Stay up to date with major milestones on Arts Centre Melbourne’s Reimagining project
Hidden behind the State Theatre’s famous hand-painted curtain is the flying system – a crucial component of any theatre. Made up of a system of battens, wire rope lines, pulleys and computer-controlled electric hoists, the flying system enables our stage crew to lift or “fly” components of a production on and off stage.
Over the past year, a team of contractors working under COVID-19 restrictions has worked tirelessly in the grid – the metal structure 25 metres above the State Theatre stage – to replace the flying system. First the old system was painstakingly demolished, with the team at one point removing nearly 30 tonnes of material each day to be recycled into various steel products. New hoist support steelwork was installed in “Betty Blue”, named for Arts Centre Melbourne’s most significant bequest donor Betty Amsden, and brand new hoist controllers – called “unicorns” were installed. The project was successfully completed on budget and on time in April 2021.
“We saw this project like a production,” says David Harvey, Arts Centre Melbourne’s Technical Director of Production. “We had an end date that was not going move, and we made a commitment to Opera Australia that it would be in the theatre by May 2021. There were some dark days in there certainly with COVID, but with every roadblock we chose to just keep going because there was no other option. Because the curtain will go up – it’s very rare we don’t put a show on in this joint.”
The new State Theatre flying system constitutes a massive upgrade for the theatre, providing efficiency and safety improvements, as well as the ability to visualise the entire staging system in a 3D environment. This state-of-the-art technology will for the first time allow Opera Australia to bring its stunning digital sets and projections to Melbourne, premiering with Aida.
“There was so much for us to learn in this project,” says Claire Spencer AM, CEO of Arts Centre Melbourne. “And I think seeing the team in full flight, with such determination, should give us a lot of confidence as we go through the rest of the Reimagining project – which is a long-term program with enormous complexity. But the problem solving that I saw going on – in my whole career I’ve never seen anything like it. A sincere congratulations to the entire team that worked on it.”