The devil’s in the details (below the stage)

While the words “trap door” might conjure up visions of the devil rising through a small, smoky opening in a stage floor, the Kauffman Center’s trap platform system will quickly dispel that somewhat limited image.

Stage with trap platform openingThe photo to the left looks toward the proscenium theatre stage from back of the house. On the stage floor, the 32 foot by 52 foot opening for the trap platform is covered by plywood. But given its size it is easy to imagine how this large and very flexible trap system will open new doors for performances, particularly for the Lyric Opera.

“The Kauffman Center’s trap platform system will be a large and modular system, made up by 4 by 4 foot and 8 by 8 foot platforms,” explains Michael Ferguson project manager for Theatre Project Consultants. The platform decks are supported from below on a system of demountable legs and beams.

A director can choose to use any number of the 56 platform openings, in a variety of configurations. The system is designed to be completely flexible, so any number of the modules can be removed at any time. For example, if a character needs to sail down a river, five or six sections in the correct places could be opened to create a river-like configuration. The boat could rise up from below and make its way on tracks placed across the opening.

Below the trap platform opening is a “trap room” that is as large as the stage opening. Wide doors below provide access for loading temporary equipment or sets. Actors will have easy access to the trap room through stairs or elevators, meeting ADA requirements.

“The last time the opera performed Wagner’s Siegfried, the singer performing Erda had to lie in wait for her entrance, literally stuffed under a false floor beneath the set,” Evan Luskin, general director of the Lyric Opera explains. “When it was time for her entrance, she had to sort of shimmy out of her crawl space — and there’s no way we could have added smoke for effect. She would have asphyxiated during the wait.”

But the next time the earth goddess appears in Kansas City she’ll do it in great style. Lifted from the bowels of the earth, Erda will appear dramatically amidst a screen of smoke, through the trap platform system in the stage floor.

For more details on the proscenium theater read:

  • An interview with theatre designer Richard Pilbrow of Theater Project Consultants
  • An article about the stage tower and its many features.