Standing in the scene dock, mid-Festival, it becomes apparent how huge the logistical challenge of presenting a different opera each night is. In an effort to ensure we offer performances on most evenings of the summer, the technical departments at Glyndebourne begin assembling and refining the scenery for each of our six productions as early as February. By the time we arrive at the opening night of our season in May, all scenic elements and large props will have made their way through the scene dock firstly in their ‘flat-packed’ constituent pieces to be assembled on the stage and latterly stored there as real, identifiable settings.
At any one time during the Festival, the precise storage location of every scenic item has been carefully planned to ensure that it is easily accessible at the exact time it is required. The scene dock is not merely a huge space into which we randomly store our scenery. Teams of senior technical staff spend many hours planning the logistics of scenery movement through the scene dock. One small item stored in the wrong location while we are changing from our morning rehearsal production to our evening performance has the potential to bring the whole operation to a standstill. Given the relatively short window of time we have to realise these turnarounds, a misplaced item could delay the curtain up time for our audience. I like to think of the scene dock like a child’s sliding tile puzzle, but on a giant scale. The orientation of a piece that’s being stored is just as critical as its location.
Not only does this area act as the holding place for scenery but throughout the peak of the season you might find any number of skilled craftspeople working on perfecting the finished product. You may find a scenic artist matching a piece of marble detailing on a scenic wall, or a carpenter re-hanging a door because rehearsal has shown that it makes more dramatic sense if the door opens inwards instead of outwards. The variety of items you might see in there are astonishing too. In 2017 we had an army truck, a petrol pump, casino tables, a swamp, a giant peacock…
For someone who has spent his career in the backstage environment, I know that this space is the main reason that we are able to present different nightly repertoire to our audiences. Without it, Glyndebourne’s productions would have an altogether different look and feel.