Theatrical tech director Bryce McWilliams from Tyler, Texas.

Projection Tip [#5] - Simple Screens & Mindful Lighting

This theatre and dance projection tip is from theatre tech director in Tyler, Texas, Bryce McWilliams...

Bryce McWilliams, theatre tech in Tyler, Texas

What tip or advice would you offer up to help projections be a success in  theatre and dance shows?

Absolutely! Projection is something every theatre teacher should take advantage of. Remember that projections are a part of the world you’re creating, so don’t let them overwhelm you. If you are new to using projections, start simple. Use a clean, smooth surface to project on.

Choose scenes and images that fill your performing space, and transport you from location to location. While you are still learning, this is a huge help, as it allows you to cut back on physical scenery. I highly encourage people to empower their students and technicians to take ownership of the setup and operation of the projections, as they are often comfortable learning software and exploring creatively. Once you have the hang of it, try new things. We have had great success projecting on to different materials such as burlap, shower curtains, and through windows.

Finally, it’s so important to be mindful of your lighting. While using projections, light only what you must. While it's easy to splash light over your entire stage, it can wash out your digital drops. Isolate the performers when you can, and be aware of what light is bouncing up from your floor. If possible, avoid lighting that will illuminate your projection surface. Get creative with angles and sidelights!

Mitch's Projection Designer Note: 

This set of tips from Bryce is densely packed with great starting principles! Just a couple notes I'll add.

When he mentions using a clean, smooth surface, there are so many things that can work. White bedsheets, a big white wall, an existing cyclorama, and the list goes on. Some teachers I've worked with actually prefer these materials to fabrics made for projection—it all comes down to taste.

The other thing I wanted to touch on is lighting. Bryce is exactly right. Do everything you can to be mindful of keeping it off your projection screen or surface. In fact, a good rule of thumb is if you can spotlight or tilt your lights so they strike at least 5-10 feet off the screen, that can really help. In addition to sidelighting, some teachers and/or directors have also tried backlighting their actors. The main thing here is to give yourself the time to experiment so you can discover just the right blend. Remember, your projector is just another light in your space. A sophisticated one, yes—but another tool to be considered in balance with everything else as you tell your story on stage.

Other Tips in the Series

#1 - "Be Open to Learn" by Pat Santanello
#2 - "Control Your Light" by K'Lynn Hocker
#3 - "Enhance Story, Don't Overshadow" by Joel Smith
#4 - "Use Simple Tools Creatively" by Jerald Bolden

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