News & features

Backstage update

We are in the midst of an essential upgrade of our backstage systems - in this update we take a look at how things are progressing, and find out what's coming next...

Our backstage regeneration project was launched in 2019 and is being supported by generous donations to the Annual Fund.

Having successfully replaced the lighting bridges and point hoists last year, the most significant phase is now underway – removing the existing manual counterweight system to replace it with a fully automated fly system.

Above: The Glyndebourne curtain is manually lowered for the final time on 29 October. This process will be fully automated in time for Festival 2023

This new challenging stage of the project has been carefully managed around rehearsals and performance schedules, and for all involved, time is a precious commodity. No sooner as the wheels of the touring trucks hit the road, the ‘strip out’ phase was set in motion. Two days into this decommissioning process, and things are well under way.

Above: Flybars lowered, ready to be disconnected and removed

Working on the stage level, Glyndebourne crew members systematically disconnect each of the fly bars from their cables. On the level above, the team are tasked with dismantling the counterweight cradles, which up until 48 hours ago, were full with 17 kg counterweight bricks. Higher still, another team makes swift work of removing in excess of 50 manual brakes; an integral part of the old system which will no longer be needed.

Above: Old counterweights stacked up and ready for recycling

Very little is wasted during this decommissioning process. All usable metal is collected and recycled by a company based in Lewes, ensuring that the environmental impact is kept to a minimum. The proceeds are injected back into the project.

The manual fly system at Glyndebourne, installed in 1994 has performed a lengthy service, and inevitably after 28 years it has reached the end of its natural working life. With the need for regeneration, arose the opportunity to invest in a state of the art automated system, which would keep Glyndebourne at the cutting edge of stage technology. Thanks to everyone who has donated to our Annual Fund since 2019 (either directly, or with a donation as part of the booking process), we have been able to make this vital investment to preserve our world class stage for decades to come.

The new system will improve the lifting capacity of the flying bars and increase their flexibility – creating safer working conditions for those behind the scenes. The installation of electric winches means that the time consuming task of loading and unloading counterweight bricks will become a thing of the past. Scene changes will become more efficient, the ‘turnaround time’ between productions reduced, and the need for manual lifting will be minimised. With directors and designers becoming increasingly keen to flex their artistic capabilities, this modernisation affords the opportunity for greater artistic ambitions to be realised.

Head fly man Darren Elder, at the ropes.

For the fly team, which has a combined experience of 175 years, these changes offer exciting opportunities to develop new skill sets. The team has already embarked on training around new software systems which are soon to be implemented, and there are ambitions to develop an apprenticeship scheme to nurture a new pool of talent.

Currently integrated with the Glyndebourne team on site, are members of the automation technology company TAIT, who will take over the project entirely in two weeks. There is a sense of nostalgia as the procession of decommissioned parts make their way from stage to loading bay, but equally there is a buzz of excitement in the air amongst the ‘Glyndebourne hard hats’ for how things will look backstage during Festival 2023.

High in the grid, above the busy scenes of disconnecting and dismantling,the rows of new lighting bridges are already fixed in place thanks to the funds collected in 2021. These are symbols of what has already been achieved in this project and serve as a reminder of the generosity of Glyndebourne donors to date.

If you’re a Festival Member you can include a donation to the Annual Fund when you submit your Festival 2023 ticket application, or alternatively you can make a donation below.

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