The Video and Its Double

I expect to watch video in almost every situation in my daily life, whether it’s CNN on my TV, YouTube on my computer, or home movies on my cel phone. Not to mention, video in the back seat of cabs, at the dentist and in the elevator. The only place I can get away from video is in the shower, but luckily, my NY apartment is too small to support a plasma screen in the commode. So it’s no surprise that I, like many cultural consumers, am very open to the use of video in the theater.

Now this is a tricky thing: Just because live audiences are used to seeing movie-like bits in a show, it doesn’t mean we want to be bombarded with flashing lights and explosive images that don’t mean anything to the piece or obscure the work of the human performers. I pay for an blended experience, not a seizure.

Last year, during the 2008 Tony Awards season, I was assigned by Studio 360 to do a segment on the use of video in the Broadway revival of Sunday in the Park with George. The show was nominated in the best scenic design category, which for the first time, recognized video projection as an integral part of the storytelling. Over a cranky ISDN line to London, I spoke with David Farley, the show’s set and costume designer, and Timothy Bird of KnifeEdge Creative Network, who designed the digital imaging. In addition, I visited the Manhattan studio of video designer, Dustin O’Neill, of Fountainhead Design Group, who works with musicals and operas. (Dustin did not work on Sunday in the Park.)

In both interviews, the designers discussed the technical and aesthetic challenges of how projected images support the live performances of actors and musicians. And Dustin pointed out how video can interact with human players in real time. You can listen to the segment here:

For the record, Sunday in the Park with George did not win the 2008 Tony for scenic design. Instead, South Pacific took home the prize.

When I did this story, I wound up with extra material from Dustin O’Neill which I’d planned to include on the web. But since deadlines usually creep up on you too fast and online real estate is sometimes wanting, I was not able to post this stuff then. So, back from the archives, the video below contains a further sampling of Dustin’s comments on his process and excerpts of his work.

– Jocelyn

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