A firm ground to walk upon

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In both of ACT Theatre’s main stage spaces the stage sub floor is made up of large hexagonal decks welded from steel channel and lidded with an inch and a half thick layer of plywood. They stand on steel pipe legs with threaded feet which make the level of the deck adjustable. The stage floor for Bountiful rests 11 inches below zero level, so the first thing we had to do was lower the sub floor. In this case, as I said in my last post, we replaced the stock decks with custom ones to accommodate the lifts so “everything must go!”

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The stock decks are not light by any stretch of the imagination, so changing the level of the stage is often an all hands plus a few chain motors endeavor. The custom decks we built for this show were much bigger than the stock decks, but since they were built from steel tubing they are thankfully not as heavy. While I can’t personally speak to how easily the custom decks went in since I was working in the grid at the time, it seemed to go relatively quickly.

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Once we had a full stage deck, absent the three lifts, we started laying out the floor boards. Each section of floor was mapped and information relating to color, type of board and even the spacing between the boards was noted for every section. There is a large arc that runs across the middle of the stage. In order to draw the arc consistently across the numerous sections we laid down half of the floor first and scribed an arc with a giant compass which was made from a long piece of tube steel and a pivot point that we usually use for cutting large circles with a router. Once the arc was drawn on the first half of the floor we pulled up the boards along the  line and I took them up to the shop to cut them while Jeff laid out the other half so he could repeat the process.

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When we have a complex floor like this we save all of the off cut so that if something happens and we have to replace a piece of the floor there’s a chance we can do it from pieces that we already have prepared rather than having the painters make new ones. We’ll keep the floor scraps all together at least up until opening night. After that the smaller pieces become trash and the useable scrap gets filed away for future projects.

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Since the first row of seats sits at zero level, when we lower the stage like this the designer is asked to include either a wider section of zero level floor or some sort of railing in the plans. As you can see in the first pair of photos the section of permanent floor in front of the seats is relatively slim and more so when the seats are folded down. For Bountiful the solution to this is a row of benches that completely surround the stage and act as a curb for the audience. The framing for the benches was built ahead of time in the shop and then brought down to the theatre in sections for installation once the floor planks were in.

The other thing that happens once we have a stage floor that’s safe to walk on again is that we start sharing the stage with the electricians. A good portion of the lighting grid in the Allen theatre can be reached by using extension ladders with their feet resting on the tiered floor among the seats. The center section however requires access to the stage, so we all have to be that much more aware of each other in order to make sharing space effective. Our Master Electrician does a fabulous job of planning the lighting hang so that they don’t have to put a ladder where we’re trying to build, but there’s always a certain amount of shuffling that has to go on.

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Now you see it, now you don’t. When we’re not using the stock decks they get stored in the second floor dock near the freight elevator.

Next I’ll post about the goings on in the trap room and up on the grid. I talked it over with the other carpenters and I’ve decided to go ahead and post about the various tricks in this show and how we did them. If you’re the sort of person who thinks that will spoil your experience of theatre magic you might not want to read them.

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