This theatre and dance projection tip is from theatre teacher and director in Sacramento, California, Jerald Bolden...
What tip or advice would you offer up to help projections be a success in theatre and dance shows?
I have used projections in several shows I have directed both pre-pandemic and throughout the pandemic.
In January, I directed and choreographed a production of Curious George and the Golden Meatball. I used projections, painted flats and scenic pieces in tandem to create the show’s environments on Avenue N. The story took place throughout six different locations and each location needed to transition quickly from one local to the next.
For the show’s opening scene, the scenic designer, Elizabeth Hadden-McGuire, painted a flat that included colorful brownstones. I created an image of clouds that was projected onto the back wall of the theatre, just upstage of the flats. The images were constructed using .png files and shapes in Powerpoint. By using the “morph” animation option, I was able to make the clouds open up to reveal a cityscape that was timed with the build in the music.
For later scenes, Hadden-McGuire drew and painted the show’s other locations. Using my limited graphic design skills, I was able to take her images and make them move, sparkle and dim. I programmed her images to animate during the songs and transitions. To make some of the street signs sparkle, I found .gif images with transparent backgrounds that worked well with the scenic visuals, and placed them on top of those images. To make a whole street scene change color or dim, I used the “color correction” and “transparency” features in Powerpoint.
For the Meatball Competition, we flew in a rain curtain and projected small colored circles of light on to it. Projecting onto a mylar made the backdrop shimmer and contributed to the game show atmosphere I was going for. The projected lights changed colors whenever there was a change of tone in the music. This effect really helped to heighten the suspense in the scene and create drama.
All the projections for this production were created in Powerpoint and run through QLab. I discovered I did not need to use any fancy graphic design apps while creating the projections. Perfecting the timings in the animations and layering of the images took the most time to figure out. The still images were saved as .png files and the animated images were saved as .mov files. Using projections and putting scenic pieces on wheels was instrumental in creating George’s colorful word and fundamental in getting scenes to flow swiftly from one to the next.
Mitch's Projection Designer Note:
Jerald is presenting a lot of good ideas here, and demonstrating how you can accomplish a lot of effects, such as color shifts and combining projected images with painted surfaces—all with simple software like Powerpoint. I love the creativity, and how rather than waiting for the perfect tool, Jerald and his scenic designer have jumped into using projections with just a few pieces of gear. More affordable projectors and laptops are also helping many teachers and directors take this leap. I will add that if your school or program has access to an Adobe subscription, you may want to use programs like Photoshop (for image making), After Effects (for animation), and Premiere (to edits video clips together). These programs have student discounts and are also the industry standard still for making professional media for shows. And YouTube provides many lessons about how to achieve the effects or look you're after. I do have to mention that as well, that this is what I do, and you may just want to look at my collection of images and see if there's something that suits your show—rather than starting from scratch.
Other Tips in Series
More with Jerald Bolden
More about Jerald
Jerald is a musical theatre performer, choreographer and teaching artist. He has performed and choreographed at the Sacramento Theatre Company, Roseville Theatre Arts Academy, Hackmatack Playhouse, Sierra Repertory Theatre, San Joaquin Delta College, Woodminster Amphitheater and danced in the national and international tours of Sesame Street Live. He also adjudicates musical theatre performances for the Rita Moreno Awards Competition. Recently he was nominated for a 2019 Elly Award for Best Choreography. Jerald won two 2019 Elly Awards for Best Director and Best Overall Production for The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee. He earned a Master of Arts in Theater from Sacramento State University and is a proud member of Actors Equity Association.
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