Here are some thoughts and tips from our designer, Mark Koski, with some specific references to the Design-Pak for LITTLE MERMAID which he not only designed, but now has built:
As a professional designer and technical director, I always love to hear comments from our audiences. Frequently during intermission, I will walk the lobby and listen. I know I’ve been successful when I hear audience members (some of whom have been engineers with Fortune 500 companies) say “How did they do that?” That happened during our recent production of THE LITTLE MERMAID in the “kiss the girl” scene when Prince Eric came out “rowing” the small boat (the plans are in the Design-Pak) with Ariel in the stern. (To see a photo of the boat from Mark’s production, see our recent blogpost, “Little Mermaid photos.) We did it using casters. I cannot reiterate enough how the correct caster makes all the difference. In my sixteen years working in a multi-functional facility, I have found that castering all my sets has made my life easier than words can say. The casters we chose for the boat are called Tri-Wheel or Zero-Throw casters. These casters aren’t cheap (about $120 each) but the investment is well worth it! We ended up using four; I have twelve in stock. The beauty of this caster is that it will, literally, turn on a dime! The actor playing ERic had to apply very little pressure from his feet in any direction, and the boat “magically” moved as if on water. The effect was fantastic!
Here are a couple of other things that added to the wonder of the show, both of which have to do with scene shifts, of which there are many in this show. I instructed the cast to always stay in character during scene changes, move the units as if they were floating in water. For the large coral units, two small girls move each unit as if it were a swivel chair. Again, the right casters make this possible. We used the Colson Performa Swevel casters that are indicated in the Design-Pak’s drawings. (The standard 3″ swivel caster from the Big Box store has a lower load rating and the bearings cannot handle what we require in theatre. As a cost of $8 for the “Big Box Store” casters, I may be saving money, but in the long run, the Colsons pay for themselves over and over in production value.)
A second technique we used during scene changes was to have some cast members operate “puppet fish” along the front edge of the stage to draw the audience’s attention from the scene changes themselves. The “fish” even interacted with audience members. We ran the lights not like a conventional “commercial break”/scene change, but as if the puppet fish improvisations were another dance scene. I lit the stage in blue and projected a “reflecting water” gobo using three Apollo Smart Move DMX gobo rotators splashing across the stage. It was very effective.
I hope you enjoy “submerging” yourself into Ariel’s world.