Boats on Stage

As the majority of the story in The Million Year Picnic takes place on a boat, it is very important to consider how we would realise this on stage. Working out the logistics of the boat was rather difficult as movement is a required element. I was unsure whether to have the boat moving on stage and the cities still, the boat still and the cities passing by or both moving or perhaps both still! To help settle my confusion I have been carrying out some research into how boats have been realised on stage in the past.

Phantom of the Opera

A famous boat scene in a theatrical production is of course Phantom of the Opera. I managed to find a video of the scene from a 2012 production by the University of Kentucky and a blog post written by one of the maker’s of the boat which have been very enlightening.

On initial viewing of this video, I assumed the boat was on a track, disguised by the fog, however, Michael Schmidt reveals it was actually remote controlled. If we do decide we want the boat to move, I believe either of these techniques would be perfect. In terms of our short project, we would not have the time build the actual mechanics necessary, but for the purpose of our demonstrative presentation, magnets or a cut out track into floor of the stage model would be suitable.

Big River

Big River is adapted from Mark Twain’s Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. The two productions pictured here are the Lucie Stern Theatre, Palo Alto and the Village Theatre, Issaquah.
Here they have kept things simple by keeping both the boat and background scenery still. I do think some movement in our production is necessary as the passing of the different cities is quite an important part of the story, but Big River is still a useful play to look to. The backdrop is the main feature of interest for me. The perspective view and river vanishing point give an illusion on depth and suggest that the boat has traveled down the river. In our group, we have been discussing the use of projection, and if we choose to keep the boat still, we could project an image similar to this but with the river moving and bending gently in the background to illude the audience further that the boat is traveling.

Swallows and Amazons

Another important factor to consider about the boat in our production is what it will actually look like. We are all of the opinion that the boat should have a minimal aesthetic, so as to not take away any attention from the actors inside. Upon mentioning this to one of my tutors, she suggested I look to the Bristol Old Vic production of Swallows and Amazons. The boat featured here is ever so beautifully simple; only a couple of bits on blue ribbon, one or two boat parts and the rest is down the actors. This perfectly displays how in theatre, just a hint of something is enough for the audience to buy into premise. Excessive detail can lead to overkill. In our production we may not be able to keep the boat quite as simple if we choose to make it move as the mechanics will need to be disguised, but I hope to be able to make it as minimal as possible.

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