Singin' In The Rain
The Playmill Theatre (2016 & 2017)
When Singin’ In The Rain debuted at The Playmill Theatre in 2016, it was the most technologically advanced show the theatre had ever attempted. There were a lot of challenges we had to overcome, including the most obvious: In a theatre so intimate (where audience members in the front row are ON the stage), how do you make it rain?
After months of brainstorming and tests, we had a method that would work. Through a combination of digital projection, a mic'd tap shoe, and some convincing sound design, I had created a technique that actually fooled a lot of audience members into thinking we had, in fact, used real water.
I started this design completely disregarding my preconceived notions of a logical approach. My favorite moment each night was seeing Don Lockwood "kick water" into the front row and seeing audience members think they are about to get wet. I'm incredibly proud of the techniques I created and implemented in each new scene.
Don Lockwood (played by Jacob Squire) during the iconic number, Singin' In The Rain.
Projected Rain Storm
A working concept animation of the rain animation overlayed onto our stage.
When we first pursued the idea of using projected rain, we were planning on using a company that specializes in interactive projections create our rain effect. There were a few drawbacks to this, so we decided to keep experimenting with other methods. In my Film Analysis class I was currently taking, we watched the iconic scene from the film. I noticed more closely what each splash and raindrop looked like, and pitched the idea of animating the rain myself. We decided to give it a shot.
Our method of projected rain was a popular topic amongst TripAdvisor reviews and local magazines.
We hung two projectors in the theatre and pointed them to the ground. After lining them up in QLab, I projected a 4x4 colored grid on the ground and recorded our Don Lockwood performing his choreography. Then I imported the footage into After Effects and began to map out the animation of raindrops and splashes to match his choreography.
For a few weeks, we would make changes each night, then render out a new copy to rehearse with. What we ended up with was a very convincing effect. People still believe to this day that we used real water, and theatres from all across the country are inquiring about the effect for their own production.
After we wrapped up the run, I created a video showing a more in depth look into how we created our onstage rainstorm.
The Royal Rascal
Another scene that had my attention from day one was the silent movie, "The Royal Rascal". Again, thinking about the intimacy of our theatre, we opted to try a different approach to this. We decided to do the silent movie live and in person.
There were multiple challenges with this approach. How do I create a believable environment for the actors? Music wasn't provided for this scene, so what do I play? And how do I incorporate the famous title cards used in silent films?
I knew that figuring out an approach to using title cards would help the audience believe they were watching a silent film. I had the idea of using two placards, each angled so a different section of the audience can see them. The next thing I needed was a way to make every technical element work together.
The placard projections are one video, projected onto both placards simultaneously. The timing never changes, yet projection mapping decisions had to be made to compensate for moving set pieces.
The time specific lighting was achieved by a MIDI cable connected to the light board with automatic cues with pre waits running from QLab, giving me one go button to rule them all.
Continuing with the theme of live performances versus pre recorded videos, the scene involving Lina Lamont’s voice being dubbed over was performed live. This is an example of one of those times where you just don’t quite know if an effect will work. Thankfully, once we put our actress playing Lina Lamont in front of the effect, it all came together perfectly. Take a look.
Images from the Royal Rascal Silent Movie Sequence in Singin' In The Rain at The Playmill Theatre.
Lina Lamont (played by Jaymie Lambson) having her own voice dubbed over.
My sound design consisted of many of the sounds having been recorded specifically for our production. Over 90% of the sound design was recorded myself in order to match the director's clear vision. From sequences of audience reactions comprised of more than a few dozen cues, time-specific sequences, to an incredibly large amount of pre-recorded dialogue, the QLab project for this show resulted in the sound board operator pressing go nearly 350 times in a mere two hours, resulting in an experience leaving audience members unaware there was even a single button press.
The opening sequence of the show called for a large crowd with dozens of unique reactions straight from the red carpet. With such a specific vision, we knew the three actors we were able to place on stage as a “crowd” wasn’t going to cut it. I sat all the actors together in a single section and we went reaction to reaction in the script. I recorded each reaction in different mic positions to help complete the effect. When compiled together, the opening sequence contained 23 individual cues in a seamless two minutes.
I prefer to start every design with the music. After filming reference video from a rehearsal, I cut together a single track from four different orchestral pieces I had purchased that complemented what was happening on stage. A few dozen cuts were necessary to get it just right.
Now that I had a static element, I could start implementing the other elements. Automatic light and projection cues were added to create a live version of a silent movie. While an unconventional approach to the commonly pre filmed scene, the audience absolutely loved it.