By Belinda Willis
As the much-anticipated Aladdin and its magic carpet musical sweeps its performances around Australia, a niche Adelaide engineering company is helping keep the American-designed centrepiece in the air.
Peter Spooner is predictably tight-lipped on revealing any detail about how the intriguing carpet actually flies, saying only that “it’s actually magic, it’s a flying carpet”.
But adds that he’s looking forward to taking family and friends to see the Disney Theatrical performance when Alchemy helps move it into the Adelaide Festival Centre next year.
The talented engineer, who established Alchemy Engineering with his friend Michael Shone in 2011, is only home in Adelaide for a 40-hour stopover after overseeing the show’s current installation in Perth.
Next stop is Indonesia where he’s helping work on some scenery for the opening of the Asian Games as a mechanical technician, but this job’s details are being kept quiet too.
For this creative company, growth has been about building industry contacts and trust in a multitude of confidential projects.
“Our business is all about building a relationship,” Peter says.
The Aladdin work came from Peter first meeting Australian Mark Henstridge from Disney during a job working on The Lion King in South Africa in 2006, and maintaining a connection.
In a tight-knit global industry, Peter and Michael have also worked on making sets for the State Opera and joining forces with Global Creatures, creators of theatrical arena show Walking with the Dinosaurs.
One of Peter’s favourite jobs was providing engineering and site support for Global Creature’s King Kong production in Melbourne, created in collaboration with PRG Scenic Technologies in the United States.
“King Kong was amazing, it was a very big eye opener of how big and technically advanced the market is,” Peter says.
It’s these spin offs that prompted the two to start their business – “there’s the prospect of travel, there’s all the people that you meet, they are really interesting, they’re worldly, plus we’re building big contraptions that are doing some crazy things.”
There’s been work at Vivid in Sydney last year to support an award-winning lighting and sound display and building the floor for Annie the musical.
Peter has also worked with artist Craige Andrae creating installations throughout Adelaide including a statement maple leaf for a Mt Barker housing development and the silver rings sculpture on Osmond Terrace in Norwood.
There’s also the Memorial to the Forgotten Australians, four giant stainless steel daisies in the North Adelaide parklands created as a symbol of healing for children who suffered harm in state care.
While in 2014, Alchemy took care of the mechanics for giant fan leaves created for the Myer Centre fashion show in Sydney.
Peter says the company runs a highly flexible and stripped back business model, the two control projects with admin support, and call in “a bunch of casual guys who have industry experience” when projects roll in.
There can be up to seven in the workshop at one time, with the company also relying on a valuable local supply chain of mainly South Australian businesses.
It was back in 2005 when the fitter and turner trained directors met working in the Adelaide Festival Centre engineering department to build scenery and props.
Their shared interest in weekend hobbies led to the two renting a workshop together in Wingfield where Peter was refurbishing his 1972 Toyota Celica car and Michael a sailing boat.
“It was our hobby workshop and we had started buying machines and tools, that was where we were on the precipice, and we decided why not have a go?” Peter says.
They moved into a larger Wingfield site and created four sections to the business, stage and theatre, architectural fabrication – “that’s really ramped up in the past two to three years”, industrial design and corporate display.
Alchemy has worked with architects and builders including Space Craft and Damien Chwalisz on one-off projects from staircases to balustrades and fences.
And on more traditional engineering work, producing wheel nuts, laser cutting and a contract with Adelaide company Top Shed making coffee tampers with a specific design brief.
“All of our suppliers are from SA, apart from some of the electrical components, and we try and buy Australian steel,” Peter says.
“Our business is all about building a relationship, to get the best out of everyone and for everyone to get the best out of us, it’s about people being honest with timeframes and their ability to deliver and it’s about having nice people to work with.”
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