MW : Jekyll and Hyde

Date: 2009
Organization: Institute for experimental architecture and structural engineering
Type: Open Air Stage, Bregenz, Austria
Head: Kjetil Thorsen (Snohetta), Patrik Schumacher (Zaha Hadid)
Team: Frank Ludin, Michael Budig, Lukas Maehr, Carmen Wurz

“It is such a fine line between a good man an a bad”

Jekyll & Hyde is an open air stage for the musical with the same name based on the novella Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde by Robert Louis Stevenson. The stage is situated on the Lake of Constance in Bregenz and ist part of the Bregenzer Festpiele.

Following the story of the novel the stage transforms during the musical from the gentle ambitous fassade of doctor Jekyll into the evild Mr Hyde. To make sure the movement is not bothering the audience in terms of motor noises the whole movement is mechanical driven by an underwater tank that rises slowly to the watersurface. (Text: Lukas Maehr)

The stage wich is rebuilt every two years for another performance is based on a lot of technical parameters. The Stage set for the musical on the Floating Stage is upon a fixed structure called the concrete core. This is anchored in Lake Constance. It houses the costume and dressing rooms, the machine rooms and the orchestra pit for the Vienna Symphony Orchestra. The stage designer can give free rein to his / her imagination: wooden piles are driven into the bed of the lake to support whatever additional structures the stage set requires. The construction of the set for the Bregenz Floating Stage must meet three basic requirements, however, which are all essentially irreconcilable.

The first consideration is the size of the set, which is of crucial importance for open-air stages. The Floating Stage construction must be up to two-thirds bigger than a normal theatre set in order for it not to be ‘swallowed up’ by the natural surroundings – the town of Bregenz, Pfänder mountain to the east of the town, ships sailing across the lake, etc. – and so that it can be seen from the back rows of the auditorium. In addition to that, the stage must be built in such a way that it allows scene changes to take place quickly and silently. Since an open-air theatre has no curtain, it is impossible for sets to be adjusted and assembled in the traditional manner. Nevertheless it must be clear to the audience that the scene has changed. Another crucial factor along with the size of the set is how weatherproof the materials are. The stage set will be exposed to meteorological extremes in the two years a production runs – downpours, gales and thunderstorms in summer, and in winter temperatures as low as minus 20 and as much as 50cm of snow. Materials normally used in stage-sets therefore don’t stand a chance at the Bregenz Festival. Imagination, creativity and resourcefulness are demanded of the festival’s technological department and the various contracted firms involved in each production in order to satisfy the third requirement: weight.

The set must weigh as little as possible. Using absolutely weatherproof materials (reinforced concrete, bricks, solid wood, etc.) would not be a problem in itself, but the stage set would then be too heavy for the concrete core and the wooden piles on which it is erected. The solution is a kind of ‘sandwich’ construction of steel on the inside and wood on the outside: not too heavy, but solid enough to withstand storms and foehn gales of up to 70km/h.

Weather-resistant, storm-proof and as light as possible -but these are by no means all the requirements a Bregenz stage set has to fulfil. In addition, it must be possible to dispose of the materials used in the set in an environmentallyfriendly way at the end of the second season. This is an imperative at the Bregenz Festival. Whatever cannot be reused must be disposable in a nonharmful way. For this reason various synthetic materials are not used, and neither is the wood impregnated, because this would merely mean more rubbish for the special waste dump. (The wood is protected against the risk of fire by regular dousing with lake water.) Non-impregnated wood can be reused in building or as firewood. (Text: Bregenzer Festspiele)