Something Rotten! Scenic Projections at Jesuit High School
In early 2020, we piloted our projections for Something Rotten! with Jesuit High School in Portland OR. Shortly after the production, we caught up with director and EdTA hall-of-famer Jeff Hall to get his feedback!
Lawrence Haynes:Thanks for talking to us, Jeff! Can you walk us through your process of integrating projections into your production.
Jeff Hall: Our goal from early on, though, was to incorporate architectural elements and movement alongside the projections, so we planned to incorporate projections on more than one surface, to provide as much dimension as possible. The majority of the show happens in an exterior street setting. We were excited that projections would allow us to vary that look, rather than just having one “street scene.” The next most common setting is a theatre interior. This guided us to choose using a false proscenium in creating how our scenery moved and was framed. We settled on the idea of using a rear-screen surface that could fly in and out at the false proscenium, allowing us to create additional movement and dimension, and set selected scenes “in one” to facilitate an upstage scenery shift.
Lawrence:Were there any set elements listed in the script that were solved through utilizing projections?
Jeff: We entertained the idea of using an animated “sign of the Black Dog” when it falls and narrowly misses Nick in Act One. In the end, we opted for a practical version, but that got us thinking about other possibilities. At the end of Act One, the “Coming Soon: Omelette the Musical” banner appearance was very effectively done via projections, which solved that issue. More than set elements, I found that the projections allowed us to use a fairly conventional light plot. We ended up with a very rich lighting look, despite a very simple light plot, thanks to the projections.
Lawrence: Would this experience encourage you to continue using Scenic Projections for shows to come?
Jeff: Most definitely! Particularly when the source of the projections is able to provide a couple of options for specific moments, has a feel for the theatrical movement of the show, and is responsive regarding questions and troubleshooting. Broadway Media is all that.
Lawrence: How did the Something Rotten! Projections influence your vision for the show?
Jeff: The saturated colors and illustration style in the projections allowed us to achieve a consistent look for the show that was heightened reality throughout, and then “extra heightened” during the “fantasy scene” moments (and there are several … “A Musical,” “We See the Light,” “Bottoms Gonna Be On Top.” I think that differentiation in the look really aided the storytelling.
Lawrence: How was this experience different from using physical backdrops?
Jeff: We were able to use images in more than one place (we could project onto our upstage surface or the screen at the false proscenium) which was far more versatile than having physical backdrops (which would be in the same location all the time). Projections are far more interactive and part of the storytelling. To achieve anything similar with physical backdrops would require multiple drops and linesets. More than most rigging setups could reasonably support.
Lawrence: Is there any advice you would give to other theatres who have not used Scenic Projections before?
Jeff: Of course, do your homework regarding brightness and image size. Consider the projections to be part of your scenery and part of your lighting, not just something that gets added in or thrown onto the back wall later in the process. I think the temptation is to consider the projections as something you add in and adjust your scenery and lighting around. The projections are your scenery and lighting, as much as any other element. Don’t worry about the 2-D nature of projected scenery. When the content is done well, the depth and dimension that can be achieved from the audience’s point of view is significant. No technology or powerful projector will make up for solid, consistent, cohesive design in the content, like you get from Broadway Media. For the student at the controls, it really is a great experience in the importance of timing, fade times, subtlety … the human element in performance that – even though there’s a lot of technology involved – never loses its importance.
Lawrence: What was your experience working with the team at Broadway Media?
Jeff: My concern when working with any theatrical supplier is how whatever element being supplied will integrate with the larger vision and other production elements involved. I’ve learned, in my experience working with the artists and technicians at Broadway Media, that they get that.
Lawrence: What was your favorite moment in the show?
Jeff: I was a big fan of any time something on the projection changed to support a shift in the scene (when “Soothsayer Alley” began to transform to the “A Musical” background, or when the “New World Fort” opened to reveal a new theatrical image for the finale, or when the lights in the street windows began flashing with the music change in “Welcome to the Renaissance”). My favorite, though, might have been the light change in the “House Interior” projection when Nick sat and contemplated during “God I Hate Shakespeare (Reprise).” With our physical house set, and the isolated projection upstage of it, the subtle shift in color and lighting on the image with the music and mood change … it all worked together. A small moment, but good storytelling.
Lawrence: What was it like for your production team to work with projections?
Jeff: I think there was some hesitation when we first started using projections in our shows, but that has calmed as people have seen how well it can work when integrated properly. Our choreography team LOVED how open the stage could be kept for large musical numbers, while still having an interesting and textured set surrounding the cast. Our design team found even the early versions of illustrations to be very helpful in guiding decisions. I’m a fan, and I think the production team as a whole was won over by the final product.
Jeff Hall has been directing the drama program at Portland, Oregon’s Jesuit High School for twenty-five years with his close colleague and co-director Elaine Kloser. Together, the pair has developed the school’s theatre program to one that is nationally recognized for excellence and service to the community. The program has grown from two annual shows to a season of six-plus productions.
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.