Music concerts, theater and even opera productions are pushing the technical limits to create an immersive visual experience that goes beyond stage lighting. An effective use of Front and/or Rear Projection is being used to set the mood to heighten the audience's emotions in certain moments of a performance. We can date stage lighting all the way back to early Grecian theaters, where plays about comedy and tragedy played out in front of mesmerized audiences. Today, talented artisans, such as lighting and technical designers work with directors and stage managers to enhance the performance.
The lighting/technical designer and their crew of capable technicians, hoist equipment, install and operate the various lighting fixtures needed to illuminate the proper stage area(s). Before any performance, every detail is worked out to the precise second to give the director, stage manager and performer(s) clues about where they need to be. The designer needs everything to run on time with military precision.
Sade’s 2011 - Soldier of Love tour, was an example of this precision. The production offered a phenomenal visual and aural experience that masterfully created an escape from the ordinary. During the concert, technical stage crew were sitting on makeshift swings - suspended from the ceiling with harnesses - and with ninja like precision they were adding lighting and projection elements to heighten the mood. This dynamic show, where ‘each musician rose up on a platform from below the stage to be profiled against a screen, required Horst Hartmann (monitor engineer) and Chris Madden (FOH Engineer) to employ a clean aesthetic for the stage. To eliminate mic stands, they relied on miniature Sennheiser e 908 gooseneck microphones.’ (FOH Magazine, 14 September, 2011)
This minimalist stage set complemented the projection screen images and although there were many components involved in making the show, it did not distract from the visual sumptuousness being offered. With the skillful use of projection - perhaps both front and rear - the Sade, August 2011 concert felt like you were not just watching a brilliant live performance but you were on a journey with the singer, looking at the songs through her eyes and understanding the world from a different perspective.
Recently, for a local stage production of the opera ‘La Flamenca’, lighting designer - Jonathan Perry used projection and lighting sequences to set the mood and heighten the emotional experience. The projection was particularly brilliant because the space did not have a dedicated projection booth and so it had to be adapted to the staged seating by being set up to the side of the audience and skillfully project onto the center wall space. The projection was crucial to the performance because it simultaneously displayed the English translation of what the performers were singing and made for a more memorable experience.
La Flamenca, Marigny Opera House
In this same vein, on April 3rd 2016, University of Loyola's (New Orleans) stage production of the play ‘Master Class’ by playwright Terrence McNally, used projection as a main component for this particular staging. Unlike the Marigny Opera House, this production at Loyola’s Nunemaker Auditorium housed a media control booth with a dedicated projector. The play's subject was about the 'Opera Diva Maria Callas giving a masterclass for budding opera singers.' The director, Patricia O’Neill's decision to to use real film/audio footage from Maria Callas' live performances and the technical designer's skill in projecting these snippets gave the audience the ability to visualize the character’s subconscious thought process and made the performance very authentic.
Master Class, Loyola’s Nunemaker Auditorium
With technology at the helm of stage productions, there are even newer techniques and boundaries being pushed, such as interactive art; 3D projection and projection mapping. When used skillfully, these techniques can turn a good performance into a great performance because they can help bring a director’s or performer's vision to fruition. It's a new way of making metaphors and symbolism come to life and conveying this message successfully to the audience is a new way of breathing life into the familiar, of making the intangible visible.