Getting Ready for Riverdance

With less than two weeks to go before the arrival of the acclaimed Riverdance show in Kuala Lumpur, Kakiseni was fortunate enough to speak on the phone with the show’s English production manager, Martyn Drew, who gave some insights on what it takes to make sure this mesmerising Irish dance show travels around the world without a glitch.

Can you tell us a little bit about what you do?

My job is to basically look after all the technical aspects of the show – lights, the sound. I oversee the freight side of it, making sure the equipment gets from one side of the world to the other side of the world whether it be by air, by trucks, by shipping containers. And I guess basically schedule everybody’s time for the show to make sure everything technical works. I come to places like [Kuala Lumpur] to make sure the venue is suitable for the show – if it’s got enough power, that it’s big enough, has enough dressing rooms. I just keep an eye on all the technical aspects of the show.

How long have you been with Riverdance?

I joined on August 9, 1999, so for about four years now. Just over four years.

Any memorable incidents that you want to share with us?

There’s not really been memorable incidents actually, nothing has ever gone drastically wrong. Getting stuff from one place to the other is normally the biggest problem. Just trying to get from country to country, getting to the venue and start loading in [according to schedule] to make sure the show opens on time – that time between the end of one venue and the beginning of the next venue is generally the hardest time, making sure everything gets to where it needs to get in time.

I suppose the biggest thing we had was Madrid – we had a big fire in a venue in Madrid about two years ago where some outside contractors were working on the roof of the venue and they caught the roof alight. The whole venue collapsed and we lost the entire show. Luckily Madrid was the last venue of the tour, so we had seven weeks then to build a completely new show and get everything back to the way it was before. So that’s been the biggest challenge, really – rebuilding the show in seven weeks. Where when it was originally set up, it took months and months and months to set up.

I understand that the show travels with an enormous amount of equipment.

Yeah, we’ve got six washing machines, six tumble dryers … When we fly into Kuala Lumpur, we’ll be on one 747 freighter plane and we’ll take up that whole plane. We’re bringing in about 100 tonnes of equipment. It’s a lot, a lot of stuff. There’s probably 1,500 individual pieces.

Has anything ever gotten lost before?

Lost … No, we’ve had delays – of trucks being late and aircraft going wrong, and things like that, but we’ve always managed to open the show on time. Never, ever had to not open on time.

So you have a nail-biting time just before each show opens at a new venue?

Yeah, up until opening night, I look after it. After opening night, our stage director looks after the show. Then, I prepare for the next venue, the next tour, the next year …

How long does it take you to prepare for the next venue – let’s say from Japan to Kuala Lumpur?

We’ve got a deal with Malaysian Airlines who are our main sponsor for freight and [passengers], so I got in contact with them maybe eight, nine months ago to secure the plane that’s going to bring all the equipment from Osaka into Kuala Lumpur. We finish on a Sunday night in Fukuoka, then drive all the equipment to Osaka on Monday. We load the plane on Tuesday. We land here Wednesday morning, so we actually start loading in Wednesday lunchtime and we’ve got a show Friday evening.

So, if all those things don’t fall into place or the plane goes wrong, everything doesn’t fit on the plane properly or the pilot’s ill … It [will cause] a real bad knock-on effect.

This means you’ve got less than 48 hours to set up for the show.

Yeah, that’s normally the time scale. Luckily here we’ve got a little bit extra time. We normally start loading in at 7 o’clock on a Monday morning and we have a show at 7 o’clock on a Tuesday evening.

How big is the crew that you have working on the show?

We tour with about 35 crew on the road with us, who are split into different departments. In each city, we pick up about 75 to 80 local stagehands who help us put the show in. And once the show’s up, we run it completely ourselves. There’s no need for any local involvement until we take the show out. Then we get around 80 locals in. Taking the show out takes us around 5 hours – from the end of the show to everything being packed and the truck doors closed. Because the show’s been touring for so long now, everybody in each department knows exactly what they’ve got to do.

Which is your favourite part of the show?

There’s four parts of the show that I like – the opening of the show which is called Reel Around the Sun, it’s a good number; the end of Act One which is Riverdance itself; then Act Two which is a number called Trading Taps, with some Afro-American guys dancing with some Irish guys; and the finale which is really, really good.

What can the audience expect when they come to Riverdance?

They can expect to see probably the best Irish show there is. It’s the original Irish dance show and everybody around the world says it’s still the best Irish dance show. There are two companies with Riverdance – the Liffey company, which is our company, and the Boyne company, which tours the States.

Every company that Riverdance has formed has always been named after Irish rivers. The Liffey runs through Dublin, it’s the main river in Dublin. And there’s the river called the Boyne, which the other company’s named after.

Kuala Lumpur will be the last performance of the Liffey company, ever. It’s closing down and a new company’s forming for next year, a slightly smaller company – called the Avoca – that’s going to tour Europe. So, people in Kuala Lumpur will get to see the last ever performance of the Liffey company.

That makes us very lucky.

Yes, [the show] is really good.

First Published: 27.11.2003 on Kakiseni

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