A Child Shall Lead Them: Making Night of the Hunter (2011)
Check out some rehearsal pictures from the first weeks of exploration:
October 20, 2011.
There’s no two ways about it: a month and a half of tech rehearsal is a frightening thought. No one wants to be doing a cue-to-cue for that long without being able to achieve the structure, rhythm and truth of a scene.
But let me be clear: there is a difference between a month and a half of tech rehearsal and a month and a half of rehearsals with tech. The latter being the choice of reason and the aim of this process. But even in the avoidance of an extended tech rehearsal, we have to ask: WHAT hardware and design is needed for these rehearsals and what should WAIT until official TechRehearsals begin next week?
In A CHILD SHALL LEAD THEM: Making Night of the Hunter, this is the major question. And as we reach the final days of rehearsal, looking to get a run through in this weekend (no matter how much we stumble), we are all asking the question: what is essential to the rehearsal process? And if we don’t get that run through in, how can we trust that what is being explored technically in rehearsal will effectively lead us to a solid and confident run once tech rehearsals begin with the addition of light, sound and costume? This is all a new journey here, and I want to be extra clear in saying it’s been an extreme joy to tackle the show with this design team. Derek Goldman, JD Madsen, Drew Kaufman, Roni Lancaster, Laree Lentz, the stage management team, the ensemble… We’re all jumping into a very new territory together and it’s been nothing short of thrilling (As I type with sweat on my brow and a quivering hand..!)
Okay. So here are some differences in TYPES of projection design that I have observed in this process:
- Interactive Live Feed. The use of cameras onstage, operated by performers in the cast.
- Interactive Pre-Made Projection. The use of fully designed media that is cued based on the actors movement onstage.
- Interactive Projection Surface. A surface puppetted and moved by actors onstage.
- Referential Scenery. Projection that is referred to and addressed by actors, but not interacted with.
- Wallpaper Projection. Non-referenced backdrops that help in the composition of the stage.
We can further separate these into two sub-categories.
A. Content Based Projection. Projection that is necessary to understand the objects, people and location within the frame.
B. Abstract Projection. Patterns, rhythms, textures…
The reason I find it necessary to get so compartamentalized is because I think it is here that we can begin to address what is and is not necessary in pre-tech rehearsals. By pre-tech, I simply refer to the traditional understanding of the term “Tech Rehearsals”. In multimedia theater, we just need to accept that there will be some presence of tech and hardware at all times. But WHAT of that hardware should be in rehearsal. Now that is a question indeed.
Thinking about about other departments and different ways we ask for things to be rehearsal-ready versus performance-ready…. We find a need for a rehearsal coffee mug and then it is replaced in performance with the real coffee mug. But the chandelier that isn’t operated by any actors won’t have a rehearsal chandelier, it will just show up in tech. Then we have a family portrait on the wall , say, that actors refer to in the script, but that doesn’t arrive til load-in and tech, either.
The key here is THE ACTOR. Rehearsals are for them. The rehearsal mug is to help them understand their actions and how/when they should be taking their sips of coffee between the lines. Actors don’t need to have the right chandelier above them in order to work on their dialogue and rhythm of the scene. Nor do the actors need the exact portrait on the wall. They just need someone to tell them where that WILL be and they can rehearse from there.
So what does this mean for media design? Right now, the first three categories (listed above) become essential to rehearsal while the rest can wait until we “make it pretty” in tech rehearsal. That’s not to say in a different production, Wallpaper Projection can be necessary in rehearsal..
All that being said, the real challenge is within the expectation of the ensemble and crew. It becomes difficult to harness these expectations within rehearsal when all of my design is coming out of the same projector onto similar surfaces. But in distinguishing between the different TYPES of projection, we can better say “this should wait until tech rehearsal” or “let’s take an extra few minutes to really grasp what this moment is with the media and how it drives the scene with the actors.” And every show will demand different needs in rehearsal.
But it doesn’t stop there! How do you EXPRESS this to your actors? To your stage management? To your director? How can you create this process without being to product-oriented too soon. How do you say, “right now, it’s about the framing of the actors and not the prettiness of the projection on the wall” and then, in the next moment, say “We need to hold and make sure that the content looks good and is effective on the sheet that the actors are holding”?
Right now, for me, two things seem clear that NOTH is achieving: Creating a common vocabulary and having the equipment in the room from day one. Both these things cannot exist without the other, and every process will require an adaptation of them. The adaptation comes out of the HOW, though. It’s not enough to just get the equipment in the room and dictate to the ensemble how to address it all. It’s a conversation. I don’t think one should bring the equipment in on day-one and have all projectors hung and performance ready… Prepare to be sloppy. Prepare to be the equivolent of an actor with a script still in hand. Prepare to experiment and be flexible with the ensemble and how they percieve the implementation.
If they seem anxious, have them unplug and replug the camera and let them know it’s ok to fuck up…that’s why we are in rehearsal. Show what different cables being unplugged looks like. If you see an image in the viewfinder but not on the projection, it’s a video issue and not power issue. If you don’t see an image in the camer’as viewfinder, it’s a power issue. And, oh! The power of awareness and knowledge goes a looooooong way with operating media hardware onstage.
