A German theatrical group has resolved some tricky logistical problems involved in scenery construction by opting to saw its own local wood.
The key is an easy-to-learn, narrow blade sawing system that provides markedly good quality boards and props. The process is more flexible, less costly and offers more quality than the buying in of sawn wood which caused many problems and high dramas.
The group began in 1959 as the R?gen Festival (R?genfestspiele
) at Ralswiek. It was one of the former East Germany’s cultural initiatives and a fine location with a natural stage was found between Ralswiek castle and a bay on the Baltic. Here, the German dramatic ballad ‘Klaus St?rtebeker’ was performed in five of the subsequent summers up to 1981.
From 1993 the renamed St?rtebeker Festival, performed since 1993 under the management of Ruth and Peter Hick, dramatises the legend of Klaus St?rtebeker, the fourteenth century Baltic pirate, rather differently. The adaptation included new episodes and innovative scenery designs and met with general acclaim.
More than 150 artists and extras, 30 horses, four ships, numerous stunts and special effects has attracted audiences of four million over the years since the fall of the Berlin wall. This year sees the beginning of a trilogy about St?rtebeker’s gold, starting with ‘The Legacy’ every evening from 20th June to 5th September. From September to May however, the troop concerns itself with matters of timber.
Twelve of the St?rtebeker Festspiele
employees from various trades devote themselves to new scenery during this ‘rest’ period.
Eleven years ago Klaus Tiedge, who runs the scenery (designed by architect Falk von Wangelin) acquired an electric Wood-Mizer LT40 band sawmill with hydraulic handling aids. Immediately they eliminated the huge cost incurred when buying and transporting timber from Bavaria. Now they fell trees around R?gen and saw them in a process which permits more flexible planning. The dramas associated with ordering sawn timber months in advance has become history.
If an additional beam is required during set building, they now simply saw one. Also, many of the dimensions needed are eccentric and difficult to source as well as being more exorbitantly priced. However, the flexible band sawmill bends to any requirement.
Klaus Tiedge and his team never considered anything other than a sawmill from Wood-Mizer, not least because of its blade sharpening and setting service. The blades are processed in Schletau, avoiding the purchase of sharpening equipment by the theatre troupe who don't have time anyhow.
Planning a season of performances starts mid-year. Klaus Tiedge and a team of foresters drawn from local communities are out seeking suitable trees which are felled and the logs transported to the mill two kilometres from the stage. Every item of wooden scenery from the biggest beam to the smallest fitting is sawn by the band sawmill. It is well maintained, crucial in any timber processing and only inevitably worn rollers and belts have to be replaced after processing 300-360m3
of spruce and pines yearly. Added to this, one-third of timber in old scenery is recycled and cut to new dimensions.
Klaus Tiedge explains that formerly everything was nailed together on-stage. Today, individual walls are preassembled alongside the sawmill and erected on stage using a wheel loader and mobile crane. Not a single nail is used. Everything is screwed together with eventual disassembly in mind.
The fa?ade usually consists of hard fibre and 3000m2
of Ecodur, a plastic material shaped on site with a deep drawing machine. It is crucial that the scenery is solid and durable enough to withstand force 8 to 10 Baltic winds. One side of the scenery must be complete by year end whatever the weather. They work to the architect's tight schedule and despite curious visitors peering at the scenery from under a crane, in contravention of safety rules. The stage is somewhat precarious, with trapdoors, a tunnel and hole containing water o
r an air bag for special effects. Once complete, the basic stage needs decorating for May rehearsals.
Nothing is left to chance during performances on Germany's largest natural stage. Instructions for artists, lighting technicians, ship navigators and special effects people are radio-coordinated by the director.
This year Wood-Mizer Germany decided to arrange for a group of clients to see a performance of the first part of the Klaus St?rtebeker trilogy. Their allocated tickets were quickly gobbled up.
Kirsten Longmuss, Wood-Mizer Sagewerke GmbH, Germany Brian Hind, UK