From the dressing rooms to the lighting tower, we go behind-the-scenes at The Lowry
If you live in the North West, chances are you’ve visited The Lowry Theatre at some point. The world-class arts centre hosts around 1000 performances each year from opera and musicals to dance, music and comedy and is the UK’s largest theatre space outside of London.
In 2014, a whopping 866,773 people visited The Lowry making it one of the most popular venues in Greater Manchester. But while many have caught a show, few have taken a glimpse backstage at this special venue.
As part of The Lowry’s Open Day on Saturday 5 August, Donna Kelly of Frankly My Dear UK had the opportunity to go on a special backstage tour to take a rare glimpse behind the scenes of this magnificent theatre. Here’s what she found out:
Designed by architects James Stirling and Michael Wilford in 1997, The Lowry is certainly unique in its design. Built on a triangular site on Pier 8 at Salford Quays, The Lowry’s exterior design is made of up geometric shapes with a distinctive maritime theme. When viewed from across the canal, the building looks like a ship blending into the skyline with its bow, funnel, viewing platform and porthole windows. The sleek lines of the glass and stainless steel, as well as the metallic surfaces that layer round the building, also reflect the cool colours of the sky and water.
Inside, the ship-like theme continues through to The Lowry’s interiors with large dominating shapes of the walls. The purple and blues of the exterior transform into warm red and orange tones, giving the theatre a modern edge on a traditional setting. The foyer – which faces the public plaza – boasts a large aerofoil canopy clad with perforated steel which is illuminated from inside at night to make The Lowry instantly recognisable on the Salford skyline.
Originally, the architects planned for an open-air auditorium outside the building (which you can still see in the circular steps which lead down to The Lowry), but the plans were eventually scrapped and the open space in front of the building is now often use to host other events such as the monthly Makers Market.
Loading Bay and Scene Store
Described as “the best in the country”, The Lowry’s undercover loading bay is famed within the theatre industry as it allows for three trucks to unload at the same time. Three hydraulic lifts operate 24 hours a day to raise cargo to stage level for unloading and there is space for a further five trucks in the service area. While this may not sound particularly exciting to the average theatre-goer, for the theatre tech teams it’s a pretty amazing set up. Most UK theatres only allow one truck to unload at any one time and the crew are often forced to push containers up ramps to get the equipment to stage level. In 2011, the Royal Variety Performance (the largest show which The Lowry has hosted) brought 31 trucks full of equipment, of all which were unloaded within 24 hours.
The floor at stage level is known as the scene store and stage. This space is the same size as the stage in the Lyric Theatre so touring productions which open at The Lowry often use this space as a rehearsal area. Keen theatre fans will also recognise it as unique THE DOCK theatre space which was converted into a pop-up theatre, bringing the cold, hard industrial area to life as part of Week 53.
The Lowry boasts 19 dressing rooms which can accommodate 146 people. Six of the dressing rooms are located in the basement and are primarily used by the Orchestra and Conductor while the remaining 13 are located at stage level and are primarily used for the cast and lead talent. Since its opening in 2000, the dressing rooms have been used by a host of famous folk including Sir Ian McKellen, Jason Manford and Joan Collins. In 2012, the Halle Orchestra brought 125 musicians alone when they performed WONDERFUL TOWN. The dressing room area also has three industrial washing machines, two industrial dryers, irons and ironing boards, as well as a visiting company office at ground floor/stage level and backstage cafeteria/green room at first floor level.
The Lyric Stage
The Lowry has three primary theatre spaces: The Lyric Theatre, The Quays Theatre and the Aldridge Studio. The Lyric is The Lowry’s largest theatre space, seating audiences up to 1,730 in fixed tiered seating (designed by Ferrari no less), while the mid-scale The Quays Theatre seats audiences of up to 440 and the Aldridge Studio seats audiences of up to 150.
The Lyric Theatre has the largest stage in the UK outside London’s West End and is used by bigger productions, such as Opera North and the Birmingham Royal Ballet. The proscenium depth of the stage area from the setting line to the rear stage wall is an impressive 16.2m and requires constant work and maintenance keep it looking in tip top condition. The sprung stage floor takes six pots of paint to cover in matt black and is painted once a month to keep it looking clean and fresh.
Sets, Scenery and Lighting
The sets and scenery are controlled by 77 fly bars which can hold weights of up to half a ton. The fly bars are operated stage right at fly gallery level and are manually operated by technical team who pull down on ropes to bring the scenery and curtains up and down and counterbalance the weight with special plates.
Both the Lyric and Quays theatres come with a standard FOH rig, cyc floods and followspots and the lighting equipment for each show must be rigged and de-rigged every time. The level of the lighting start at the dress circle level, rising to dizzy heights of the lighting tower at for the Followspots which are 16.5m above stage level.
Donna is the Founder and Editor of Frankly, My Dear UK. By day, she works as a digital marketing specialist, by night she reviews film, theatre and music for a wide range of publications including WhatsonStage and The Reviews Hub. Loves Formula 1, prosecco and life.