Performance Project

On the 27th November 2017 the whole of level 5 illustration was briefed with the ‘performance project’. We were presented with a text and given 3 weeks to put on a live performance. The brief asked us to split up into different teams:

  • design – includes set and costume design
  • visual effects – includes projections, lights, sounds, music
  • writing – includes generating the script and directing
  • promotion – documenting and online promotio

I decided to be a part of the visual team and my main resposibility later down the line was solely lighting.

The text was titled Sredni Vashtar and was written by Saki in the early 1900’s. Read the original here. It is about an ill child who escapes reality via his imagination. He discovers a ferret in his shed and transforms it into a God. He prays and worships to him, and titles him Sredni Vashtar. The woman who looks after him notices he goes to the shed a lot and so goes herself with intention of removing whatever has been distracting him. The story alludes us to believe the ferret killed the woman.

At the start of the project there was much uncertainty and things were slow. This is becuase the writing group needed to produce a script before any of the groups could really do anything with certainty. It was the most confusing period in the project, as it seemed everyone had their own interpretation of the story and how it should appear. Soon after a first draft of the script had been written, the groups could start properly working on the project.

Along with the other groups, we found ourselves waiting around for specifics and decisions to be made before we could start producing concrete work. For the first week we were largely generating ideas to be shared and comprimising on what could happen. By the second week, main aspects had been established such as how the stage was going to be set up, what characters from the story were being included, the tone, overall style, finalised versions of the script etc.

This delay resulted in the bulk of our work being produced in the last week and a half before the performance itself. Subsequently this was extremely stressful!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Before I fully pledged my soul to being on the lighting team, I was originally making an animation for a ritual sequence. The idea was when Conradin was praying to Sredni Vashtar, a big ferret would be projected above the shed presenting him in a God like way. There were quite a few things which tripped up this idea. I based this idea on quite a few assumptions about things like the staging and how the shed was going to look. I did this so I could start working on something for the show, as I felt like I was twiddling my thumbs and planning things which could or could not happen. I produced a basic GIF of a ferret from a drawing. My idea was to only animate small aspects of the image to make it appear alive but not be overly distracting, for example blinking. 

This GIF was my draft to improve off of. My feedback was that it was too literal/detailed and needed to be more abstract, to which I agreed with. Before I was going to scramble egg the ferret, I decided to work on a godly background. I nabbed a funky GIF online and adjusted each individual layer on Photoshop to produce this:

I was quite pleased with this, and thought of many ways inwhich I could edit it using Aftereffects to make it less harsh on the eyeballs, and to overlay something ferret like infront of it.

But then when examining where and what the stage areas would look like in the performance studio, it was discovered that nothing could actually be projected above the shed as behind it was a wall covered by a black curtain. The point of the projections was to be on the screens we’d decided to use. So this halted my idea, and by this time we were working largely in the performance studio and needed people to do other jobs, and so I became a person of light!!!!!!!!!!

It was now the end of the second week, and my team of light people had the job of setting up ALL the lights for the performance. We had to consider where the projections would be during the performance as to where lights would shine from so it would not wash them out. After an induction to the lights and their possibilities, we had to decide what lights on the ceiling rig we would be using, what direction they would be shining, and if they would use coloured gels. Also set up the spotlights into the specific positions (which was difficult as we didn’t know where exactly objects would be placed and where the actors would be acting), so we did have some authority over some aspects of the play, usually interms of limitations and positioning of things. After setting up the rig and using 2 floor lamps, we had to connect all the appropriate plugs relating to the numbered sockets in the correct spaces to be used on the light deck.

We then had to programme the order of lights turning on into the ‘submasters’ memory. This meant that we could programme each scene and assign multiple lights to come on when we pushed up one slider. This makes everything easier and interms of saving us from having to manually turn up all the lights per scene/ happening, however it was rather difficult to actually do. We had to run through the script multiple times, pinpoint all the cues, decide what needed lighting if it wasn’t addressed in the script, programme it into the technology, write cues so we’d know exactly when to use each slider…. fiddly business. But I’m not mentioning all of the cOnFuSiOn AnD fRuStRaTiOn in doing so. And then when doing run throughs find that people wanted it differently.. and so having to reset elements. In total we had 26 submasters across 3 ‘pages’ on the machine, and at times had more than one slider up along with having to cross-fade and face to black at points.

Also working from the script was awkward as things on it regarding lighting were vague. It refered to the use of spotlights quite a bit, but we soon found out that there were no moving spotlights to follow actors around, only fixed ones. Also we had to keep the end part of the stage largely red and the house largely blue and cold as we were limited with lights, and so we couldn’t do parts where ‘the whole stage lights up red’.

Once all set up, our job was to light the performance live. This was a whole new level of stress and confusion. We had to know exactly what was going on regards to lighting the correct parts of the stage at precise moments. It didn’t help that we could not see the whole performance space from inside the little room we were stationed, so a bit of guess work was involved. Also, it didn’t help that every time we ran through the performance, lines would be altered, dropped or forgotten. The cues weren’t always the same in this respect, so it made it that little bit more difficult to know when to change the lights.

When it came to the performance, I think we did a good job on the lights. Nothing went dramatically wrong, there were a few slip-ups but nothing that the audience would really notice. At times I did wish that I was on a different team, perhaps prop making, as I felt it would have been a lot less challenging and stressful. Looking back I am glad I did what I did as I have learnt a large quanity of information about lighting a performance, and I now have a new found appreciation for it.

Also 360 degree live stream video was a thing but I’m not sure the University Wifi could support it…

I think one of the hardest aspects about this project was the amount of people involved in it (over 100 students). This meant a lot of miscommunication as all the groups had to work closely together towards shared outcomes or else it would have fallen apart. There was a lot of negotiation and collaboration regarding key decisions and ideas about how things should be. It did feel like we were all working togther as a big team, all trying out new things and doing something we had never done before. I think the play was succesful (from the angle I saw it) and I do wish I could have been able to watch and enjoy it from the audience perspective.

Another outcome of the project was to create a poster advertising the performance, bellow are 2 variations of the poster I made:

I like both of the designs as they hold different qualities. I was going for a simple design which I think is communicated. The text contains information about the performance, written in my style. With regards to the illustration, I made it on Adobe Illustrator using a photo of Mrs Deropp from the performance. I think it captures her character as she is portrayed to be quite arrogant and self centered. I prefer the darker poster as it relates to the darker undertones of the performance.

Below are some scanned pages from my sketchbook for this project

Performance Facebook page

Performance website .   <- Contains ‘behind the scenes’ photos

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