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Take a Backstage Tour of the Royal Opera House

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by Kat Parr Mackintosh (subscribe)
Young and coffee in varying degrees, Kat also says stuff @ThoroughlyMode
Published February 5th 2011

There aren't many people who ever make it backstage at the Royal Opera House, but many of us harbour dreams of getting there one day. As far as performers are concerned you need to be the best of the best. The same should be said for the technical staff: this isn't just a world renowned venue known for its history and standing, it's also got state of the art sound, design and stage management technology – literally all the bells and whistles. So it's a desirable place for anyone in the industry to work.

That said there is an easier way to take a peek behind that huge red velvet curtain: you can take a backstage tour. Lots of London theatres run these, but few theatres have as much going on back of house as the Royal Opera House does. For starters this is a repertory theatre for both ballet and opera the often juggles three full scale productions at the same time. And the companies alternate almost every night, it's not just the programme, so the whole stage has to be stripped and rebuilt for a different production almost every day. Twice for matinees. So you know you're going to see a lot of action from the stage management team.

One of the best of the ROH's tricks is their multilayered sliding stage that allows them to have three partly dressed stages at once – they slide in and out and up and down in the fly tower and gaping space just behind the proscenium arch.

With that many productions going on at once it also means that there's a lot of costumes to make, wigs to set, tutus to clean and sets to be built and designed. And A LOT of pointe shoes to sew ribbons on to – especially when you consider each of the Royal Ballet ladies gets though 20-30 pairs a month.

The ROH building is also the home of both the opera and ballet companies. So it's their rehearsal space and training space as well as their performance space and there's a good chance that your tour will include a peek into a Royal Ballet class or rehearsal, or you'll hear snatches of a Royal Opera Chorus call.

As well as seeing some of the mechanics that go on behind the scenes, both in terms of technological hydraulics and human hydraulics, you're also given a tour of the front of house area and get to try out some of the best seats in the house. Unless you're part of a tour or have a ticket it's pretty hard to see the inside of the main house, and it's certainly splendid.

And a backstage tour is also almost the cheapest way to get in as well.
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Why? It's the easiest way to get backstage at the ROH
When: Three times per day Mondays to Fridays, at 10.30am, 12.30pm and 2.30pm, and on Saturdays at 10.30am, 11.30am, 12.30pm and 1.30pm. All tours last approximately 1 hour 30 minutes.
Where: Bow Street Covent Garden WC2E 9DD, nearest station Covent Garden
Cost: Tickets are £10 for adults, £9 for seniors and £7 for children and students
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