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Designing the fantastical in Imaginary

We developed our Imaginary Scenic Projections to capture the magic and wonderment of imagination, and make for seamless transitions between scenes. In this article, Quentin Sanford, President of Broadway Media, shares insight into the making of the show with Broadway Training Center of Westchester!

This new musical, dubbed the “natural successor to Matilda” after its initial run by National Youth Musical Theatre at The Other Palace in 2017 celebrates childhood, fantasy and the challenges of growing up. With an emotionally rich, varied score, Imaginary has plenty of meat for young actors of all abilities, with some real showstoppers for strong singers. Fantastical worlds appearing within the doldrums of school life make for an engrossing and enthralling show for kids (and their parents), becoming a visual playground for creatives.

We developed our Imaginary Scenic Projections to capture the magic and wonderment of imagination, and make for seamless transitions between scenes. In this article, Quentin Sanford, President of Broadway Media, shares insight into the making of the show with Broadway Training Center of Westchester!

I traveled back East to New York to meet with Jim Hoare of Theatrical Rights Worldwide, and Timothy Knapman and Stuart Matthew Price, the two authors of the musical who had made a trip across Atlantic just for the production by our close friends at Broadway Training Center, with whom we made and tested the projections in partnership.

It was a joy to join the authors and Jim at the production. We had a great time discussing the show with its creators. During a talk back after the show with the audience, the authors shared their reaction to the projections “it’s what we always saw in our mind, and Broadway Media brought it to life”. That was a really proud moment.

The Artwork

The artwork was designed by our team of collaborators and deftly led by our product manager Brianna Spicer. Many of the settings are a mix between painterly and photo real to reinforce the nature of the plot. Once the story advances into Imaginary Land, the style becomes exaggerated with the use of color as a plot element.

Developing a contrast between the two worlds was a big part of the development of these projections. We have to remember that color looks different on a digital screen than it does on a stage with projectors or an LED wall. Those bright high contrast colors look beautiful onstage and convey the change in time, place and reality.

Solving spatial and budgetary roadblocks with projections

The magic of theatre – at its core – involves the suspension of disbelief. We never lose sight of this. It’s this core theatrical element that is most important to Imaginary. As the characters come alive in a separate reality, the scenic challenge is to convey a realistic setting, one that could only imagine within their mind. What would the world look like to a 10 year old? How would that child imagine a Dreamland? This led us to make decisions that were material-oriented, and brought the script to life. One of my favorite moments in Imaginary Land is a floating staircase, signaling to the clouds above a large ravine. there is no end point to the stairs or specific reason for their placement – reflecting the imagination of children. We used visual cues and the rule of thirds in developing an abstract reality. The stairs are brought to life with a subtle “wiggle” to them that embodies an early 2000s video game.

Using the Imaginary Scenic Projections

I believe that all theatrical design elements should work seamlessly together to create the overall production design. I feel that projections are most successful when the integration between scenic lighting and digital artwork blend together. I believe we've done our job when the audience doesn't notice the projections, and instead are engrossed in the entire Scenic experience. Scenic Projections, as a product, replaces the need for painted backdrops, but we have always been careful to not replace the need for scenery.

Using the artwork provided as part of the product should be a starting point for the creative choices you make in mounting this production. For an educational theater setting, this is a wonderful curriculum-focused activity. With a great understanding of the script material, and a starting point from the digital artwork, bring the scenic elements and lighting into the production, so it comes to life.

There is a wonderful moment where the laboratory explodes at the end of the show (spoiler alert!). I can't imagine this being successful without the proper integration on stage props and specific lighting elements.

Photos: Imaginary by Timothy Knapman and Stuart Matthew Price. Imaginary USA premiere performed by Broadway Training Center of Westchester. George McCann (2019).

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