Case study: How SRC brought New York to Sydney Harbour

Take some inspiration from the colourful and creative Handa Opera.

Staging Rentals & Construction (SRC) were recently tasked to bring a taste of New York to Sydney Harbour for the 2019 Handa Opera production of West Side Story.

It involved some 11 tonnes of steel and creative problem solving, but the team at SRC successfully delivered staging, set and prop elements for Handa Opera’s most successful show yet. Here’s how they did it.

Event: Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour – West Side Story
Location: Mrs Macquarie’s Point, Sydney
Client: Opera Australia
Services provided: Steel stage set construction, custom scrim and on-site installation

The brief

Following the successful delivery of various staging, set and prop elements for Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour for the productions of Madam Butterfly, Aida, Turandot, Carmen and La Bohème, Opera Australia once again engaged SRC for the 2019 production of West Side Story.

SRC were required to set the scene for this modern-day Romeo and Juliet story that unfolds on the mean streets of New York’s West Side, where two rival gangs strut their stuff.

Image credit: Hamilton Lund

How it was brought to life

SRC built a huge steel structure to create the underside of a freeway passing over a basketball court in New York. This overpass portal was formed with approximately 11 tonnes of steel and measured an imposing 31 metres wide and 15 metres high.

Precisely built to engineer specs, the portal featured a ply cladding platform across the top and two custom staircases providing access. Custom built handrails matching the steel structure ensured the safety of backstage crew and performers.

To create the look of the underside of a freeway, SRC worked with a trusted supplier who digitally printed a custom scrim with opaque lines as well as the Statue of Liberty torch. Scenic paint was applied to the white seams of the scrim so they blended discreetly into the scene.

PVC see-through mesh was used to ensure the scrim would withstand the potential weather conditions an outdoor stage can be exposed to, such as the wind and rain seen on opening night!

Guests arrived at the venue through an entry arch built by SRC; a scaffold structure, clad in ply faced flats which were painted black and treated pine slat cladding painted in a scenic wash.

SRC completed delivery by assisting with assembly on site over four days.

Image credit: Prudence Upton


Paul Ryan, head of production at SRC, said there were several challenges associated with such a large-scale, outdoor set.

“SRC is thrilled to have worked with Opera Australia on their annual Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour (HOSH) for several years now; we love tackling the unique challenges each of their creative concepts present,” he said.

“This year the size of the portal was too large to construct upright in our workshop. As such, our design and operations teams worked together to ensure the drawings were accurate and the orientation of similar looking structures was understood by all who worked on it – it sure tested us! As the portal sat on an angle on a raked stage this added to its complexity.”

Ryan said the highlight for the team was seeing the finished production, especially with Sydney Harbour as the backdrop.

“West Side Story was the most successful Handa Opera on Sydney Harbour to date and we’re very proud to have worked with Opera Australia on it,” he said.

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