A teacher’s perspective on using digital backdrops for theatre (and why you’ll never go back).
We sat down with Albert Carter, longtime Choral and Theatre Director from Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle School (VA) to discuss why he uses Scenic Projections (Broadway Media’s theatrical backdrop projections), and how you can, too.
Lawrence Haynes: Thank you for chatting with us, Albert. You’ve been a longtime advocate for digital scenery in your school, and you’ve used our Scenic Projections for many productions including Annie JR., Disney’s Frozen JR., The Music Man, and James and the Giant Peach. What do you like about Scenic Projections?
Albert Carter: First of all the quality of the projections are very professional and the style of the artwork fits the shows that they represent. With Scenic Projections, you can easily add set pieces, and have a great look that can change quickly and easily from scene to scene.
Lawrence: What was your first time using Scenic Projections like?
Albert: Well, the first show that we used Scenic Projections was a very hectic situation. Our school stage and auditorium had a mold problem over the summer and we could not use it. We had to move to a high school stage and have set pieces and scenery that we could transport to that school. We couldn't build large sets, so I decided to use the scenic projections for our set with some furniture and a few set pieces that we also rented. Even though we were at another venue it worked very well, so when we returned to our stage I decided that I would continue to use Scenic Projections.
Lawrence: I’m glad that projections helped you quickly adapt to a less-than-ideal situation! What advice would you give to first-time users of Scenic Projections (or those who are still on the fence)?
Albert: I would say that Broadway Media makes using Scenic Projections easy and painless. They are very supportive – you can call them and they walk you through technical issues step by step. It is very easy to do and just after one show you start to feel very confident in using their projections. The new app for iPads works very well, and the audiences are very impressed with how professional the productions look.
Lawrence: Throughout your shows, is there a projection moment from a show that stands out for you?
Albert: I would say that my favorite moment is the "Let It Go" sequence in the Disney’s Frozen JR. animated projections. It is timed to the song and works splendidly with however you chose to stage the number. The audience was blown away with that number and the applause stopped the show.
Lawrence: Did you find that including Scenic Projections changed your production planning? Albert: I think that scenic projections have given me more choices than in the past. Our stage does not have a counterweight system and even though we can fly battens it is slow and does not work in a live show. I have rented a backdrop from companies before but that only gives you one scene and then I would have to play scenes in front of black travelers which was a let down compared to the one backdrop. Now I can have a different look for each scene and the transitions are very smooth and can be very artistic. How so? These scenic projections open up even more possibilities.
Lawrence: As a projection veteran, do you have tips for integrating projections into a production? (either technical or directoral)
Albert: I have mostly used the animated projections for the JR shows, but I used the still projections for our production of The Music Man which was the regular two act show. Our scene changes were very smooth and I used set pieces that rolled on and off stage and it was very effective. I recommend incorporating three dimensional set pieces in front of the projections to add depth to your set. I also would invest in a good projector if this is something that you plan on doing often.
Lawrence: What advice would you give first-time users of Scenic Projections?
Albert: This company really works to make your production the best it can be and they offer stellar tech support. You do not need to be afraid to use their projections – and you get to start incorporating them much earlier than if you rented traditional backdrops, because you get access so much sooner.
Lawrence: We’re grateful that many of our teachers are cross-disciplinarians from other departments, dedicated to introducing their students to theatre. Can you offer one piece of advice for a first-time director of a musical?
Albert: Start with a show that is designed for your age group like MTI’s Broadway Junior or R&H Getting To Know.... They are very good adaptations of longer and more difficult shows and have great materials for the directors as well as the student actors. Do a show that you love, not something that you are indifferent to – the more you and your students love the show, the more effort everyone will give to the show. You should miss doing the show once the run is over and have fond memories of it for a lifetime. If you do not, you are not doing it correctly. Theatre is an art that comes from passion and love.
During 2020, EdTA Hall-of-Famer Holly Stanfield converted an onstage production for online performances. We sat down with Holly to discuss Something Rotten! and her experience bringing a production to life on-screen using projections.