Working In The Theatre: Projection Design with 59 Productions

[Music] We’re never more excited here then when
something comes up that we don’t know the answer to And that’s where the sort of sparks of
energy what’s with the adrenaline comes from is not knowing whether an idea just
how it’s going to be possible but knowing that you can go out and find the
answer to that. [Music] It can also lead to some quite
terrifying moments when you’re going into a very big or even very small
high-pressure live performance environment and you’re not entirely sure
if the thing that you’re about to put in front of an audience is necessarily
going to work and I don’t necessarily mean in terms of stability of the
technology I mean whether it works creatively are conceptually whether
you’re trying something which you might think is a really great idea but the
rest of the world might not necessarily agree with you. 59 Productions is a company that was set
up specifically to explore new ways of using technology in live performance to
to tell stories and we’re very interested in in finding ways of kind of
drawing out things about piece of work that haven’t necessarily been seen or
heard before. [Music] What we really look for when we’re
looking for potential new partners collaborators employees and so on is
people who don’t necessarily have a very particular artistical technical skill but who
have a real excitement and interest in the creative industries almost as a
whole, so we tend to end up working with people who are much more artistically
inclined and therefore much more like much more globally interested in the
conceptual development of a project and that’s I think why we can offer some
fairly unique process. There weren’t really mentors to be found
out thing because i think we didn’t know what we were doing so we wouldn’t have
known who to ask for advice. My personal background is quite mixed I went to art
college straight out of high school after that I went studied English
literature university and I think that is where the sort of company obsession
with narrative and storytelling is from. My background is has nothing to do with
projection design at all. I studied English at university and met Leo we
started out working on a magazine together actually and I was involved in the
photography side of that and he was designing the magazine and then some
opportunities came up to get involved in creating some content for theatre
production and things just really evolved from there. I don’t really think
that either of us really intended to end up doing what we’re doing now. [Music] We like to talk about the way we address
a new project and whenever we try and describe it in a sort of official
capacity we say that you know these these commissions are these briefs of
these ideas will come in and we’ll sit down and discuss them in a way that’s
what happens but actually the reality is much more complicated than that because
an idea will sort of spark off a series of thoughts which may happen over a
period of time and you may have had a discussion with someone which you don’t
have an immediate response to and it’s not until something else intersects
with that like you go see another piece of theatre or you listen to a
piece of music or you read about this amazing new technology on the internet
or something and you suddenly piece those two items together and you get
that kind of spark of inspiration, I suppose. So what we try and do and we’re
getting better at it is create an environment in which those ideas can
sort of arise reasonably organically and if that means not spending the afternoon
in the office brainstorming around a piece of A2 paper and a bunch of permanent
markers, then all the better. It might mean going to an art gallery or having a
conversation with a composer or doing something totally unorthodox and that
tends to be when out you know again our best ideas arises when you apply a
non-standard process to a non-standard problem. It’s difficult to say what the
greatest challenge we’ve had is because of every single project really does
present its own peculiar particular set of problems. Quite often a director or a designer will
have an idea which on the surface of it sounds completely lunatic like there’s
absolutely no way they could be achieved so it’s very exciting to be sort of
given an idea by a director and designer and have to try and figure out whether
or not there’s any sort of practical solution to making it work. Things like War Horse for example which is gone from a almost surefire commercial failure at
the National Theatre in London and turned into this sort of global smash it
touring show and the conversations we were having as a creative team before that
about well you know it’s a tough job but at least we know we’ll never have to do it
again been proven so entirely wrong on such a number of levels but no one
thought that was going to work because we were putting together such a
diversity of different theatrical techniques, technological techniques,
storytelling techniques, but because of this sort of purity of the idea and the
skills of the people involved actually turn into something totally remarkable, Being involved in the opening ceremony of the
Olympic Games was obviously terrifying and you know one night only event very,
very, very high pressure and ultimately thrilling and ultimately absolutely
worthwhile. [Music] Both Leo and I have got a very warm memory of working on Satyagraha, which is a Philip Glass opera that we did first at the Dutch National Opera and then went onto do at The Met but the anchor elements of every production but very, very pleasing and you might just do one cue in the whole show which is something you’re extremely proud of that no one will notice. No one will know is there but
you’re very proud of how it works. I don’t think that anybody really does
for critical or sort of award recognition. I think those moments when
you’ve set yourself a challenging you pulled it off and you’ve done something
that you’re really proud of its kind of all we can ask for. People when they hear about video
projection for theater, the image in their head is probably a big horrible screen
at the back of the stage with trees projected onto the sky or whatever and
sure there’s always a bit that involved but actually some of the most successful
work that we’ve done is involved integrating projection into other scenic
elements. We did a production for UNC for Sigur Ros which had a physical
set that we designed but you know at certain moments appear to fill up with
water and i think the other moments within that show where you couldn’t quite
tell what you’re looking at; whether it is a projection or is it a physical effect, is it a
lighting effect? [Music] Quite often the character in our work
isn’t necessarily a human person. If we’re working on something like the Sydney Opera House for example the character becomes the building and how we explore that and
communicate something that’s still emotional and dramatic and has a
journey to it becomes in a way of sort of a different challenge what you might
have if you’re making a film or theatre piece about human character or human
narrative. [Music] We’ve been developing a technique which
we’ve come to call live cinema which is about working with live actors on a
theater stage but bringing video cameras and life projection relay into that. The
idea is that we create something which is very much like a feature film has the
same sort of qualities and aesthetic as a feature film but is made in front of
the audience’s eyes and what that gives you as a member of the audience in a
normal theater is incredibly close access to the performer to the the
emotion to the detail of that performs in a way that you might get in a film
but without the experience of being done in front of you without the
nightly experience of the risk and the adrenaline of it being genuinely live. [Music] Technology answers our prayers on any
number of days. On the other hand, you know it causes us enormous headaches,
as anyone who uses technology, especially on the bleeding edge, will find. That
you’re constantly using things which aren’t quite ready to do what you want them to do. [Music] Technology isn’t going to completely solve any dramatic questions; it’s not inherently interesting. It’s only
interesting if it’s serving a bigger purpose, which is to tell a story in a more interesting and more involved way. The thing that we are quite keen to
avoid is the temptation to try and do things technologically speaking just
because it’s possible. So whilst technology might open up new
visual and interactive possibilities it’s really, really important to keep the
focus on the act of storytelling because that’s something that’s endured for
thousands of years in a way that theatrical technology… you know, it
evolves, but it doesn’t make a bad piece of work good. [Music]

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