Grandstands: they vary from being a happenstance collection of planks and lumber loosely nailed together in front of which some equally improvised performance takes place, to being a visually wondrous assembly of galvanized tubing and extruded aluminum in front of which some very well organized sporting or popular music event is held with lots of beer spillage on the part of the public.

SE Design & Fabrication’s (SED&F) involvement with grandstands began over five years ago with the design and fabrication for the Cheval Theatre grandstand.

This production—featuring an equestrian circus—had very special seating requirements. The floor loading capacity of traditional grandstands was not sufficient to meet the code requirements of the various countries that the tour was planning to visit, especially the California seismic requirements.

Traditional grandstands became very cumbersome and long to set up when they provided the required load capacities. Set-up time, as with all touring shows, was at a premium so a custom design was requested of Scene Ethique (SED&F’s parent company). The re-conceptualizing of the grandstands began with the simplification of the design of the deck panel that could now be rectangular and be installed by sliding it, drawer style, onto the sub-structure of the grandstand. The panels lock into place when the arena like seating is attached to their front edge.

These traditional grandstands also presented limitations on the placement and size of vomitories. The production was planning on using the vomitories for both audience access to the performance area and for the entrances of the artists on horseback. Obviously, an acrobat on horseback does not have the same spatial requirements as an audience member.

Lastly, a crossover tunnel had to be provided for the horses under the 360° grandstand. This meant that a significant area of the sub-structure had to be free of structural members and supports. The final product met all of the production’s requirements, simplified the set-up and cut down the time required for installing the grandstand and its 2,000 arena style seats.

The next opportunity to continue to refine the grandstand design came when Cirque du Soleil approached SED&F to build a grandstand for their big top show. The grandstand that they had been using until then was not holding up well to the abuse of their intensive touring schedule nor was it rated for the more stringent
European codes.

The SED&F’s unique deck panel design was maintained and slightly modified to more easily accommodate the various configurations of 270° seating layouts required by the different jurisdictions where Cirque du Soleil tours. The stringer design was adapted to meet all of the code requirements, including TUV in Germany. One of the main modifications required was a change in the “A” frame support design to meet the TUV requirements.

The structural change also allowed SED&F to re-think the set-up procedure of the grandstand and the new “A” frames were designed to be more adjustable than the original version to be better suited to the wildly variable terrain conditions encountered in touring.

The revised design made for a grandstand that was both very rigid for audience comfort and security but was also flexible enough to be able to match the unevenness of terrains where the grandstand and big top were set-up. The grandstand supports loads of 100 pounds per square foot in the seating rows and 150 pounds per square foot in the aisle ways. Even with these load and stability requirements, the grandstands underside remains uncluttered and provides room for crossovers and for locating technical equipment.

Guardrails and handrails are designed and built to be fully building code compliant as are the risers of the grandstand that are designed to prevent persons or objects from falling through the gaps between rows. The decking meets flame-retardancy criteria for public assembly venues.

Scène Éthique has just completed building its fourth grandstand for Cirque du Soleil. The shows touring with SED&F grandstands are Saltimbanco and Alegria—European Tours, Dralion, Corteo and the newest Cirque du Soleil show, Kooza. The various configurations of grandstands accommodate from 2,500 to 2,700 seats both with and without vomitories.

The magic in a circus performance comes from the performers and the special relationship they establish with the audience. The proper layout of seating in relation to the stage is an invisible component that contributes to that magic.

The safe and code compliant grandstand that receives the audience ensures a worry free evening for both audience and performers. A grandstand that sets up and tears down as it should, month after month, keeps the crew smiling—even when the clowns aren’t around.

Ron Morissette oversees corporate development at Scene Ethique Design & Fabrication