Show artwork for Bump In, Bump Out
The scenery dock at Southbank Theatre. PHOTO: Tim Grey

Bump In, Bump Out

at Southbank Theatre

In the days before performances begin, it’s a flurry of activity backstage at Southbank Theatre. Learn more about who is doing what during the bump in, and once the show has closed, the bump out.

By Nick Tranter

After months of design discussions and decisions, and weeks of set and costume manufacture, everything moves to the theatre in a period known as the bump in. Over the course of six days (typically, more technically complex shows may require additional time), all the elements of a production come together at the theatre.

Bump In


While the set is being packed into trucks at MTC HQ, a masking and lighting pre-rig will happen at Southbank Theatre. Masking needs to be rigged and flown out, and some work needs to be done in the lighting rig before the set is installed on stage and restricts access. The pre-rig is usually allocated five hours or so, and will be overseen by the lighting supervisor, staging supervisor and production services manager.

Day 1 | Install set elements and lighting

The scenery dock (pictured top) becomes a busy thoroughfare as the set arrives, piece by piece, on trolleys. The staging supervisor will interpret the staging plan, and supervise their crew to achieve the staging plot. The lighting supervisor interprets the lighting plan, and supervises their crew with what is required to realise the lighting designer’s vision. The fly supervisor will interpret the lighting and stage plan by working with the lighting, sound and staging supervisors, fly the Power Fly System bars, and program the Nomad console (computers that operate the Power Fly System) to create sequences of movements of bars, or lock out fly bars that may create a hazard if moved. The sound supervisor interprets the composer/sound designer’s requirements, and supervises their crew with the location of speakers and audio system set-up. 

Bumpin.jpgThe Jasper Jones set is installed on the Sumner stage.

Day 2 | Finish installation and deliver wardrobe

There will inevitably be some installation work to continue on the second day of bump in, but work now begins on the finer details. The automation operator sets up any automation systems (e.g. revolve, snow machine, trapdoors, self-moving props or rabbits) that will be used in the production. The automation operator has usually been involved with the rehearsal process, and will have pre-programmed any moves prior to arriving at the theatre.

MTC_Gloria_TechSession_PhotoBrettBoardman_5226.jpgThe Gloria set during bump in. PHOTO: Brett Boardman

Day 3 | Focus lighting and commence plotting light and sound

This is when the technical elements start to come together. The lighting designer directs the lighting supervisor and the lighting team as to where each light is being coloured, pointed and shaped, to start creating the visual palette that allows the set designer and director to create the moods for the production. It is not unusual for a lighting designer to use up to 400 lighting fixtures in their design. 

StormBoyLightingPlanDetail.jpgDetail of Matt Scott's lighting plan for Storm Boy.

Day 4 | Plot light and sound

The FOH (front-of-house) audio operator will mark up their script for cues, set-up and operate the audio console to allow smooth transition from the rehearsal to the stage during the technical rehearsals. Likewise, the lighting programmer sets up the lighting console, as theyll operate the lighting from the control room during the season.

Day 5 | Technical rehearsals

The cast arrive at the theatre and begin technical rehearsals, integrating all the lighting, set and sound elements into their performance. The cast has likely been rehearsing with some technical elements at HQ (if a production uses a revolve, MTC always installs one in the rehearsal room so the cast can become accustomed to the movement), but its at this point that theyll encounter lighting and flying elements for the first time.

The timing of scene changes might be a particular focus in technical rehearsals. While the cast have had four weeks to rehearse, the crew have to quickly learn their plots for the show. The FOH audio operator, for example, will be operating and mixing sound from their desk at the back of the auditorium.

Spider_Woman_BTS_2019_-_MTC_-_Lachlan_Woods_Photography-13.jpgThe cast of Kiss of the Spider Woman during technical rehearsals. PHOTO: Lachlan Woods.

Day 6 | Dress rehearsal 

Its time for an audience! Dress rehearsals at MTC take place in front of a small audience so the cast can begin to harmonise their performance with the audience energy and response. During this stage, all the wardrobe elements – wigs, costumes, make-up – are incorporated. Backstage, dressers and wig/make-up staff will assist the cast with quick changes. Everybody in the crew has a plot, or sequence of actions, to follow during the performance, and these will be updated accordingly during the dress rehearsal.

Bump Out

At the conclusion of a productions season, after performing eight times a week for several weeks, its time to bump out. Typically a two-day process, all the production elements are uninstalled in the reverse order of bump in. All the supervisors across lighting, sound and staging assist their crews to pack up their equipment, leaving the venue in a safe state so that the next production can begin bump in – sometimes the following day!

Southbank_Theatre_Dock.jpgThe scenery dock at Southbank Theatre. PHOTO: Nick Tranter

MTC keeps as many components of the show as possible in storage. Old scenic flats are frequently used in rehearsal, and our ever-expanding collection of props is a useful library of items to draw on for future productions. Likewise, costumes are kept in the costume store at MTC HQ, to be re-imagined, dyed, tailored and transformed in future productions. Buttons, badges, trim and accessories are frequently re-used.

Published on 9 June 2020

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