And if they seem confused with the terminology, simplify it and create a new list of vocabulary for them. There’s nothing wrong with calling a RCA cable “the camera’s tail” if that makes them feel better…and just like Eeyore must make sure his tail is pinned on, the actor must make sure the RCA coupler is connected to the camera! The pin is the coupler, the tail is the RCA cable, and the camera… is Eeyore? Sure! If it’s easier and more comfortable that way..
Just a few thoughts as we start to secure the system and move into a performance-ready stage. Some of this may contradict itself and some may just be confusing to the outside eye, but we’re in the trenches and I think it’s important to blog now and clear up later.
This is a rehearsal blog, people! We’ll make it pretty in a few weeks.
OCTOBER 5, 2011.
Alright, here we go. We have 2 live cameras onstage, being moved on dollies by the performers. We have 5 projectors, two of which map to the full stage, 3 of which span a closer range within the interior and hold the live feed in different variations at any given time. The outer two projectors have the ability to take live-feed, but it’s with a delay (because it’s through the computer)
It seems no different from my design in Glass Menagerie (5 projectors: 2 over audience / 3 inside the proscenium arch). And sure, a projector plot is a projector plot is a projector plot…But if a rose is a rose is a rose (says The Little Prince), then it is the amount of time you spend on that rose that makes it so important.
This system is DRASTICALLY different from Menagerie. With the two live cameras, we now have a much larger challenge on our hands. In fact, I admit this is one I’ve never tackled and have only dreamt of the day. And here it is.
How can we, with the use of live cameras, still be able to map to different surfaces onstage WITHOUT the dreaded in-computer delay. The avoidance of the delay is quite easy: Just keep the video outside of the computer. But to map? That is the greater challenge. To map, within the confines of my multimedia background, is to use computer technology. So how can we manipulate the mixers and video matrix that holds the video outside of the computer while still being able to shrink, shape, crop, and map to the architecture of a moving and evolving theatrical space? It’s Rosh Hashana, so I’ll say Oy Vey.
Now of course, with money… one can get the high-end technology. But come on, we’re in an economic crisis and this is theater. I can confidently say that this bastard child of a video department in theater surely won’t have the budget. If we were designing spectacle for the next olympics, that’s another story. But no, and that’s okay. It’s exciting, in fact. I see it as my job in designing and programming video for theater…to suffer creatively (Shout out to my brother, Jeff). And so, I have 1 G5 tower, a V-4 Video Mixer and a 16×16 Video Matrix (So grateful to you, Josh Higgason). We do have access to DL-2′s (Moving Projector heads), but the time it takes to program a look is quite a lot of time consumption… and for this process, as always is my process, I want to maintain a sloppiness that matches the time-code of a director making adjustments to his actors. I would hate to stop rehearsal in the second week for the ability to show a simple look to the director and actors. I want placeholders that are close to the crafted image we will achieve by opening. But I want it fast. I want to keep the rhythms actors are used to with script still in hand.
It’s two weeks in and we just keep tackling the beast. Scene by scene we mix up the projectors, mix up the system, and get the images we want… In the breaks, I sit and ponder the translations I must undergo to make this one solid system by tech. These are the days to understand convention. To ask why. To say “That looks great, so how does that fit into our vocabulary?”
I guess what’s exciting here is that Derek Goldman, Georgetown University, and The University of Maryland have negotiated a situation in which we can finally ask the question: What is this process of multimedia implementation into a traditional theatrical structure? It’s a question that challenges decades of set rules and understanding of when technical sculpting can and will take place (the week before opening, in tech rehearsals). But here, it allows us to see the image of a full and heightened theater where projectors won’t disrupt the tenderness of narrative. And, arguably, this specific show could not rehearse without the use of cameras and media.
To be clear, I know this stuff isn’t new. And in fact, I am grateful to have learned from the best out there who are doing this on an international scale. Caden Manson of Big Art Group has schooled me in the art of live feed and real-time cinema. Rob Roth has shown me the magic of projection on body. Builders Association has shown me the mix of live and HD video and how one can program a system with a smooth transition. And Santos Party House has reminded me how quickly one can paint an environment with video that eats and breathes with the energy of the space and its inhabitants. But all of these techniques together, and with an ensemble having no experience with video on stage? I don’t want to devour their technique, but I also do not want to compromise.
And so, we negotiate time. We negotiate when we stop and sculpt and when we let the acting rhythms lead the rehearsal. But time: We have begged for this and this is what we received. Consequently, this marriage of film and stage, of media and acting, began at the read through. And two weeks in, we continue to filter through the currents of a new process.
I want patience in the technology. I want softness. I want nuance. I only want spectacle when spectacle is called upon by the narrative. And I want no video whatsoever when a young boy must wrap his head around losing his father. And there is a reason someone way way way back argued for a rehearsal process. Actors need time to settle. And, frankly, in today’s multimedia theater… a camera and projector must too. I simply live vicariously through the hardware and feel as though I am just among the ensemble learning their lines.
Oh, and as for the mapping in real-time without delay and without millions of dollars… I guess you’ll just have to come check it out. See you in November!
- Jared Mezzocchi