Technical Equipment Collection
ROH Collections has a small collection of technical equipment that was acquired when the Royal Opera House closed for extensive redevelopment in July 1997. A major part of this development work involved the demolition of the entire stage area and fly tower, which were replaced by state-of-the-art, computer controlled, mechanical stage systems.
The Royal Opera House opened in 1858 as a traditional 19th century opera house, with a raked stage, an ‘apron’ or performing area at the front of the stage that projected out beyond the proscenium arch into the auditorium, a fly tower above the stage that held the cloths and scenery, and fly floors that were raked to the same angle as the stage. Scenery consisted largely of ‘flats’ – painted canvas stretched over wooden frames that generally stood at various points at the sides of the stage – and front and back cloths – painted scenes on canvas that provided a backdrop to the stage picture or were placed in front of the stage to set the scene whilst scenery was being changed behind. The flats were usually manoeuvred into place by the stage hands, whilst the cloths would be suspended from the fly tower, and raised or lowered by ropes operated from the fly floor.
Prior to the development work in 1997, the last major renovation work to the stage had taken place in 1900-01 when Edwin Sachs had overseen the modernisation of the Victorian stage. Sachs’s work saw the roof of the fly tower raised and a new grid and continental counter weight system introduced. This meant that not only could cloths be flown higher and stored in two tiers above the stage, but that the weight of the cloths would be taken by stage weights placed in cradles at the sides of the stage. Lighting bars were also introduced, holding the spot lights that lit the stage from above. The technical equipment acquired for ROH Collections in 1997 records aspects of these working methods, introduced in 1900-1901 and relatively little changed since then, and consists of examples of three items: cloth batten clamps, cue sheets and rope brakes.