Olathe South High School Has "Shadow-less" 30-foot-wide Digital Backdrop

Olathe South High School Has "Shadow-less" 30-foot-wide Digital Backdrop

David Tate Hastings at Olathe South High School featured the Les Miserables digital scenery in his Spring 2021 production. With a large 30-foot-wide by 20-foot-high cyc, he was able to use Broadway Media’s Basic Projector (7,000 lumens) for a nearly shadow-free backdrop replacement.

Les Misérables
Olathe South High School
David Tate Hastings

Directly from David: I designed the show to be like a concert version of Les Mis, but with all acting and movement downstage on the apron. I was concerned about the projections being silly or not matching with the scenes, but that wasn’t the case at all. We built a four by four platform for all the cast members that were approximately 6’ apart. There were a few actors that entered far upstage near the cyc and then walked through the center to the downstage playing area; I never noticed shadows. If you can hang the projector as high as we did, you shouldn’t have any problem with shadow unless the actor is super close to the cyc AND you have lights focused at the rear of the stage. Our lighting was from the sides and top at the middle of the stage.

Here are the details:

David Tate Hasting answered some of the questions about integrating digital scenery.

Digital Scenery Use
Backdrop replacement
Surface Size
30ft wide x 20x high
Stage Projector - Basic
Projector Placement
Distance from surface: approximately 12 feet; Feet in the air: approximately 20 feet
Operator System
MacBook Pro running Stage Player

Installation: Installation was super easy; I basically figured it out by myself with my tech director even without the instructions. I would assume that the total assembly time to get the projector running was under 3 hours. The projector was hung 12 feet back from the scrim and 20 feet in the air. The bottom of the projection hit the bottom of the cyc with no spill on the floor and this created such a steep angle that an actor would need to be VERY close to the cyc to create a shadow.

Staging/blocking advice: I would keep it downstage as much as possible. However, small scenes can play farther upstage as long as you don’t use a full wash to cover the stage. The scale of the projections worked great for us in being about 25-30 feet from the cyc. We had smaller scenes that played closer and they were also fine.

Lighting with digital scenery: Be judicious with your lighting. There was no light focus within 8 feet of the cyc. That might seem like it would be dark, but it really isn’t. We used lighting from our front-of-house positions for the downstage areas. Everything upstage was lit by top or side ellipsoidals - I would avoid scoops or pars without more of a spot lens. There were a handful of scenes in our production that washed out the projections a little bit; I think it was the general wash lighting close to the cyc. I think our show looked great, but we learned a few things we will do differently next time (less light in the middle of the stage in full ensemble numbers). There will be a next time.

Advice to theatremakers:

Get your projection operators using a computer with the program as soon as possible. We did this two weeks before we got the projector. A student worked with our student stage manager to run the projections. They chose to use the projections pretty much as they are in the package, but switched a few around to meet our production. That is totally unnecessary, but they like the look of a few different ones at different times. By working on the projections every day for a couple weeks before we hung the projector, they were totally ready to run the show. Our projection operator was so good that I never saw mistakes. She might disagree with me, but they looked amazing to me and to our audience. - David

Production Images

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Director's Biography

David Tate Hastings has been teaching theatre at Olathe South High School since 2002. He has helped run Kansas Thespians since 2005 in a variety of roles including chapter director. He also produced Kansas Thespians main stage shows that performed at the ITF: James and the Giant Peach and Bring It On. David has served on many committees for the Educational Theatre Association, and is currently a member of the EdTA Board of Directors. He has adjudicated shows for ITF and judged the scholarship auditions. David has directed over 100 school productions as a teacher. His musicals at Olathe South have been nominated for several Starlight Theatre Blue Star Awards including outstanding overall production in 2003, 2007, 2013, and 2014. He won the Starlight Blue Star Award for Outstanding Direction in 2007 and Outstanding Overall Musical in 2013. David has taken four main stage and two chapter selected shows to the International Thespian Festival since 2010. He has also taken shows to the Kansas Thespian Festival. His students have qualified several times for the English-Speaking Union’s annual Shakespeare Competition in NYC, including two top ten finishes. David’s troupe has received the Outstanding School Award from the Educational Theatre Association. His school was also recognized as the 2016 best high school drama program in the Midwest by Stage Directions Magazine. During the summer, David has directed at Shawnee Mission Theatre in the Park. He has served as the theatre facilitator for the Olathe School District. Before teaching in Olathe, David taught at a middle school in Lawrence, Kansas. He was a bank officer and manager for five years before becoming a theatre educator. David has performed in the Kansas City metro area on television and on stage (professionally and in community theatre productions). David studied theatre at Meadows School of the Arts at Southern Methodist University. He has a bachelor's degree in theatre/film and a master’s degree in education from the University of Kansas. David's wife, Amy, is the math department chair at Olathe South. Amy and David have three children: Isaiah, Anna, and Noah.