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Silchester Players

With Covid vaccines being rolled out, we are looking forward to getting back to rehearsals and preparing for our pantomime to be staged, subject to restrictions being lifted, in January 2022.

In the meantime this is an opportunity to mention some backstage activities which normally do not receive the attention they deserve.

A stage production needs many skills to make it successful. Clearly a strong cast is an obvious pre-requisite, but there are numerous other components contributing to the overall impact of a stage play. Sound effects are vital and those which were heard in our radio productions of The Litter Picker and Dick Whittington have received considerable praise. Other skills, including costume, make-up, special effects and lighting have lain dormant during the pandemic.

Good lighting, in particular, is obviously very important to any stage production, not least because the audience needs to be able to see the action clearly. But that is only the starting point. Skilful lighting can create the mood, ambience and dramatic impact of a performance. Therefore in all our productions we work hard to make lighting as effective as possible. We are proud that for Blithe Spirit in 2018, special mention of the impressive lighting effects was made in the NODA (National Operatic and Dramatic Association) report.

For many years Silchester Players used a combination of individual spot lamps situated on the balcony of the village hall or on side bars. Also, for each production we installed a series of coloured reflector lamps over the stage to deliver the mixture of light we required. Although basic, this system served us very well.

However, as part of the drive to reduce energy use and hence minimise carbon emissions, in recent years the government introduced a ban on the supply of coloured lamps. This forced us to explore an alternative method of achieving inventive lighting. We therefore moved to using LED lamps, each capable of delivering white light, but also red, green and blue and a combination of colours.

This made fresh demands on our resources. It has been necessary to purchase LED lamps which we have done as funds have permitted. Additionally a completely new lighting control system was necessary to operate not only the new LED lamps but also the existing balcony lamps which do not use coloured bulbs.

Unlike the earlier system, the new system allows full control of each and every lamp individually. This has the added advantage of making the lighting much more flexible, giving us the facility to light different parts of the stage rather than a blander 'all over' effect. During rehearsals in the run-up to a performance, the light settings for each and every scene are put in place, set and stored on the control desk. During the actual performance, the lighting crew simply press a 'Go' button to call up the pre-recorded settings at the appropriate moments.

Technical developments have also assisted us in the deployment of special effects. Those who attended our performances prior to lockdown will have seen inventive use of smoke and sparkle fountains. These functions have helped us to be more enterprising and to add new and exciting dimensions to our productions.

Below this article is a picture of the control desk which we use. Whoever operates it has the privilege of calling up lighting or a special effect which can send gasps of surprise through an audience!

All of this means that we are always keen to recruit people who would like to help on the technical side. This can be as much fun as acting. So if you have read this and are interested, please keep an eye open for future articles and, when we are back on stage, get in touch to offer your services. No previous experience is necessary. We can show you exactly how to operate the lighting board and help bring a special dimension to everything we do.