Scene Changes

The choreography of scene changes is a vital part of the smooth flow of the production, and can make or break a show. Scenic automation on larger West End and Broadway shows has raised the bar very high, and now many shows use wonderful scene changes in full view of the audience, with minimal visible crew. 

How to document scene changes?

The layout of furniture / set pieces for each scene should be drawn in plan (overhead) view as part of the rehearsal process, and noted in the prompt book. 

Changes between scenes should be worked out well in advance, based on the number of crew available, and the required speed of the change. 

If the show is a traditional musical, written to facilitate easy scene changes upstage of a front cloth scene, then a lot of the thinking has been done for you already. The key is to ensure you’re making best use of the space available to you in the wings, and that you’re storing furniture, props and set pieces in an efficient manner to enable them to be easily retrieved for the next time they’re needed.

On large scale shows with automated scenery, pre-visualisation software such as Cinema 4D is used to animate scene changes so the director and technical staff can see what’s planned. However, things can be worked out using a card set model, or even just pieces of appropriately-scaled paper moving around a scale ground plan. 



Things To Avoid

Unless you have no other option, try to avoid the following sequence:

  1. Scene ends, lights go to blackout
  2. Blue working lights come up dim
  3. Stage Crew walk on and shuffle around moving furniture
  4. Blue working lights go out
  5. Actors walk on
  6. Lights come up for the next scene

If this must happen, ensure the crew are moving everything incredibly efficiently, and if there’s no music to accompany the change, ask the Director if it might be possible. Get the actors on as the last few pieces of set are moving into position, and try to make the change match the pace of the show. 

It’s far better to have a much more fluid approach. Maybe one of the actors for the next scene could lean against the downstage proscenium wall thinking about what’s just happened (in a tight spotlight) while the change happens around him. Or maybe the first lines of dialogue could be spoken by the actors as they walk across downstage (in a tight cross light) while the change happens upstage of them.