Backstage at Southbank Theatre. Photo: Brett Boardman
Backstage at Southbank Theatre. Photo: Brett Boardman
Interviews

Behind the Scenes: Virtual Tour

Southbank Theatre

In 2019, MTC Education produced a virtual tour of the Company’s Sturt Street HQ building, allowing anyone to remotely visit the spaces where plays are rehearsed, sets are built and costumes and wigs are created. Next up: the Southbank Theatre virtual tour

By Melanie Sheridan

MTC Learning Manager Nick Tranter originally got the idea for the virtual tour from a local bar that had an online 3D tour of their rooftop. ‘It looked like really cool technology,’ he says. But rather than leave it at that, he met with the company behind it, Melbourne-based RealTour3D and, in partnership with Virtual School Victoria (VSV) and the Victorian Department of Education and Training, a plan was born.

Tranter and MTC Head of Education and Families Jeremy Rice were used to hosting in-person tours of the HQ building, but access to these tours was always limited to students and school groups with the ability to physically attend the Southbank site. The idea of having a virtual tour to make these tours accessible to anyone was too good to pass up. ‘The number one imperative,’ says Rice, ‘is to make theatre more accessible to more people. Although we acknowledge that there is a contradiction in trying to make live performance more accessible through what are essentially non-live platforms.’

After some false starts and much preparation – including tidying up ‘like it was a house inspection’ says Tranter – a filming day was locked in. It was a Sunday and the only people in the building were Rice and RealTour3D’s camera operator. The camera, one of only two of its ilk in Melbourne, is similar to the ones Google uses for Street View and it requires only one person to operate; this made for a streamlined, albeit long, day.

 

‘The partnership with VSV has opened my eyes to a really important point: isolation is not just geographic.’ – Jeremy Rice

 

Such a lean process made it sort of pandemic proof so when the time came to capture Southbank Theatre, the country’s public health-mandated social distancing rules didn’t pose too great an obstacle. The biggest change, says Tranter, was the state of the theatre: the original plan has been ‘to capture it as a living, breathing theatre with shows on.’ Pre-COVID-19, the expectation was that the set for Berlin would be on the Sumner stage and the set for SLAP. BANG. KISS. would be on the Lawler stage.

But even without the sets, Tranter believes the Southbank Theatre virtual tour will provide insight into the work that happens behind-the-scenes. ‘It’s also a really interesting snapshot in time, because the only thing on stage is the ghost light. There’s a few notices backstage about washing your hands, as well as little relics of the shows – for instance, there’s some photos in Wardrobe of Torch the Place costumes that were being treated there with flame retardant. I like to look at it as a place brimming with potential.’

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Nick Tranter (right) at work, with now-retired wardrobe staff member John Molloy

Access all areas

Speaking of potential, the pandemic-induced shutdown of the theatre underscores just how vital this kind of work is for the Company. Although conceived with Virtual School Victoria (VSV) to improve access for students, the potential audience for virtual access is many magnitudes greater, and not just because of COVID-19.

‘The partnership with VSV,’ explains Rice, ‘has opened my eyes to a really important point – that isolation is not just geographic; there are lots and lots of people who are very close to MTC, physically, but may have other factors that prevent them from coming in person. But they’re still excited by the idea of live performance and they still want to have that experience in some form. So these online platforms provide a way of reaching isolated people.’

By way of example, Tranter notes that the Old Vic Theatre in London has a similar tour of spaces that are open to the public, to help with audience accessibility. ‘For instance, someone with autism spectrum disorder who might feel anxious about coming to the venue could see exactly the space they’re going to walk through and get a sense of it beforehand.’

 

‘When you see a show it’s the result of unseen work by so many people ... we want to make that visible, especially for students, so they can unpack it and understand the construction of a show.’ – Nick Tranter

 

Of course, as an Education project its primary aim is to make the usually unseen theatre-making process visible for students. ‘It’s an invitation to come backstage and share and be inspired by the artistic collaboration behind every show,’ says Rice.

Tranter agrees: ‘When you see a show it’s the result of unseen work by so many people, and we don’t necessarily want you to notice the lighting designer’s work, for instance, because of the illusion of storytelling. But with VSV we want to make that visible, especially for students, so they can unpack it and understand the construction of a show. The virtual tour seemed like a good way for students to walk through spaces that they don’t usually get to see when they come to MTC. And what’s really great about it is the interactive moments where you can click to read an article or enjoy an activity about the work that happens in that place.’

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Jeremy Rice (left) with teachers from Virtual School Victoria and MTC Artistic Director Brett Sheehy. Photo: Jacinta Keefe

A virtual future

Rice notes that they have plans for further virtual tours and similar projects. ‘One aspect that we had hoped to capture [with the Southbank Theatre virtual tour] but couldn’t was to create a virtual tour of a set. Our sets mark MTC apart from most other theatre that young people will get to see in Victoria. Firstly, we have large, sophisticated sets. And we build them at HQ, which means we can connect young people or inquisitive minds of any age to the processes and thinking and the skills and craft behind the construction of those sets.’

Another project on the cards is to film a technical run of a show for students. During the production of Jasper Jones in 2016, sound designer and RMIT lecturer Darrin Verhagen brought his students into the theatre for a special performance without any performers. ‘The students sat in the theatre and we had the show crew in there. And we ran through the cues, like we were doing a show, and Darrin provided a commentary and answered questions.’ It was fantastic, Rice adds, but it wasn’t recorded. ‘So we want to do it again and document it, probably as a multimedia resource.’

 

‘It’ll be the very first time that the Company has livestreamed a performance.’ – Jeremy Rice

 

Additionally, Rice and Tranter plan to film and livestream a production later this year of the postponed MTC Education show, SLAP. BANG. KISS. by Dan Giovannoni. ‘It’ll be the very first time that the Company has livestreamed a performance,’ Rice explains although it will only be accessible to students in Victoria. If successful, however, it could provide a template for offering similar alternative access points to other shows in future, underscoring once again the significance of this work at this time.

None of this essential activity would be possible without the ongoing support of our donors. It is only thanks to their generosity that MTC Education can continue to innovate and reimagine our program offerings to best support students and young people, and provide inspiring and nurturing theatre experiences in a time when it is needed most. Find out more about how you can help MTC Education by becoming part of our Education Giving Circle.

Published on 4 June 2020

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