Story of Scaffo

As you probably noticed in our promo video, this production of ‘Sappho …in 9 fragments’ prominently features an actor’s playground of sorts, consisting of scaffolding and ropes, that we lovingly named ‘Scaffo’. C’mon, that’s hilarious.

Scaffo!

Scaffo!

This contraption was the combined brainchild of the show’s actor Victoria Grove, who noted the frequent use of the word ‘suspension’ in the play script, and our designer Ana Ines Jabares, who originally considered the sadomasochistic ritual of suspending a body through hooks in the skin from the ceiling as part of the stage design. Just as an abstract concept, of course!

Once Ana had settled on the idea of scaffolding poles to contain the ropes from which Victoria would suspend herself, she set about enquiring with scaffold companies about renting their materials. I got a bit discouraged when she reported back with the rental costs, and wondered if we would be able to manage with our modest budget. But wonder of wonders, Ana managed to get in contact with the technical director at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, who allowed us to borrow the materials FOR FREE. She told me this over the phone, and I may have shrieked a little bit.

Victoria and I met with Ana at the school, and loaded 12 scaffolding poles (each 2 metres long) and 16 clamps into Victoria’s car, and drove back to the White Rabbit Theatre, where we unloaded the materials as quickly as possible to the back patio.

We had to experiment quite a bit with assembling the pieces until we created a structure that resembled the image above. At this point I created a very rough video to plan out the seating arrangements and staging in relation to the placement of the structure in the centre of our intimate theatre. We painted the scaffolding with matte black paint to blend with the surroundings a little better, and also so that Victoria’s hands wouldn’t slip on any smooth surfaces.

Victoria visited a sailing shop to investigate rope and determine what sort of thickness was required for her to climb and suspend herself without hurting her hands, feet, and limbs. With several metres of rope and the help of an aerialist (Jani Nightchild), we designed a cat’s cradle within the structure to enable the most varied options for movement and suspension.

As we plan for our tour, one big challenge is finding these materials in various places and replicating what we created in London. It’s easy enough to transport the rope in a suitcase, but less practical to bring along scaffolding poles through airport security.

Another challenge is constructing the playground before each performance and taking it down after every performance in record time: the Ottawa Fringe Festival, like other festivals of its kind, has really strict timelines, and you need to be able to make your production appear within 15 minutes and disappear in the same amount of time, otherwise you’re cutting into the next show’s performance time.

One of the reasons I wanted to start this blog was to take note of what I’m learning about planning a tour. While I’ve studied touring theatre quite a bit, and witnessed lots of it, I’ve never actually planned a tour on my own, and I’m bound to make mistakes. Well, hopefully not too many. But either way, I’d like to share details of my experience to keep a record for myself, and perhaps also to provide a helpful resource for other people planning a tour.

Next time I’ll talk about making contacts and selecting venues… x

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