Setting the scene

by Linda Robertson

Production students are the backstage stars who bring the magic of theatre to life.

Linda Robertson goes behind the scenes to discover what it takes to stage a showstopper at RCS.

A student hunches over a workbench, lost in concentration. Behind him, sparks fly as steel frames are constructed while paint is painstakingly applied to the backdrop of what will be one of the most ambitious productions ever staged at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland.

It’s just a few weeks until the curtain rises on Broadway opera Street Scene in the New Athenaeum Theatre and it’s all hands on deck in the workshops of the Wallace Studios at Speirs Locks.

Students, from scenic artists and prop-makers to carpenters and costume-makers are creating a showstopper of a set… a spectacular seven-metre high towering trio of tenements which take a starring role in this story of a 1940s New York neighbourhood with all its gossip and goings-on.

Designed by Adrian Linford and built and operated by students of the BA Production Arts and Design and BA Production Technology and Management programmes, the set’s detail and craftsmanship is incredible. There are iron balconies and balustrades, front stoops and fire escapes and the iconic city skyline glittering in the distance.

The construction and the scenic artwork is phenomenal, every tiny detail has been captured. Ros Maddison, Head of Production

Adrian agrees: “It’s tremendous work – the students have brought 1940s New York to life. Everything is superb, from the set structure in the workshops to the painting and costumes.”

The collaborative curriculum which underpins all teaching at RCS puts production at the heart of performance and what audiences see on stage is all down to the creative artistry of the Production students – whether it’s the breathtaking sets, the atmospheric lighting or ensuring everything behind the scenes runs like clockwork.

Tutor Simon Cook sees the benefit of this teaching environment: “There’s no distinction between a real, live workshop in industry and what we’re doing here. The performance and production process is how we teach and it’s the best resource you can have. It’s not just about the theoretical, it’s the practical, the soft skills you learn whilst working with the staff, who are professionals.”

As a busy performing arts venue, students cut their teeth on everything from the big-ticket productions like musicals, opera and ballet to more intimate shows: “We have around 30 fully-staged productions every year so students get to work on a range of productions. The larger shows are around 18 months in the planning; it’s a finely-tuned operation,” says Ros.


Back in the workshop, Production Arts and Design student Niall Scott-Martin is sanding window frames for the Street Scene tenements: “I normally make props but I wanted experience in the workshop. I really like the immediacy of it; you have the design, you build it and it goes on stage, rather than a purely theoretical exercise. It’s amazing to see something on stage and to know that you made it.”

Ros says the students and staff are heavily invested in the creative process: “It’s a major experience for students to see an audience appreciate their work on stage. It’s the kind of buzz that performers talk about.”

And for her, she loves seeing the transformation of students over the three years: “It isn’t just one show, or one piece, it’s an accumulation of things – the professional standard and the camaraderie amongst the group. What they achieve is really amazing and it just blows me away.”

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