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From rotating houses to flying humans: Eileen loves making stuff move on stage

Third year Bachelor of Fine Arts (Scenic Construction and Technologies) student Eileen Ortiona loves making things move.

Photo: Eileen Ortiona on the set of Roberto Zucco in NIDA's Parade Theatre.

Third year Bachelor of Fine Arts (Scenic Construction and Technologies) student Eileen Ortiona loves making things move.

Eileen has just finished the bump out as Technical Manager on the NIDA June Production of Roberto Zucco, a set design that has as its centre a revolving two storey house in the middle of the large Parade Theatre stage.

Automating and adding positioning functionality to the revolving stage was Eileen’s responsibility, a crucial role.

Eileen is in her final and third year at NIDA and has been collaborating and working with the entire design and production crew on the show. This type of collaboration is a hallmark of the NIDA conservatoire teaching, which focuses on learning by doing.  Eileen worked with 34 backstage students and guest artists, including the Set/Props Designer, MFA (Design for Performance) student Camille Ostrowsky, and Production Stage Manager, third year Bachelor of Fine Arts (Technical Theatre and Stage Management) student Valerie Lam.

‘In this production I focused a lot on anything that moved, which was the revolve and the human flying systems. It was important to have the revolve stop at the right times and in the right positions. There were screens that flew in at certain points and entrances for an actor who also flew on and around the structure, so accuracy was crucial.’

‘I had to add positioning functionality to the revolve that we had here so that it could work within this show. I built the encoder as an add-on and adapted and reconfigured the positioning software.’

Photo: Eileen Ortiona on the set of Roberto Zucco in NIDA's Parade Theatre.

To carry out this feat, Eileen drew on the combination of stage machinery and automation knowledge she had leant on secondment, another hallmark of studying at NIDA. Industry placements with a leading production company gives students hands-on experience, a broader understanding of the live performance industry and a chance to create contacts and networks for their future professional development.

‘I was seconded to automation company Simple Motion, and worked on the welding of a revolve,’ explains Eileen. ‘Then I was also on secondment to Her Majesty's Theatre for Muriel’s Wedding and was shadowing the Automation Operator and Technical Manager. That experience helped me so much in this NIDA production. You have the experience and you also have the theory behind it.’

Photo: Roberto Zucco set takes shape in NIDA's Parade Theatre.

Has Eileen had enough of revolving stages now? Actually it’s the opposite. ‘This is an area that I really want to move into – stage machinery and automation. It’s a perfect fit for me. I want to work with large structures that move. I certainly didn’t realise this was my direction when I first started at NIDA.’

As an emerging female in the automation industry, Eileen is in a minority. ‘It’s a bit rare to find a female automation specialist, but I came from an IT background where I was used to being the only female. This construction and stage  machinery industry is a bit like the final frontier for women. I would love to see more women in this industry.’

Eileen has her eye on the United States to gain more experience after her NIDA course finishes. In the meantime she has an engine to clean and a set to dismount.

Applications open for NIDA’s Bachelor of Fine Arts (Scenic Construction and Technology) on 1 July and continue until 30 September. Visit for more info.

Photo: Roberto Zucco: the final set in production.

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