This month we had the pleasure of seeing the NETworks tour of Disney’s Beauty and the Beast when it arrived in nearby Hartford, CT. Of course we are fans of any fun musical, but we were particularly interested in seeing this fairytale brought to life as the production has been using two of our Curtain Call machines for almost a year. NETworks purchased the machines as a complete kit including Spikemark software running on a Lenova Yoga computer, Showstopper, and two Stagehands. Eager to see how the gear has been performing, we met with Production Carpenter Megan Parrish and Carpenter / Automation Operator Caitlin Madden before the show to take advantage of a backstage tour.
It was a pleasure to meet Megan and Caitlin who were very generous to show us around amid the hustle and bustle of pre-show activity, and even more generous with their compliments on the operation of the gear. As it turns out, it wasn’t Megan’s first introduction to Creative Conners: she had attended a 2011 automation seminar at University of South Dakota (where they are still getting great use out of our gear!). This is a pic for you, Megan, in case you need something for the next Throwback Thursday.
In Beauty and the Beast, the Curtain Call machines automate the lateral motion of large fabric swags used to bring to life different locations in Beast’s castle. Combining the tracking seen in the video clip below with traditional hand operated line sets produces dramatic sweeping entrances and exits of the swags, mirroring the drama into which the audience (and Belle) are swept as they enter and experience Beast’s world. The production takes full advantage of the ease of movement of the swags, amassing forty five cues for them.
As the main operator of the system, it was quite helpful to hear Caitlin’s experience. She expressed noted satisfaction using Spikemark on the Lenova’s touchscreen when loading cues during maintenance and for manually moving the swags during any non-show moves. We asked Caitlin and Megan what they thought about the upcoming addition of a dead man’s (hold-to-operate) switch on the Showstopper 3. The dead man is a frequently requested feature, and is specified in the PLASA standards for theatrical hoists; however, in this case it did not surprise us to learn that it would be unnecessary to the point of being a hindrance. In Caitlin’s situation of tracking the swags, she would need the original configuration which will be an option when the Showstopper 3 is released. For all the automation operators reading this, here is the future Showstopper 3 button layout.
From the other side of the proscenium, of course, all we thought about was how brilliantly the cast and crew transported the audience into the fairytale, and gave us two hours forty minutes of quality entertainment. Our fellow audience members loved the show as well, but I suspect would have loved it just a bit more if they had known Cookie Monster was hanging out backstage with the crew.
He will travel with the show next to Dayton OH for perfomances 5/27 – 6/1 then just three more cities before the tour wraps up in early June. Let’s hope he gets to continue his backstage career during the 2014 – 2015 tour. Or perhaps he will join a second production slated for an international tour opening in Istanbul this fall.
Special thanks to Megan and Caitlin for their time. And to my patient dog who desperately wanted attention during the editing of the swag video.