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Birmingham Rep photos shine spotlight on backstage world

A paint-splattered chairImage copyright Fraser McGee/Birmingham Rep
Image caption One of Fraser McGee’s favourite images is a paint-splattered chair backstage at the Rep

When the lights go down and curtain goes up, the eyes of the theatre audience are trained on the actors treading the boards.

But behind the scenes, a small army of rarely-seen people are central to bringing a production to life.

Birmingham photographer Fraser McGee spent two months at the city’s Rep theatre capturing their efforts, gathering more than 1,000 images in the process.

Of those, he picked 100 black and white photographs for a new exhibition which opens this week.

Birmingham Rep exteriorImage copyright Fraser McGee/Birmingham Rep
Image caption “The Rep is more than a theatre. It’s an icon of the city, with its distinctive Brutalist architecture and its role in the history of Birmingham’s arts and culture scene dating back over a century,” said Mr McGee
Paint brushes in the paint roomImage copyright Fraser McGee/Birmingham Rep
Image caption One of Mr McGee’s favourite spaces was the paint room, where more than 800 sets have been worked on. “Passing through the workshop, you can’t help but be struck by the sheer size of the space and the array of manufacturing material and equipment. The aroma of freshly cut wood fills the air, with the smell of burning metal from recently welded steel adding to the factory feel of the space,” he said
A set designer at workImage copyright Fraser McGee/Birmingham Rep
Image caption “The theatre is unique in the city in that it’s our only producing theatre. Thanks to an incredible team of skilled crafts people, the theatre designs and creates its own sets and costumes, which makes its productions really special”
The Rep auditoriumImage copyright Fraser McGee/Birmingham Rep
Image caption The exhibition, titled Production, includes a large panoramic picture of the theatre’s main stage and auditorium, built in 1971, alongside more intimate photos of people crafting and making
A welder and a costume mannequinImage copyright Fraser McGee/Birmingham REP
Image caption Of the 100 exhibition photographs, one of Mr McGee’s favourites is a shot of a welder in the workshop. “Taken during the construction of the set for the Wizard of Oz, I love how alien it feels to the normal associations people make with the theatre. Sparks flying everywhere, welder dressed in PPE, it feels very industrial. I also love the undressed costume mannequin taken in the costume department. There is so much history with it, how many costumes have adorned it over the many years of the theatre and how many countless more will in the future? To me this image really touches on the softer side of the manufacturing processes involved in bringing a production to stage”
Dress rehearsal for StuffImage copyright Fraser McGee/Birmingham Rep
Image caption An image taken on the set of Stuff, taken after the final dress rehearsal for the show, was another of Mr McGee’s favourites. “The Door theatre, where it was held, is entirely dark in the images with only the set being illuminated by the spotlights. To me this image shows the culmination of all of the hard work put into creating this show. It’s the calm before the final reveal, the deep breath before the show is breathed into life.”
Performers during rehearsalsImage copyright Fraser McGee/Birmingham Rep
Image caption Mr McGee was given all-areas access to the theatre, and was able to capture candid shots such as this one taken during a rehearsal
A sewing machinist at workImage copyright Fraser McGee/Birmingham Rep
Image caption Clare Jepson-Homer, from Birmingham Repertory Theatre, said: “The majority of our audience only ever see the finished show on stage – they never witness the backbone and labour of love that goes into creating each show. Fraser’s collection of photographs is a celebration of the making of theatre”
A tower block behind Birmingham RepImage copyright Fraser McGee/Birmingham Rep
Image caption Birmingham Rep is part of city life, with tower block residents as neighbours
Photographer Fraser McGee
Image caption Mr McGee said his exhibition was about celebrating the “hard work, skills, dedication, and passion” of all the people behind every production

Production – Behind the Scenes at Birmingham Repertory Theatre runs from 27 June to 5 August 2019 at Medicine Bakery and Gallery, in New Street, Birmingham.

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