Theatre in a box: Let's get the show on the road

Theatre in a box: Let's get the show on the road
A movable, traveling theatre made up of shipping containers. It sounds like a strange dream to have, but for William McKegg, it's a concept that's catching on.

theatre innovator entrepreneur william mckegg idealogA movable, traveling theatre made up of shipping containers. It sounds like a strange dream to have, but for one man, it's a concept that's catching on.

Auckland entrepreneur William McKegg doesn’t have anything against Harley Davidsons – or their riders – as such, but this iconic motorbike helped put him on the path to conceptualisingTheatrebox, a movable theatre made up of shipping containers.

McKegg had been involved in the US touring version of Peter Pan, which was presented in a tent that seated 1,150 guests. The production featured 360-degree CGI animation projected onto the roof and had “some incredible flying sequences” that involved the cast being suspended over the audience.

The show was fantastic but the tent wasn’t the best venue. Tents, says McKegg, are fine for concerts and circuses but don’t really work for theatre shows. Theatre is posh, for one thing. And when you’re telling a story, the audience needs to be held in a state of “connected disbelief” while they watch the action play out.

“We connect with the dramatic action and sympathise and identify with the characters,” McKegg says. “Anything that disturbs this vital connection will interrupt the story flow and spoil the experience.”

And because circuses and concerts are not driven by a narrative structure, small interruptions don’t really affect how guests enjoy the show, but for theatre it can really disrupt things and ruin the experience.

Peter Pan’s San Francisco leg was held near the pier, which very close to the local Harley Davidson café on Taylor Street.

“It was a great site and the tent looked fantastic,” McKegg says. But given the proximity to the Harley Davidson café, “groups of hogs” (bikers) would roar past, often at just the wrong time for the show.

It devalued the production, McKegg believes.

“Exterior noise, inclement weather – the noise of rain and flapping of wind – and the difficulty controlling the temperature inside the tent meant that while the 360 CGI was a great effect, the overall experience was very difficult to deliver and expensive to run.”

With that experience, and having also worked for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s company The Really Useful Group on Cats, which had been staged in a tent in 1999-2001, McKegg thought there had to be a better way.

The concept of Theatrebox (which is currently just that: a concept) is a solution for a temporary first-class theatre. The outside wall framework is constructed from shipping containers and allows for a foyer, exit staircases and even for rainwater from the roof to be collected and used as grey water in the venue.

 

Theatrebox can be constructed within three to five days and dismantled within two to four days. Its foyer will allow for all the “front-of-house economics” such as the bar, merchandising and catering, seating 500 for dinner and playing home to everything from the coat check to WIP rooms and a security office. Behind the stage, there’s dressing rooms, green rooms, laundry, maintenance areas and storage.“My challenge – to myself, really – was to see if I could devise a temporary theatre that could be assembled quickly and dismantled quicker but not compromise on anything a permanent bricks and mortar theatre could offer.”