Three years ago this month, Northern Stage’s new home, the Barrette Center for the Arts, opened in White River Junction, VT. Housed within Barrette Center is the intimate Jack & Dorothy Byrne Theater. The Byrne is a beautiful, intimate 240-seat modified thrust space featuring a steep seating rake (there is not a bad seat in that house!) and industrial “factory” theming throughout the building.

View of seating area with SkyDeck overhead at Northern Stage;s Byrne Theatre.
Photo Courtesy of Northern Stage Theatre

As you can see, the Byrne Theater has a SkyDeck. The grid, composed of 47 modular panels, mirrors the shape of the modified thrust stage. While most of the panels are square or rectangular, four of them are triangular and four are trapezoidal to follow the curve of the downstage playing area.

We wanted to touch base with Northern Stage to see how things were going in the new space. Matthew Mills, Associate Production Manager/Technical Director, had some great feedback.

“The SkyDeck has been an invaluable resource to use since we installed it in our new theater in 2015,” says Mills. “This grid allows the electrics team to work above the scenic team during the load-in and strike for each of our productions. In our previous space, we had to schedule different shifts for our crews to allow [enough time for] all the work to be competed, which meant that some staff members had to work a night shift.”

That kind of tight scheduling is typical for live theatre productions, especially during tech week. Think about it. You can’t hang lights at the same time the set’s going in, can you? Northern Stage produces six full length productions per season plus special events, so you can see how safely combining work calls would be advantageous.

Mills adds, “Not only has this grid improved productivity, but also company moral because our staff doesn’t have to work through the night. We love that you can remove any of the individual grid panels, depending on the needs of a show. This has allowed us to fly scenic elements, create drop boxes, have spot ops in the grid, and even fly in five mirror balls for our production of Mamma Mia!”

Technicians standing on the SkyDeck™ at Northern Stage's Byrne Theatre.
Photo Courtesy of Northern Stage Theatre

I had to look into Mills’ next statement, “Another great part of the grid system is the moveable I-beams. We use the I-beams for every show, allowing us to rig items [through] the grid where otherwise there is nothing above the stage.” What now? The moveable I-beams Mills is referring to are actually a super-cool accessory specified by Theatre Projects Consultants for venues with SkyDecks. These are demountable (moveable) aluminum lift bars that are made to go between a facility’s existing steel beams and they do exactly what Mills says: provide additional rigging points practically anywhere above the stage. They work beautifully with SkyDeck’s gridwells – the open spaces you see between the grid panels – pictured on the right.

Northern Stage is a regional non-profit LORT-D professional theater company located in White River Junction, VT. Northern Stage actively engages its audiences with world-class productions and extensive educational and outreach programs in its new home, the Barrette Center for the Arts. Founded in 1997, the company has offered more than 150 professional productions of new works, classics, and musicals. Now it its 22nd Season, Northern Stage serves over 50,000 people.