Stage backdrops and large scenery constructions have huge logistics associated with them. Build engineering and painting, as well as the delicate transportation and final installation. Also the other main issue is that they are mainly static (few moving parts) and need time to move in and out of the stage. With modern technology, many of these issues can be overcome, by positioning large modular banks of LED’s. Although there is still the installation issue – it is the magic of IT which then takes over and any number/combination of moving or static graphics can be played out.

Up close the LED arrays don’t look as is if they could deliver complex moving images – but when you are sitting in the audience with the lights down and enjoying the show – they can put on a fantastic display using only 512px across a stage of almost 15m across.

For Swish of the Curtain’s performance of ‘Bugsy Malone’, 4 walls were set up and positioned strategically amongst the traditional stage equipment of elevated stage platforms and tall, narrow backdrops. This meant that the stage changes were kept to a minimum and the story could move at a pace more suited to the show. These video walls were driven by some great software called QLab.

This meant we could use Adobe Photoshop to layer and create complex scenery and then QLab would crop and position these into the appropriate video walls. QLab also manages all the timeline keypoints and triggers for sound and transitions between scenes. An amazing bit of kit.

To set up a ‘scene’ we constructed a photoshop canvas (2400 pixels) to imitate the width and height of the stage in the same pixel resolution of the video walls. Then we dropped a mask layer to show the positions of the video walls. Once this was in place – it was just a matter of building realistic ‘scenes’. In all I produced 15 odd scenes and several more were done using movie clips. This would have been a tremendous logistics and storage exercise – made far easier and much more flexible by today’s technology- and thankfully all at amazingly small resolutions.

This technology is quite common with the big west-end and broadway theatre production companies and as it’s benefits become more understood it will be used more and more for a wide range of theatre productions. Many thanks for Chris, at Swish of the Curtain, in introducing me to this project.

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