Category Archives: Equipment



California Wide Awaking: What If Life Was Always Like This? -

California and Scotland are different. We’re used to Scotland – and love it – and are quickly and oh-so easily getting used to the delights of California too.

But as our journey with ‘The Man Who Planted Trees‘ has taken us from Montalvo down the coast to Costa Mesa in Orange County I’ve been wondering what it would be like if some of the features we’re coming across were part of everyday life in the UK.

1) What if you got to see sunsets like this at Carmel by the Sea EVERY night?

Carmel by the Sea is the zipcode with the (I think) 12th highest property values in the USA. It’s the place where Clint Eastwood has been mayor and where the world-famous Pebble Beach golf course is. Its broad, pine-lined streets are full of pretty houses – some of them massive and facing out to the Pacific Ocean where, from their deck, balconies, and well-watered lawns they can enjoy beautiful sunsets with mind-boggling regularity. But let’s face it, you don’t need a multi-million dollar property portfolio to enjoy a good sunset. They just help frame them for your convenience. Unframed sunsets that may require the inconvenience of a stroll down the street to a vaguely west-facing vista are available to all of us.

Carmel by the Sea at Sunset

2) What if EVERY road trip was as stunning as Highway 1?

If you are on the road, checking out of one hotel and then making your way to one that gets you halfway towards your next engagement, it’s an unwelcome setback to discover – once you’re a couple of hours from the last hotel – that you’ve left your laptop behind. UNLESS … you’ve been travelling down an open road hugging the most stunning coastline in the world on a lovely sunny day in low season. THAT is the IDEAL time to have to go back, view it all from a different angle. All 30 miles of it. What? Only 30? We must have pulled over more times than we thought for pictures of gloriously roaring bays of turquoise and white foam.

And with the goods duly recovered from the lobby of a very decent Best Western Hotel, it’s time to see Highway 1 heading south again. This time, though, with a more chilled-out attitude and a broader sweep of each view that looms round each winding corner.

Rick and Elspeth as passengers specialised in synchronised ‘Wow!’s while Richard did a superb job at the wheel.

Highway 1

One of many wow-worthy views on Highway 1

3) What if we ate Solvang style Danish pastries every morning for breakfast?

Our friend Lizi Fraser told us about Solvang and, since it sounded quirky and sits at a handy travelling distance between Carmel by the Sea and Costa Mesa, we spent the night there. Not at The Royal Scandinavian Inn that had been recommended to us, but at the more budget-end of things The Royal Copenhagen Inn. Does it sound like there’s a theme developing here? Solvang is kind of a Danish theme park. Not ‘Danish’ as in icons of groovy 20th Century design but an olde-worlde Denmark. Statues of Hans Christian Andersen. Wooden facades. Windmills. Life-size wooden soldiers in sentry boxes guarding hotel lobbies. And for breakfast – what else but Danish pastries? Well, nothing else. Apart from coffee. They are delicious. BUT – as John Shuttleworth says “One cup of tea is never enough but two is one too many” – two Danish pastries is a devilish tempting way to start the day. And would eventually tip one too far in the direction of over-largeness. Which is why I’ve been embracing the fruit option at every opportunity since then.

Totally typical of 1976 Danish architecture. In Solvang.

4) What if ALL perfoming arts venues had such awesome quality sound and light equipment as the Samueli Theater at the Orange County Performing Arts Center?

I’ve ended up as touring Stage Manager with Puppet State Theatre Company kind of by accident. Back in 2006 in the very early days (we thought they might be the only days) of The Man Who Planted Trees, I agreed to help ‘do the lights and sound’ for a school show in Portobello, Edinburgh. The delightful Barney Strachan who put together our bee-loud soundscape showed me the ropes – how to keep your cables tidy and always to cue up the next track carefully. Little did I know that I’d end up as almost a full-time theatre tech gal. Able to hold my own with the techiest of the techs in discussions about radio mic compression and (of course) gaffa tape. And drooling over lighting desks.

Oh but who wouldn’t marvel at the ability to change the position and focus of lights that are higher than any ladder you’ve got and to switch their gobos (the thingies in stage lights that make patterned shadows) and their colours at the mere push of a few buttons, the stroke of a rainbow-coloured touch-screen or by gently twirling a few dainty little dials?

How groovy is our lighting desk, an ETC eos

Mark at our venue was super-professional – not only quickly ‘getting’ how I wanted the set to be lit but making it happen very smoothly. He also let me in on some of the secrets of the desk. Willingness to demystify. I like that in a house technician. Rather than the hands-off-it’s-mine attitude one sometimes meets. I’m not really qualified to be hopping up and down ladders or those telescopic things BUT heck with lighting set-ups like this, I wouldn’t ever need to be.

And here’s a big-up for John who has been making sure the radio mics that Richard and Rick have been using in this bigger-than-we’re-used-to venue sound just like they’re not using them at all. Way to go for discreet, un-noticeable technology. Making your theatrical experience all about the story, not the special effects!

5) What if real people’s eyebrows were as liable to fall off as Dog’s are?

Oops my eyebrows fell off!

That’s just one to ponder in your own time.

