Uncharted Waters: Building a Pool Onstage for the Guthrie’s Production of Metamorphoses

After months of planning and weeks of production, a 6-ton pool now resides on the Wurtele Thrust Stage as the centerpiece for Mary Zimmerman’s Metamorphoses. Here’s a quick look at how the Guthrie Theater built and maintains the body of water.

This is part of a series connecting the library with the latest stage productions at the Guthrie Theater. See more at sppl.org/guthrie.

Is this the first pool to ever grace a Guthrie stage?

While we’ve had water effects in several productions, this is the first bona fide pool.

When did production begin and how long did it take to build?

Planning began in late 2018 and physical construction began in March 2019. The pool is built into our existing trap system, so that the surface of the water can be viewed from any seat. After the initial frame was in place, we built the floor of the pool with foam and placed a made-to-order pool liner. The pool is filled with 1,500 gallons of water which stretches the pool liner into a smooth, black surface so it will look like the boardwalk is covering a still, dark body of water.

Does the water get replaced? How do you maintain it throughout the run?

Just like a swimming pool, the water is treated (with bromine) so it doesn’t need to be changed. The pool also has two pump systems with filters. The filters and heaters run 24/7 (the water is kept at 100 degrees). They are only turned off 30 minutes before the show and for the duration of the performance.

We worked with pool consultant Anjali Bidani and Ginny Mulvaney from Custom Pools and Spas in Hopkins to ensure the comfort and safety of our actors.

How does the water impact lighting, sound, and costumes?

LIGHTING: Much like standard kitchen and bathroom outlets, our pool’s pumps and filters are wired to circuit breakers. Stand lights with low-voltage bulbs are used near the pool with overhead lighting used everywhere else.

SOUND: For this production, we placed several area mics around the stage and have a few wireless mics that move between actors for effects (when they’re not in the water, of course).

COSTUMES: Items that are constantly in water – treated water in particular – are subject to damage. Costume designer Maggi Yule noted that “white costumes pieces yellow in the pool so [they] have been made of natural fibers [that] can be laundered in hot water to whiten. The colorful costume pieces, on the other hand, must be synthetic – otherwise, the colors bleed.”

Watch the pool come to life in this time-lapse video, and see Metamorphoses in person through May 19. Learn more a the guthrietheater.org.

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