Pieter Toerien's spectacular version of Jesus Christ Superstar opened this May at Cape Town, South Africa’s Artscape Opera House to tumultuous applause. This was the latest in a string of smash-hit musicals for which theatre equipment supplier Gearhouse Splitbeam supplied the lighting rig. The company offers niche theatre-specific equipment on a long-term rental basis and says that it is fast becoming the "go-to" option for international tours and local shows alike.
Splitbeam's managing director, Alistair Kilbee, has been involved in theatre for most of his working life. At the heart of the Splitbeam service lies his conviction that lighting designers should be able to easily access the latest technology, at what he refers to as "theatre-friendly" pricing.
Lighting designer Denis Hutchinson has worked with Splitbeam previously on Dream Girls and Handful of Keys and was instrumental in getting Splitbeam involved in Jesus Christ Superstar as he felt their Vari*Lite fixtures were exactly what was needed to light the show.
Jesus Christ Superstar uses a full Vari*Lite rig (together with a handful of Source Fours) and Hutchinson has found these fixtures a pleasure to work with. "The VL3500s are really great in a theatrical situation; the shutters are versatile and accurate giving control which is hard to beat with other units,” he said. “The VL2500s are also excellent onstage because they are so compact. Superstar doesn't have a particularly full grid, but on big musicals a compact fixture is essential and given how good the optics are, it's just the thing."
With regard to the Splitbeam service, Hutchinson agrees that it fills a gap that has long been felt by theatre lighting designers. The world-wide trend in commercial theatre is towards leasing rather than buying equipment as it allows for much more show-specific equipment. South Africa has lagged behind, however, largely because lighting hire in the country has always been priced towards short term hire, so that for many of the 'franchise' musicals, it has been cheaper to hire out of London or Sydney than to source gear locally.
"With Splitbeam now up and running, we are looking for the first time at a local supplier geared to long term rental and the specific requirements of the theatre market,” continued Hutchinson. “Now we just have to change the way producers and theatre owners think..."
Prior to the Jesus Christ Superstar get-in, Lx operator, Glenn Duncan and Hutchinson were given an equipped space to complete two days of pre-programming in Johannesburg while the Splitbeam technicians prepared and marked up all equipment to ensure that the team were able to move in and be up and running in good time. "My first experience with Splitbeam on a big show has been totally positive and I hope that we will be able to do more work together in the future", he said.
The feeling is mutual, it seems."Working with Denis is a pleasure," said Kilbee, "because he is so well organised and knows what he wants from the outset. This is exactly the type of designer that Splitbeam caters for - someone who uses the equipment to its fullest capacity and who is also very conscious of theatre budgets."
"South Africa has plenty of local talent in both the technical and the performance spheres,” he continued. “We believe that our industry is perfectly positioned to become a major player on the world-wide theatre touring circuit. We have always been able to do musicals to the highest standards but we have not had a rental company to supply the correct equipment at the correct price… until now."
Jesus Christ Superstar closed in Cape Town on 28th May before moving to Montecasino's Teatro Theatre in Johannesburg.