Newsies

Projection Design

The Playmill Theatre (2018)

Projection Designer

Sound Designer

I approach every projection design with a strong sense of story. What story are we telling, and how will my projection design help convey it? After having done so much animation for previous shows, I had to take a step back as the director and I decided that the best way to tell the story of Newsies would be to let the backdrops be more stagnant, and leave subtle animations to very important moments.

 

I opted for a style that would include compositing dozens of images together to create full scenes. Every scene was then covered with a final layer of newsprint to give it a unifying theme. This show was completely designed in Photoshop, and After Effects was used whenever animations were implemented.

Production photos of Disney's Newsies at The Playmill Theatre demonstrating my art style used throughout the show.

Once And For All Progression:

 

There is a song sung during the climax of the show called Once And For All. It’s an emotional anthem the Newsies sing while printing their very own newspaper that declares there will be change. Standing by itself, it’s a very empowering song. After seeing a few performances of the number, I knew something was still missing. The audience, while still feeling intensity from the current moment, wasn’t quite getting all the way there. The fact that this did actually happen was being lost on them. The Newsboy Strike of 1899 was real. There were kids starving

and slaving away to feed their families, and they were much younger than our actors. I wanted to remind the audience that this was a much bigger thing than we could ever portray on our stage.

 

While working on the implementation, I kept in mind something I read from Marty Sklar’s book, One Little Spark!. It said, “You can educate people- but don’t tell them you’re doing it!” I needed to be sure this moment didn’t turn into a history lesson for the audience, but that it added to the emotional impact of the story. I found some wonderful source material through research with the Library of Congress, and was able to implement them into the show. The first progression shows images of real Newsboys and child workers without any shoes to emphasize the line they are singing, “This is for kids shining shoes on the street with no shoes on their feet every day.” We had discussed the possibility of having these images spin in like classic newspaper headlines, or almost appear as a slideshow. But in the spirit of doing this with a purpose, we opted for the simple long crossfade.

 

This image was shown for a verse until we got to the bridge of the song. I’m in love with this bridge, and every member of the audience, young and old, can’t help but move their head to the music during this section, which is the loudest The Playmill Theatre has ever been. At the very beginning of the bridge, the projection changes back to the cellar with a photo of the original newsies behind them engraved into the cellar walls. I wanted it to seem like those very kids were there, on stage, singing right alongside them.

 

The emotional impact of this moment has been clear since its implementation into performances. Even now, while typing this entry, I’m getting emotional. I love the fact that we can use forms of theatre (whether in a traditional space or a theme park) to communicate historical truths in meaningful ways.

Progression Stage 3: The emotional and powerful musical bridge leads us to the original cellar walls with the original 1899 Newsies engraved into the stone. Click for larger image.

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Progression Stage 2: The cellar slowly crossfades to show actual photos of young children from the Newsboy Strike of 1899. Click for larger image.

Progression Stage 1: Empty cellar backdrop. Click for larger image.

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Video demonstration of the powerful transition into Stage 3 of the progression.

Watch What Happens Animation:

 

This was one of the very few animations in the show. I knew I wanted the dialogue she types to appear on the screen, but it still felt empty to me. I had an idea to take various lyrics from the different verses she sings and have them be typed across the screen whilst she sang them.

 

I looked carefully at the lyrics. If I could only choose a handful of the lyrics from this song, which ones could tell the full story of the piece? I chose them, and created a concept animation.

I was especially proud of the show control system design for this number. The system I designed was comprised of four computers all running Figure53's QLab show control software. One computer handled lights, two for video playback, and a fourth ran sound and triggered all remote computers. There were a lot of musical vamps in this song, and all needed to trigger animations on remote computers to be in perfect time with the music.

When I showed the director and owner of the theatre, Roger Merrill, he leapt from his seat to congratulate me on what he thought was the best use of our backdrop projections to date. It really helped solidify the piece.

Backdrop for Katherine's Office. Click for larger image.

Katherine (played by Miriam Merrill) typing on her typewriter while her dialogue appears behind her.

A small section of the backdrop demonstrating her lyrics appearing during her sung verses.

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The original photo purchased of the Brooklyn Bridge. Click for larger image.

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The original photo purchased of the Brooklyn Bridge. Click for larger image.

The final composite after the bridge had been artificially extended. Click for larger image.

Brooklyn Bridge Compositing:

 

The Newsies of Brooklyn are introduced with a backdrop of the Brooklyn Bridge. Since we had a smaller cast, we had to have our existing Newsies also play Newsies from Brooklyn. To help hide the fact, we opted to display them in a silhouette. With the aid of our 30-foot wide LED video wall, such an effect was quite easy. First, the text of the newsprint overlay appeared, and then, a wide composited shot of the bridge came into frame to show the outlines of our Brooklyn Newsboys.

 

To create the effect, I started with an image I purchased of a few pedestrians on the famous bridge. Then I imported it into Photoshop where I removed the people, replaced the sky, and nearly doubled the width of the image by artificially creating the missing content. I was actually a little worried at first if the composite would sell, but the added newsprint overlay helped mask some of the more rushed areas (deadlines are a thing, after all…).

 

Our production of Newsies had a few moments that really took the audience’s breath away. This was one of those moments.

A production photo showcasing the Newsies in silhouette.

© 2020 by Hayden Allred.