Mechanical Theatre

The Mechanical Theatre
A theatrical box of tricks commissioned by Royal Opera House Muscat.
Built and engineered by Footprint.
An international partnership with the V&A saw this beautiful masterpiece travel from Peckham to Oman with an immersive stop-off in a C18th land of mythical beasts.  Read on to learn how the team at Footprint recreated this spectacular mechanical theatre, commissioned by the Royal Opera House, Oman.  It’s a recreation of designer Simon Bejer’s original mechanical centrepiece from the V&A’s exhibition Opera Power and Politics, but with one major difference, this time in travel size!

In fact, a fraction of the size at one seventh of the original, nonetheless fully interactive. Using traditional hand crafting techniques, Footprint created this miniature masterpiece as fully mechanically responsive with hand turned pulleys and tiny flying lines and gears.  The model celebrates the technology of C18th theatre, a theatrical box of tricks rooted in naval technology of the time.  A turn of a wheel prompting a mermaid to appear next to a galleon in a storm, another wheel turn and the backdrop flies in and out as storm clouds gather.  Centre stage stormy waves swell, a traditional moving scenic effect.
The opera itself; Handel’s Rinaldo. A 1711 tale of love, war and crusade.   Featuring magic, monsters and raging seas, a wonderful setting to explore a world of technical theatre tricks and devices.  This project was like a childhood box of delights for Footprint.  Combining a rich theatrical history and a chance to hand make all the technical aspects was an enormous challenge to take on.  Footprint’s craftsmen devised, engineering and completing all the elements of this project from all the moving parts to the scene painting and final international delivery
Footprint took one step further, bringing the C17th experience bang up to the minute using C21st technology to enhance the visitor experience.  A Knowledge Transfer Partnership with London Southbank University’s Creative Industries department put Footprint in the perfect position to explore how augmented reality can enhance the narrative of an exhibit.
The result was a spectacular blend of digital and physical – layering sound and projection into a delightful miniature son et lumière exploring themes from the opera.  Using multi-layered projection mapping techniques Footprint took the story and added new dimensions to the piece.  Footprint Director Danny Lennon, working closely with Footprint’s KTP digital designer, devised a storytelling montage; several animated chapters based not only on the opera’s original themes but also paying homage to the dramatic genius of Handel himself.

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