Running on the Cracks from Page to Stage: Designing a Set

Running on the Cracks press image

This week marked the beginning of rehearsals for Running on the Cracks, a new adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s novel. With its first performance just three weeks away, the show is now at a key stage during which the many different elements of the production must be brought together to ensure a successful run. Reaching this point can sometimes seem like an insurmountable task when you simply take a script as your starting point, but with a tight schedule, a little creativity and lots of hard work the cast and crew will – despite how they might feel – always be ready in time for the first show.

One of the most fascinating parts of the process to see develop is the set, from idea to design, and construction to ‘get-in’, the final transferral of set to stage.

Designer Gem Greaves and director Katie Posner initially agreed that one of the most important features of the script that they wanted to capture was the fast-paced quality of the narrative. To achieve this, Gem came up with the idea of a set which was like play apparatus, a useable framework which would enable the actors to run around, climb, pull things out, spin them around and keep the energy of the play flowing without the need to carry on too many extra props or set pieces.

Gem has to think not only in terms of how the set is used by the actors, but how it can frame certain moments in the play and add meaning to the story:

set model
‘We discussed the need to include an element reminiscent of the gateway to the Barras Market in Glasgow. This inspired the design of the structure, along with the influence of ancient Chinese gateways as a nod to Leo’s heritage. The steel girders represent Leo’s long journey by train with the trusses based on the amazing roof of Glasgow central station, the station where Leo first arrives in Scotland.’

As well as the needs of the play, Gem must consider the needs of the show as a touring production. It must be, for instance, a certain size for transportation, easy to assemble, designed to fit the smallest venue of the tour as well as the largest and all the others in-between, and it must always ensure it provides the actors with different playing areas, height and structure.

Once the design has been finalised its construction can begin in earnest. All extra props are sourced (often borrowed from other theatres) while the wardrobe department work either from the designer’s sketches or alter existing costumes to the size and shape of the cast.

It is not until a week or so before the opening performance that the actors will be able to rehearse on the set – and the director’s work is put to the test as they have to interact with the set for the first time. In this later stage of rehearsals the whole team comes together to plot lighting and sound cues with the lighting and sound designers present; technicians to focus the lights, and the wardrobe department to ensure there are no mishaps with costume changes. By this point, there will be time for just two or three dress rehearsals before opening night.

Check out our previous blog from the Tron theatre to find out more about adapting a teen novel into a playscript.

Ailie MacDonald

Ailie MacDonald is Press and Marketing Officer at the Tron Theatre. She has previously worked for Edinburgh UNESCO City of Literature and Aberdeen University’s Word Writers Festival, and also worked as a Writer Development Intern for Scottish Book Trust.