrants are off stage, used sets can be completely removed and replaced.
Capable of being dismantled and stored, this literally revolutionary piece of equipment will be a huge asset, not only to Checkoway’s production but, as he says, “to serve the theater well into the future.
In addition to this ingenious piece of equipment demonstrating its usefulness during the show, Hutchinson’s original plans and working drawings will also be on display at Lakeside Little Theatre throughout the run of “Betrayal” from November 7 to 16.