When Music Dance Theatre director Tim Threlfall saw Chariots of Fire during the 2012 Olympics in London he knew it had to be performed at BYU. Threlfall felt the iconic story would resonate with BYU’s audience, so he called BYU that night and the process began.
“To tell you the truth, I like the play better than the film,” Threlfall said. “I think the staging of it is more riveting. It’s more exciting because you are right there in front of the story being told.”
Once the rights were received the visualization really began. In London the set was in the round with a built-in turntable and a treadmill around the stage. Here at BYU Threlfall didn’t have the setup or the budget to recreate this stage.
However, Threlfall knew the team had to create space for the actors to run and while this running would include some stylized choreography the majority had to be true running.
“The script demands that the running be real, so it’s not just a matter of pretending you’re running, but making it real,” Threlfall said.
Luckily, Threlfall had the right man for the job. Doug Ellis has been a set designer for countless performances including 19 shows for Tuacahn Outdoor Theater in St. George, Utah. Ellis says his most unique set design was Starlight Express at Tuacahn.
To create space for running Ellis designed a way to remove 78 seats from the Pardoe Theatre and add a track. To accommodate for the missing seats, and to give audience members an immersive experience, 90 seats have been added to the actual stage.
“I remember sitting in the round and I got splashed by sweat as the actors were running right behind me,” Threlfall said. “I remember thinking that is gross! And then I thought, that’s cool. I wanted to do something to really make it feel for the audience that they are part of the spectators of the 1924 Olympics.”
In his 21 years at BYU Threlfall said he’s never seen a track through the middle of the Pardoe Theatre and he has seen audience on the stage only a time or two. While the seats on stage create a rare experience for audience members, they also create a few unexpected challenges.
“There is always the challenge of staging it so that it’s a good experience for the audience up here and so it’s a good experience for the audience down there as well,” Threlfall said referring to both the stage and the main audience.
Ellis echoed Threlfall’s concerns explaining that what is generally off limits for the audience members such as backstage preparation areas are now in view.
“You have to say, ‘where are we going to put the prop table?’” Ellis said.
With the innovative set design for the world-renowned story, the performance promises to be a one of a kind experience to all audience members.