Devoted & Disgruntled 12: What Shall We Do About Theatre and the Performing Arts Now?
Theatre and video projection 101
Lizzie Crarer - 18 January 2017
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I have been asked to direct a show by a folk singer who wants to ‘theatricalise’ an existing gig that she does, comprised of songs about women from World War One interspersed with discussion of the historical research that has informed them. As a film/video projection novice, I called the session to find out a bit more about the form – both artistically and practically.
All attendees were extremely generous in sharing insights and expertise in this area. The discussion was further fuelled by questions relating to other projects. I would like to extend my particular thanks to Tim Bird and Robert Wells, who were very generous in their time and advice both before and after the discussion - and also to Nigel Munson, who did not attend the session, but spoke to me beforehand.
The first – and key – question is WHY USE VIDEO? It must be integral to the storytelling intention and the overall artistic vision. Using it to ‘fill the gaps’ opens up a new (and infinitely more complicated) can of worms.
The second question is of resources: introducing video adds a level of complexity to a production that takes time, different skill sets and costs money. Can the artistic vision be realised successfully within the given budget?
If these questions can be satisfactorily answered, there are 3 overlapping but distinct areas for consideration:
3. TECHNICAL DELIVERY
How does video integrate into the overall stage design and narrative of the piece?
The nature of the collaboration between the artists is important to establish from the outset, and those participating in the discussion emphasized the crucial importance of a clear unifying artistic vision, and good communication between all collaborators throughout the process.
It is also worth mentioning that both ‘CONTENT’ and ‘TECHNICAL DELIVERY’ also entail ‘design’ in different ways, and so it is much more useful to have all collaborators involved from the outset. i.e. any video content needs to have an aesthetic – and timings - that is coherent with and appropriate to the purposes for which it is being used; and the way in which the video content is integrated into the show will be part of any sound/lighting design that is created for it.
This comes with its own pitfalls: firstly, the film-making process runs counter to that of theatre in many respects: many hours of expensive labour can result in just a few minutes of footage in stage time. It is important to have a detailed awareness of the nature of these processes, which have financial, scheduling, and artistic implications – and manage expectations accordingly.
Secondly, the procurement of image rights and permissions is extremely time-consuming, and can have quite significant cost implications.
3. TECHNICAL DELIVERY
There are 3 key questions:
1.KIT What is the video going to be played on? Eg. projector/LED/TV
2.SOFTWARE How is it going to be played? Eg. is the content on DVD/via media server/QLab/Hippo/Powerpoint/Keynote/Catalyst?
3.OPERATION How is the video content going to be operated? Eg. integrated with lighting/sound/by a DSM/performer
Each of these has a cost / labour / design implications.
SOME ARTISTIC CONSIDERATIONS:
- Have a look online for examples of work that you admire. And then get creative thinking about how you could scale it back (Laurie Anderson’s work was recommended)
- Pieces of work that have a time-based bed – eg a musical underscore – are possibly easier to programme, because it is technically possible to allow the video to run from the top of the show, with no cues, in sync with the music. (1927’s ‘The Animals and Children took to the Streets’ is an example of this). However there is a possible conflict between this and the inherent liveness and unpredictability of the theatre form.
- “Keep it simple” and don’t just put film on stage. The RSC’s recent production of the ‘The Tempest’ was unanimously condemned.
SOME PRACTICAL CONSIDERATIONS:
- ‘keep it simple’
- KNOW YOUR SPACE(S) if you are using projection, you need to make sure that they have adequate space/layout/lighting to accommodate these particular requirements
- Programming the software takes time, will probably require a dedicated programmer. Don’t underestimate how long it will take. “add one day on to your estimated get-in time for video”
- Integrating video projection into an existing lighting design is tricky and complex, and doesn’t leave much room for manoevre. If the lighting is changeable, a TV or LED screen might be preferable
- A dark-coloured stage is useful for projection.
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