Behind Stage Doors Video Series
Graphic Design & Videography
The Playmill Theatre (2015)
Oddly enough, my favorite parts of watching VHS Tapes and DVDs while growing up was viewing the special features after the movie. I found the Behind the Scenes action and information incredibly fascinating. I always wanted to know how the visual effects were shot, what the actors and crew did with their downtime, and how each design department worked together to implement their original ideas into- quite literally- a bigger picture.
During my first summer at The Playmill Theatre, I took on the task to continue their Behind the Scenes video series, Behind Stage Doors. It was a series that had existed in the past, but I wanted to revamp it a little. Through strategically sorting hours and hours of footage, I turned Behind Stage Doors into more of an actual documentary series. I wanted to make it everything that young Hayden would loved to watch after seeing a show at The Playmill Theatre. At the end of the summer, all the episodes together made up about an 85-minute series documenting our entire summer. It was a wonderful keepsake for everyone in the cast, as well as a major hit with our patrons. Here is each episode from the series, along with what I learned from that episode.
Episode 1 - And So It Begins
I came into my Playmill experience knowing next to nothing about the theatre, and I wanted viewers to feel that same thing. The building on day one of rehearsals looks a lot different than what patrons see when they enter the theatre to see a performance. I wanted them to feel how cold we were, and that we'd constantly be dancing to stay warm. I also wanted to feature how excited everyone was to be there. We love what we do, and that needed to be apparent. I also wanted to quickly introduce the fact that the series would be driven by music.
Episode 2 - Costumes and The Prank
Without a proper microphone and organized structure of what I wanted to portray in the series, I was struggling to find my footing of exactly what I wanted Behind Stage Doors to be. I learned a great lesson in this episode. We are driven by story and structure. Whether we purposefully look for it or not, there needs to be a clear arc in a video. Rather than just throwing a bunch of video clips together of what happened that week, I was determined to begin structuring my videos to have a clear story. Instead of interviewing the costumer because he happened to be there, I started plan ahead of how future events could benefit an episode.
Episode 3 - Mary Poppins Opening Part 1
If you're reading this, I'm going to assume you are a creative and theatrical person. So it's probably safe to say that more often than not, a production comes together with not very much time to spare. The first production of each summer at The Playmill Theatre takes the longest to mount. Things are frantic, and we have to keep our head high and roll with the punches. I wanted this episode to pursue that. From the music, to the editing, to the title cards... I wanted every aspect of the video to help the viewer feel the sense of urgency. This was the first episode I began to tell a story, and it set the scene for the rest of the series.
Episode 4 - Mary Poppins Opening Part 2
I decided to make the second part of the Mary Poppins series more of a promotional video advertising the show itself. Actors talked of opening night, and what went well- and what didn't! I also realized that people trust the words of their peers, so I had small interviews done with patrons that had just finished seeing the show. This was also the first episode of the series where I delegated video shots to other members of the cast. Since I was in the booth running each show, I couldn't record certain elements myself. It was a big lesson in how I needed to be very specific when assigning these types of tasks to other individuals, while also giving them creative freedom.
Episode 5 - Choreography
At this point in the series, I wanted to start doing more specific episodes, rather than just highlighting what had been happening in our lives since the previous week. An episode on the topic of choreography seemed like a safe bet. I wanted to focus on what made dancing in our theatre unique. Our stage is small, which makes for a very intimate audience experience. It takes very specific and story-driven choreography to be able to accurately convey the story of the number. Our group also only had a limited amount of time with the choreographer to learn all of the pieces. I wanted to clearly convey the hurdles the cast leapt through.
Episode 6 - Damn Yankees
"Can we get two tickets to Darn Yankees?"
The title of this darling show definitely turned away a lot of patrons. I set out to create this promotional video to better highlight what the classic musical was about. Damn Yankees held a special place in the whole cast's heart. This episode is also where I found the power of a good cold open. Much like on an episode of The Office or Parks and Recreation, the cold open doesn't necessarily need to tie into the rest of the episode, but it was a very powerful and gripping way to get the viewer's attention.
Episode 7 - The Foreigner
I love recognizing, and then playing on the musicality of video clips. I recognized that if I sped up a certain clip by just a small percentage, it would work perfectly on the musical beats I was going to use for the cold open. I think it worked really well, and quickly set the tone and rhythm of the rest of the episode. The Foreigner is a Playmill favorite, and to be completely honest, probably didn't even need an episode to help promote it. This was an example of me doing an episode because I felt it to be expected. Looking back, I wish I had searched for a more unique episode to tell a better story for this week's episode.
