Over the past ten years, erecting travelling dinner theatre Madame Zingara’s Theatre of Dreams 38 t red velvet tent has become a well-executed performance in its own right.
The production is once again preparing for a mammoth move from its current location in Durban to Century City, in Cape Town, where it will launch a new show on September 1 to celebrate its tenth anniversary.
“A lot of planning and logistics are needed to prepare for the move: endless quoting, budgeting, finalising, signing off quotes and organising multiple service providers to work together to ensure a smooth and effortless move, as well as flying the rigging crew from Belgium to dismantle and rig the main tent,” explains Madame Zingara’s unit manager, Warren Andresen, who says the erection of the mirror tent has become second nature.
Eight superlink trucks are used to transport the production’s six 12 m and seven 6 m containers, as well as two prefabricated structures that house a scullery and staff toilets. A 50 t crane is used to load the containers, while an 80 t crane is used for offloading, as its flexibility facilitates completing the task in fewer movements, saving time.
The 9.2-m-high venerable Spiegeltent (Dutch for ‘mirror tent’) Victoria is held up by only 28 bolts that support the internal ring’s joining beams, which are connected to 38 columns. The centre ring comprises 14 mirrored columns, while there are 24 columns in the exterior ring.
The 25-m-diameter freestanding big top was designed in Belgium in the 1920s as a travelling dance hall and has since traded its original wooden frame, which is joined using a slot-and-groove system, for a modern aluminium version.
A 12-person crew is needed to construct the theatre, which includes the main tent, décor and back office. Eight people are required for carrying and unpacking, while four people erect the tent.
Erecting the tent takes three days and includes laying and levelling the base structure using a spirit level. The site should be reasonably flat with a maximum slope of 40 cm over 30 m.
The inner ring comprising aluminium tubing is then assembled and attached to the centre ring. These rings are hoisted with bridges and columns, which clip into the base, after which the exterior ring, which includes 16 wooden booths, is assembled.
The tent can accommodate up to 1 000 people standing, 600 seated and 420 seated for dinner, and takes two days to dismantle.
“Once Victoria is up again, about four days are spent on the gardens where we assemble around our installation, depending on the current theme, and then on to décor, to create the illusion that the tent has stood there forever,” says Andresen.
Ablution facilities, consisting of six women’s toilets, two men’s toilets and six urinals for customers and two women’s toilets, two men’s toilets and two urinals for staff, are also installed on site and linked to the sewerage system.
“Further, unpacking the kitchen is a massive operation, as we have to install the kitchen container next to the kitchen tent and scullery, and connect plumbing to the sewerage system. Finally, we attach the must-have extractor fan to the kitchen container,” he concludes.