5 Good Ways to Begin a Tour -

1) Have it All Pan Out in San Fran

There’s a lot of trust involved in setting off with all your goods & chattels bagged up in the hope of getting to a precise spot thousands of miles away and performing a show. Even if it’s a show that’s been on the road for nearly four years already. There’s brand new, as-yet-untested bits of kit here, remember.

Almost all our bags arrived at the same time as we did.

Well, we reached San Francisco at night on 8th Feb after a super-long voyage. Elspeth’s suitcase showed up a day or so late, but sometimes it’s nice to discover that there’s zero option about what to wear. And on this leg of the trip, we were not stung for excess baggage either.

For our day in San Fran the sun shone and we saw as much as we could in a short space of time.

The view across the Golden Gate Bridge from Vista Point

Painted Ladies

San Francisco Skyline with 'Painted Ladies'

Great Thai food. But what they call 'medium spicy' is HOT!

We were pleased to pick up a shiny red hire car into which everything fits beautifully. It’s a Dodge Grand Caravan.

Richard with the Dodge Grand Caravan

The car hire woman said Richard looked like a grown-up version of Harry Potter!

And the GPS/sat nav thingy guided us like magic to our first venue.

2) Reside At Your First Venue (Which Should Be Beautiful and Scenic)

Montalvo Arts Center is a beautiful place. The Carriage House Theater is part of Montalvo Villa which was built in 1912 by California’s first elected Senator, James Phelan.

Carriage House

Carriage House Theater, Montalvo Arts Center

Lucas Artist Residencies

These are the two artist residencies where Rick, Richard & Elspeth stayed at Montalvo

3) Have a Hassle-Free Set-Up and Great Audiences

Neat Workshop

You've gotta love an organised workshop space when there's things to glue and stick.


And nothing gets creases out of hessian/burlap better than - or cheers up a stage manger like - a steamer!

The Man Who Planted Trees - Stage shot

Four performances with great audiences, hoots of laughter and pin-drop silences.

Dog in basket after the shows

Dog, relaxing post-show, is pleased with how it went.

4) Hang Out With Very Cool Artists

The Lucas Artist Residency Program at Montalvo means that there are a bunch of very cool, accomplished artists living here and we really enjoyed spending time with them. Particularly cool is the fact that there’s a ‘Culinary Fellow’ here – Michelle Fuerst – who cooks aMAzing meals for the artists. So there are three composers at the moment: Christian Muthspiel, Richard Marriott and Eve Beglarian. Nicole Schmoelzer is a visual artist who’s our next door neighbour here in the leafy glen – her and her amazing canvases drying in the sunshine. And Violet Juno is a performance artist who has shared her work with us during highly entertaining evenings of food and laughter.

Eve Beglarian

Eve in her studio. Thanks for the coffee!

Rick post-show

Rick with Nicole, Richard and Violet after a show

We’re sad to leave and hope to keep in touch with all these guys!

5) Extraneous Adventures in the Neighbourhood

Before we left, everyone was saying ‘You’re going to California, how exciting!’. Rick had been here before but Richard and Elspeth hadn’t and were withholding judgment until we saw what it was like. Well – it’s fantastic! We’ve enjoyed the quaint, kooky delights of local Los Gatos and took a trip up the coast past Ano Nuevo up to Half Moon Bay. Rick had a quick dip in the ocean and luckily got out before the rip tide dragged him away. Richard fell in love with a sleek, vintage Volvo – and the pelicans. And Elspeth accidentally stood on a dead seal.

Redwood Bay

Rick's dip

Rick's Heroic Dip in the Ocean

Elspeth silhouette

Elspeth getting over the dead seal experience

Rick, Elspeth, Richard

Onwards now towards Orange County. With a stop-off at Carmel by the Sea. More swimming? We’ll see!

Traveling Light -

Lightweight aluminium wheelbases.
Re-welded & riveted War Trees.
A foldable, compact, screen.
It’s ‘wheely’ good what you can do when you’ve got the right fella for the job!

Right, stop me now. That’s my cheesy tabloidy pun quota reached.

Furthermore – it’s time to board a flight to Paris – thence to Atlanta & on to San Fransisco.

Again, a hasty post. From the departure lounge. Which is full of French rugby fans returning from their Murrayfield outing.

Rick has been puppeteering tonight/last night for a Haiti benefit gig at the Traverse Theatre and is dozing on the airport bus.

Richard is wondering why they’ve picked out his case to be taken away at the aircraft steps.

Elspeth is arm-linked on to the pole & is tapping on her iPhone like there’s no tomorrow. But there is. And it will involve Golden Gates!

Yards of Burlap and a Dog Basket -
Packing is Fun

Packing is Fun

As far as touring theatre shows go, we travel pretty darn light, thanks to our super far-sighted designer Ailie Cohen and to Simon Owen who recently engineered us some cunning new bits of kit. But fitting it all in is a challenge. This is how it’s looking at the moment.

Excuse me if this is a quick post but a) there’s a lot more packing to do, b) this is my first post on this blog so I’m a bit shy, and c) this is my first post on this blog so I’m keen to publish and go see what it looks like.

[Well – doesn’t look too bad. It’s a start.]



See more photos on flickr »