Sunday, 20 November 2011

Christmas Productions : Moving Scenery

tom thumbSome years ago I directed a Primary School Christmas production based on the traditional English ‘Jack’ Stories. Each class performed a different story and in common with many traditional stories they required some tricky special effects – giants, beanstalks and so on. A small school with time limited by the National Curriculum meant that making all the props , effects and scenery was down to staff and/or parents.
I came up with a brilliant idea – shadow puppet scenery and effects. A handy dad built a screen large enough for three or four puppeteers and all the children had to do was make two-dimensional giant cardboard boots, trees, giant glaring tissue paper eyes and so forth. It was, I felt, a good solution and an opportunity to show off children’s design skills. One of the simplest. and most commented-on. effects was Jack walking on the spot while the shadow puppet forest moved behind him – rather in the way a neighbouring train moves off and gives the impression that yours is the one moving…
A few years after this, the fiddler Phil Beer toured a show which included video and, at one point, I recall, he was “interviewing”  his longtime musical partner Steve Knightley on the video and slipped him a tenner behind the video screen which Knightley reached out and “took” – much to the amusement of the audience.
Last year I was keen to include some interactive scenery like that described above – this time using a dataprojector.  To explain the idea to the non-technical production team, I made the little demo video below. As it turned out, the logistics of the building (The Tattersall’s Sales Ring in Newmarket) meant that is wasn’t possible to place the screen directly behind the staging, though we did use an effect similar to the thought bubble that appears in the demo. I’m guessing that would be most people’s problem too. But if you are blessed with a short-throw projector or sufficient distance behind your screen you could easily use the technique. Otherwise you’ll need to rig up some kind of mirror system. A white sheet stretched on a frame makes a perfectly acceptable screen and can be re-used in future years. Zooming or panning of still images is easily created using Photo Story 3. Go on…give it a go!
One of the great advantages is that using photographs of artworks showcases students’ talents – which, in the end, is one of the main reasons for putting on a Christmas production in the first place…