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Backstage: Step inside the Mix – more than just Roundabout Mark II

The entrance to the Mix at the Wilderness Festival. Photo: Simon Kennedy

As a result of the success of the Roundabout portable theatre, its designers, Lucy Osborne, Emma Chapman and Howard Eaton, formed a company called Studio Three Sixty, with a view to using the knowledge and approach to build more pop-up spaces.

The Roundabout was commissioned by touring company Paines Plough. It is a self-contained, 150-seat in-the-round auditorium. The only tools required to erect it are an Allen key and a mallet. The overhead structure is ground-supported and hand-winched up into position. It was joint-winner of The Stage theatre building of the year in 2015.

The second structure from this team had its first outing earlier this month, at the Wilderness Festival in Oxfordshire. It incorporates many of the features of Roundabout, but, at 22 metres diameter and with a capacity of 378 in-the-round, it is about twice the size.


Essential information: The Mix

43 individual panels, 407 fixed focus RGBW pixels, 218 fixed focus W/W pixels
23 X4S GLP wash lights
ETC Ion desk
Power: 63 amp three phase
Configurations: End-on: Seating: 261. Playing space:11m x 6m (widest point) Onstage entrances: 3
In-the-round: Seating: 378. Playing space: 5.6m. Onstage entrances: 3
Dinner venue: 250 seated
Standing: 400 capacity
Total footprint: 22 metres, 380 sq metres/ 4,090 sq ft
Key points: No plant material required apart from a forklift, venue erects in three days.
12 hydraulic rams lift the roof to an apex height of 8.2 metres
Each spine has a winch capable of lifting 200kg.

Inbuilt levelling system can sit on both hard standing and open terrain.
Sound: KV2 powered speaker system. Control – Yamaha TF1

Other innovations include the ability to be end-on as well as in-the-round, the provision of a flexible space around the outside of the auditorium and weather-proofing for outdoor use. A wind-speed gauge on the roof sends a reading to a screen next to the lighting control. With a safe limit of up to 56mph, it has not yet come close to being a problem.

“The idea was that the building should feel permanent, even if you are in the middle of a field,” says Osborne.

Clearly this much bigger structure required a new solution to its build. Legendary theatre engineering designer Mike Barnett was involved in creating an imaginative solution whereby the overhead structure is built on the ground, just like Roundabout, but the 12 supporting columns are raised by hydraulic rams and also lift the roof into place. Each section weighs eight tonnes, and the hanging points can support a load of 200kg on each column.

The Mix’s interior in its end on configuration. Photo: Simon Kennedy
The Mix’s interior in its end on configuration. Photo: Simon Kennedy

Although 23 GLP Impression X4S moving LED heads have been added, the lighting rig is based on the same principle as before. The ceiling incorporates fixed panels of the usual RGBW (red, green, blue, white) LEDs, but with the addition of a number of warm and cool white LEDs, producing a colour temperature that can compete with tungsten. It all runs from a maximum of 63 amp three phase supply.

“With no need to focus at height and with the flexibility of the permanent lighting fixtures, it is possible for even scratch performances to be lit to look really good in a very short space of time,” says Osborne.

The multi-coloured, modern-style wooden chairs are the work of furniture designer Felix de Pass and fit quickly, easily and firmly into position without the use of tools.

“We wanted the design and colours to have a very contemporary feel,” says Osborne, “but the occasional red chair is a cheeky nod to traditional theatre seating colours.”

The perimeter of the entire structure is clad with removable carbonite panels, some of which have the unusual property of being opaque from a side view, but can be seen through if looked at straight on. “It allows the public to catch a glimpse of what is going on in the foyer area and that might encourage them to come in,” says Osborne. Other panels are completely opaque, and in the end-on configuration cover that part of the perimeter, which is ‘backstage’.

End-on, the backing to the performance area is painted reclaimed timber with three arched entrances. The raked auditorium also has side slips seating, which recalls the wrap-round auditorium layout of traditional theatre buildings. The in-the-round configuration requires a different seating rake and reproduces the three vomitoria entrances which work so well in Roundabout.

Emma Chapman and Lucy Osborne with Richard Pilbrow, Gavin Green and James Grieve at The Stage Awards in 2015, where Roundabout won theatre building of the year. Photo: Alex Brenner
Emma Chapman and Lucy Osborne with Richard Pilbrow, Gavin Green and James Grieve at The Stage Awards in 2015, where Roundabout won theatre building of the year. Photo: Alex Brenner

The new theatre is called the Mix on the grounds that it can be used for all kinds of performance – what you see in there will be ‘in the mix’. It has certainly got off to a good start in that regard, in that, during the Wilderness Festival, it presented performances that included the Bristol Old Vic, a dance programme and stand-up comedy. The floor can be completely clear if required, and it is hoped that, in the future, the space can also be used for corporate events, such as dinners.

The space is well-ventilated naturally, and the hot weather during the Wilderness Festival has allowed for the testing of the effectiveness of the fan in the roof. Although too noisy for use during a performance, it has worked well in cooling the auditorium between events.

This is not just a Roundabout Mark II, but a development of it for a wider brief. Although many of the innovations of the previous building have been incorporated, it is larger and more demanding of transport and construction. With only one go at building it so far, it remains uncertain exactly what those demands will be, but three trailers and three days to build seems to be the current best guess.

Look out for it near you.

CV: Emma Chapman

Born: 1978, Cape Town
Training: Bristol Old Vic Theatre School
Landmark productions: The Mountaintop, Theatre503/Trafalgar Studios, London (2009), The Painter, Arcola Theatre, London (2011), Dublin Carol, Donmar at Trafalgar Studios (2011), Lungs, Roundabout (2012), Il Turco in Italia, Nantes/Luxembourg (2013), Boi Boi Is Dead, West Yorkshire Playhouse (2015), Kiss Me, Kate, Theatre du Chatelet (2016)
Awards: The Stage award for theatre building of the year for Paines Plough’s Roundabout, 2015
Agent: Sam Lambourne, Performing Arts

CV: Howard Eaton

Born: 1954, London
Training: None
Landmark productions: Phantom of the Opera, London (1986), Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, London (2002), Opening Ceremony, London 2012 Olympic Games (2012)
Agent: None

CV: Lucy Osborne

Born: 1980, Sheffield
Training: University of Newcastle, Motley Theatre design course
Landmark productions: tHe dYsFUnCKshOnalZ!, Bush Theatre, London (2007), Broken Space Festival, Bush Theatre (2008), Love, Love, Love, Royal Court, London (2012), Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse (2013), Les Miserables, Wermland Opera, Sweden (2016), A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer, Complicite and National Theatre (2016)
Awards: The Stage award for theatre building of the year for Paines Plough’s Roundabout, 2015. Designer of Theatrical Management Association best touring production, Translations, 2014. Jeff award for large scenic design for Twelfth Night at Chicago Shakespeare Theatre, 2009
Agent: Clare Vidal-Hall

studiothreesixty.uk [1]; howardeaton.co.uk [2]; lucyosborne.co.uk [3]; emmachapman.co.uk [4]