What Is A Turntable In Theatre? A Comprehensive Guide

Theatre is a world of magic and wonder, where the impossible becomes possible.

One of the most fascinating aspects of theatre is the way in which sets and scenes can be transformed before our very eyes. And one of the key tools used to achieve this transformation is the turntable.

But what exactly is a turntable in theatre? How does it work? And why is it such an important part of the theatrical experience?

In this article, we’ll explore the answers to these questions and more, delving into the history, mechanics, and creative possibilities of this fascinating theatrical device.

So sit back, relax, and let’s take a spin on the turntable!

What Is A Turntable In Theatre

A turntable in theatre is a mechanical platform that can be rotated to change the scenery or set during a performance. It is also commonly referred to as a revolving stage or a round floor. The turntable is typically circular in shape and is built into the stage floor, allowing it to rotate around a central pivot point.

The turntable was first invented for the Kabuki theatre in Japan in the 18th century and was later introduced into Western theatre at the Residenztheater in Munich in 1896. Since then, it has become a popular mechanical feature in major theatres around the world.

The History Of Turntables In Theatre

The use of turntables, or revolving stages, in theatre is not a new concept. In fact, they have been around for centuries, with the first known use of a fully revolving set dating back to 1617. This innovation was constructed by the hydraulics engineer Tommaso Francini for an elaborately produced pageant, Le ballet de la délivrance de Renaud, which was presented for Marie de Medici at the Palais du Louvre in Paris.

However, the turntable was first invented for the Kabuki theatre in Japan in the 18th century. It was later introduced into Western theatre at the Residenztheater in Munich in 1896 and quickly became a popular mechanical feature in major theatres around the world.

Variations of the turntable/revolving stage design were also in use throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries in Europe and the United States as performance adjuncts to hippodrama and other forms of spectacular realism. They have continued to be used in Broadway and other productions during the late 20th century and through the present day.

One of the most well-known examples of a turntable/revolving stage design is John Napier’s scenic design for Les Miserables. However, creating such a design is typically a group effort. Scenic designers provide drawings of what the show should look like and communicate their desires for how it works and moves. The actual construction is done by engineers, draftsmen, carpenters, automation engineers, electricians, and scenic artists. It can take almost three months to put together an entire show at a shop, with upwards of 50-plus people involved in making it happen in various capacities.

How Turntables Work In Theatre Productions

In theatre productions, turntables are used to create dynamic and seamless scene changes. A standard turntable consists of a circular platform that is driven by a motor and controlled by an automation operator. The platform is made up of a number of steel wedges with timber on top that fit together like pieces of a pie, and wheels on the bottom to allow for smooth rotation.

The turntable is modular by design, which means it can be customized to fit the specific needs of a production. Once the platform is built, a painted scenic floor is added on top to disguise the turntable and make it blend seamlessly with the rest of the set.

Turntables come in various sizes, ranging from 1.2 meters to 14 meters in diameter. The larger turntables can weigh up to four tonnes and extend beyond the proscenium arch.

During a performance, the turntable can be used to quickly and efficiently change scenery or set pieces. The motor is activated, causing the platform to rotate around the central pivot point. As the platform rotates, new scenery or set pieces can be brought on stage from offstage, while old scenery or set pieces are removed.

Creative Possibilities Of Turntables In Theatre

The use of turntables in theatre offers a wide range of creative possibilities that can add dynamics and excitement to a performance. One of the main advantages of a revolving stage is its ability to speed up scene changes, allowing for seamless transitions between different sets and locations. This can be particularly useful in plays or musicals that require frequent changes in scenery.

In addition to facilitating scene changes, turntables can also be used to create interesting visual effects and enhance the overall atmosphere of a performance. For example, a revolving stage can be used to create a sense of movement or rotation, which can be particularly effective in dance or musical productions.

Another creative possibility of turntables in theatre is the ability to use them as a central focal point for the performance. By placing the actors or performers on the rotating stage, the audience’s attention is drawn to the center of the action, creating a unique and immersive experience.

Aside from traditional theatre productions, turntables can also be used in other types of performances such as music shows or car shows. The size, finish and control options are customizable, providing endless possibilities for creative expression.

Examples Of Turntable Usage In Famous Productions

The creative use of turntables in theatre productions has been seen in many famous productions. One such example is the Broadway musical Hamilton, which utilized a turntable to create seamless scene transitions and dynamic staging. The turntable was used to rotate the set pieces, creating a fluid and immersive experience for the audience.

Another example is the West End production of Les Miserables, which also used a turntable to change the scenery and set during the performance. The turntable was used to rotate the barricade and other set pieces, enhancing the dramatic effect of the production.

In addition, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream utilized a turntable to create a magical and dreamlike atmosphere. The turntable was used to rotate the forest scenery, creating a sense of movement and transformation that added to the mystical quality of the play.

Challenges And Limitations Of Using Turntables In Theatre

Despite its popularity, turntables in theatre come with several challenges and limitations that must be considered. One major challenge is the cost of cutting circles out of sheet goods, which can be expensive. Additionally, framing a turntable can become complicated due to the angles involved, making construction slow and time-consuming. Moreover, turntables are difficult to modify for reuse.

When building a turntable for a production, it is important to consider the deck height to ensure that front-row sightlines are not obstructed. This can limit the size of the turntable that can be built while still maintaining proper sightlines.

Another limitation of turntables is their potential impact on sound quality. Belt-drive turntables, for example, can wear out over time, causing problems with sound quality. They are also more prone to belt slippage, which can interrupt music playback. Direct-drive turntables are generally less expensive and offer better sound quality than belt-drive turntables.

Record changers also present challenges due to their need for a high-torque drive system to spin at the correct speed even when loaded down with multiple records. The idler wheel drive system used by many popular turntables like the Dual 1009 and 1218 and most Garrards was dependable but could develop a “flat spot” over time with heavy use, causing a thumping sound on records.

Finally, it is important to consider the tracking force when using a turntable to play records. Setting the tracking force too high can cause excess weight on records, leading to damage or wear over time. Setting it too low can cause poor sound quality and potential damage to records from the stylus ripping across the surface. Careful adjustment of tracking force based on cartridge recommendations is essential for maintaining record collection in good condition.

Conclusion: The Importance Of Turntables In Theatre Production

Turntables play a crucial role in theatre production as they provide a seamless and efficient way to change the scenery or set during a performance. They allow for a quick and smooth transition between scenes, which is essential in keeping the audience engaged and maintaining the flow of the performance.

The use of turntables also allows for more creative and dynamic staging options, as the rotating platform can be used to create unique visual effects and movement patterns. This can add an extra layer of depth and interest to the performance, enhancing the overall experience for the audience.

Furthermore, turntables have become an iconic feature in theatre design, with many famous productions utilizing them in innovative and memorable ways. They have become a symbol of theatrical innovation and creativity, representing the ever-evolving nature of the art form.

In conclusion, turntables are a vital component of theatre production, providing an efficient and creative way to change scenery and enhance the overall performance. Their importance in theatre design cannot be overstated, as they have become an integral part of the theatrical experience for both performers and audiences alike.