The Royal Opera House team came to us to help them create a world-beating automation system that would be the envy of other venues around the globe. However, to upgrade the existing system there were two challenges to consider. Firstly, the Royal Opera House’s shows and rehearsals run seven days a week with only a two-week summer hiatus to complete essential maintenance. That meant that any work would need to be sympathetic to the theatre’s unrelenting schedule and work around other departments’ maintenance. Secondly, since the work would need to be completed over a significant period of time, any new components would need to seamlessly integrate with the existing system until all work had been completed. We were selected to fulfil the upgrade; work that would touch every part of the flying infrastructure during the daily production cycle.
“To keep the full Royal Opera House schedule going, we needed to be flexible and able to change and update our plan at short notice. They don’t come bigger, more high profile, or more complex than this project and we proved we could deliver on time and even expand the scope while still staying within the original budget.”
– Kevin Taylor, CEO, Asia, TAIT
We set about upgrading 108 flybar winches, 18 lighting battens, multiple bars and storage bins on the rear stage, a host of point hoists, and the winches facilitating swag and vertical opening of the iconic house curtain. Almost 1000 load cells were added to monitor the mass attached to each rope in the flying system.
New safety features, such as brake check-back to confirm operation and crossed-groove detection to monitor the lay of ropes on each winch were added, with these additional features enabling performer flying to modern safety standards.
“A key benefit for us was that the show operators didn’t notice a difference after overnight work. Productions which had been rehearsed on the old system could be operated with the new, or a hybrid of the two, the next day.”
– Musa Halimeh, Renewal Programme Manager at the Royal Opera House
New control cabinets provided better remote support, and new monitoring functions, but decommissioning meant removing power to all existing cabinets, so this had to be completed during 2019’s two-week shutdown. Welcoming Kinesys into the TAIT family that same year conveniently coincided with the decision to increase the project’s scope to include transitioning LX battens from winches to chain-hoist control. Kinesys’s Apex range of variable-speed hoists provided the ideal product.
“We installed 72 Apex hoists which, given the capability of Apex, is not unique but it’s still quite a large system. It’s a testament to the new setup that the hoists could be added into the larger automation platform and immediately be accessible from the consoles with no issues whatsoever.”
– Dave Weatherhead, President, TAIT Products
Outside of the shutdown periods, we operated a weekly schedule of overnight and weekend work to minimize disruption to the show’s relentless, near 24/7 program. Unlike many of our projects, the enforced shutdowns during the COVID-19 pandemic actually allowed us to accelerate work as, with shows on pause, we were able to transition from nocturnal to daytime work.
As part of our commitment to sustainability, parts removed from site – including brakes, cabinets, and redundant cabling – were all recycled.
The partnership between the Royal Opera House and TAIT also opened up the possibility for further enhancements, such as the integration of our iQ platform to enable more sophisticated show control techniques and iQ’s new show-repository feature, and the opera house now boasts a reliable, cutting-edge automation system that’s capable of realizing even the most complex automation vision.
“I think the way the teams worked together was extraordinary, with our team on-site and the TAIT team working with us. There was a huge amount of collaboration; testing things and shifting them as we went…I think we’ve got some confidence now to say, ‘we can do these sorts of projects, stay open, stay performing, keep audiences with us, and continue to be the opera house we are both during and after.”
– Heather Walker, Director of Operations, Royal Opera House
Thanks to our partners: Heather Walker, Director of Operations; Emma Wilson, Technical Director; Andy Collett, Head of Stage; Musa Halimeh, Renewal Programme Manager (Technical); Rob Melhuish, Head of Flys, Joe Sheppard, Automation Project Manager; and Jo Holmes, Project Manager.