Stage rehearsal of Annie using digital projection backdrops by Theatre Avenue

How to Make Projections Work in Your Stage Space

How to make theatre projections work with your stage space

Stage space is one of the first things that comes to a theatre director’s mind when he/she thinks about scenic design. How do I create something beautiful that represents the scene, mood or world of the story, but still have plenty of room for my actors, props, etc? And every stage space is so different in its size, look, and its relationship to how the audience sees the show, that this produces some instant problems to solve from the beginning.

One of things I love most about projections and projection technology as a solution for scenic design is that it can work in almost any space, from the tightest to the largest to the most unique. I’ve seen directors use projections on stage, above the stage, beside the stage (in schools especially) and beyond. Where traditional backdrops require fly space and other equipment, not to mention an expense that most small theatre companies, schools or community theatres don’t have the budget for, projections can provide a vivid and beautiful solution.

Think about how to use the strengths and weaknesses of your space to your advantage. For example, if you have a deeper stage, you might consider rear projection. With a short throw projector, you can put your projector behind the screen and even if it’s only 8 feet back, you’ll get a projected image that’s about 20 ft wide—which for most stages, fills the background completely. If you’re in a school for example, where maybe the stage is smaller but you have other space off to the side, you might consider projecting a scene there to set the mood or play out certain scenes so that you don’t have the challenge of trying to fit a screen on the stage. The bottom line is to really think creatively and out of the box. There are limitless solutions to how you can bring your scene to life with this technology.

In future posts I also want to talk about how to work projections into your overall lighting scheme. A projected image is another light, and in some scenes you can have the projection be a more central focus and use minimal lighting elsewhere. In others you’ll want to fill the stage with more light and let the projection wash back a bit, just as you would with traditionally painted backdrops.

Until the next post though, I’d love to hear any ideas you have, ways you’ve made projections work for your theatre company or school, or questions that, if answered, would allow you to start using this progressive artform with your group. After all, one thing I always like to say is that with technology, the result is only going to get better, cheaper, and more available. Which ultimately means that drama teachers and artistic directors will be able to use their imaginations more freely without the constraints of a low budget, few resources, or little time.

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