Episode 8 - Summer Camp
Our Summer Camp episode doubled as an episode of Behind Stage Doors, as well as a future promotional video for the Playmill Summer Camp for potential summer campers to see in the future in order to know what to expect during the camp. Playmill Players were interviewed about the different workshops they taught throughout the week, the contents and schedule of the camp, and how the campers were doing. From a perspective of a future summer camper, or the parent of one, I hope the video serves its purpose well. It was a break from the normal routine, and while I enjoyed it, I was excited to get back into the series.
Episode 8.5 - Bloopers
I had a 2TB hard drive full of everything I filmed. I edited the entire series in Adobe Premiere Pro, and the project was very large. For every hour of footage, two hours would go into reviewing, editing, and sorting the footage. Through a lot of "nesting" and careful naming conventions, I was able to recall a lot of footage in every episode I needed, even from the first weeks of filming. While looking through the massive list of shots I had compiled, I found a lot of "gems" that were pretty funny to watch. I created the video originally just to share with the cast, but then the management suggested uploading it as a bonus episode.
Episode 9 - Playmill Player Spotlights
I had tried to focus on spotlighting individual members of the cast in the first few episodes, but had fallen away from the idea. I wanted to get back to it in this week's episode. Having gathered a lot of B-Roll footage, it was now easier to fill content for each Playmill Player. Since each episode was first planned after the previous episode had already aired, there was no way for me to have something of the sorts saying, "Coming next week." Though in this episode, we had the first of a three part callback joke involving a cast member and blowing an air horn in his ear. It was fun planning on how to incorporate that into future episodes.
Episode 10 - Duck Race
Now we were getting to the episodes covering the aspects of a Playmill Player's life that the patrons don't really know about. We have a tradition called the duck race. Extra acts of hard work and effort were rewarded with a rubber duck, which was then raced down a stream. The winning ducks were matched to their owners, and they were rewarded with prizes. It was a ton of fun, and enjoyable to show that side to the viewers of the series. I was also able to work the Justin DaBell air horn callback joke into the cold open of the episode. Looking back, I would've worked to make the episode a lot shorter and more concise.
Episode 11 - Playmill Prom
Playmill Prom is a lot of fun as a cast. Everyone gets dressed up with their date in a couples costume and dances the night away. Again, it's a tradition that the normal Playmill attendee wouldn't see. It was fun to bring that to light. I got lucky in the cold open of this episode. While interviewing a cast member about what Playmill Prom was, the music started. I decided to use that music throughout the rest of the episode. It was one of those glorious serendipitous moments where things just worked. I liked how short and concise this episode was. We also worked in the final callback joke of the Justin DaBell air horn trilogy at the end of the episode.
Episode 12 - Goodbyes
There were a lot of reasons to create this episode. It wasn't necessarily a series finale, as I knew there were still two episode I'd be completing after the season had ended. I wanted this to be a love letter from everyone at The Playmill Theatre to those that had watched the series throughout the summer. What we do is hard. It does not go without trying times. But it continues to be our patrons we do it all for. We debuted the episode for our audience directly after the bows of our final performances. There were a lot of tears, not just from cast members, as I highlighted the best, and hardest, times of the entire summer experience.
Episode 13 - Playmill Christmas
"Christmas comes but twice a year; once at home, and once up here."
The longest standing Playmill tradition is to celebrate Christmas in the final week of August. Cast members draw names for presents, create ornaments for the Christmas tree, and we all get a visit from Mr. and Mrs. Claus. It is a wonderful celebration of all the hard work from the summer. Albeit long, I thought the video did a great job of highlighting the thought and care that goes into the entire endeavour.
Episode 14 - Technical Elements
Having used projections for the first time at The Playmill Theatre, I wanted to highlight the team that put the entire thing together. The technology has certainly grown in the theatre since this video. An entirely new sound system, a video system comprised of 5 high-definition projectors, and a massive 30-foot LED video wall. I still wanted to focus on all the technical aspects that make the show happen, from the stage manager, to lights, and to my biased favorite, sound. It was a VERY long episode, which surprisingly was one of the most watched in the entire series. This launched the tradition of a technical-focused episode at the end of each year.
I had an incredible time working on the Behind Stage Doors series. Through it, I learned so much; from editing techniques, to delegation tactics, and how to tell a story through visual media. Of course there were episodes that ultimately had to be scrapped for time constraints. I had a lot of ideas I would've loved to pursue, but ultimately other responsibilities around the theatre took precedence over the project at point. I'd love to revisit a project like this where it was my full time job. Just knowing the things I've learnt since, I can only imagine how great the series would be in the present year.
I also learned how hard it was to be away from the group while spending so much time around a camera. It taught me a valuable lesson of learning to be in the present moment, and there is true beauty in being candid. I'll take that and keep it with me for the rest of my life.
For another video series I recently completed at The Playmill Theatre, visit this post about my project, The Playmill Playlist Sessions.