One Night with Janis Joplin

Colin Lowry, projection design, ZACH Theatre
Photos and CAD drawings by Eric Gazzillo
Summer 2013

One Night with Janis Joplin is a musical theater experience presented in the context of an extemporaneous Janis Joplin rock concert about the time of the release of the Pearl album - 1969ish. The scenic design for the Austin, Texas staging of this show called for five video design outputs. The total video outs add up to six when the control monitor is included. Two projectors were combined using a Matrox DualHead creating one wide composite output (2048 x 768) to accommodate a short throw distance for a total of six projectors. The four rear projection outputs are: SR WINDOW, SL WINDOW, HERO RP and DOORS. There was one additional FP configured to project all over the set.

QLab tech booth

Technical rehearsals began on July 2, 2013 so we were fairly early in on the public release of QLab 3. During off-site cue development prior to load-in, it became clear that QLab 3's surfaces feature allowed for an opportunity to create a closer approximation of the final configuration utilizing a Mac Book Pro and a second monitor than was easily possible in QLab 2. Surfaces were created for each of the five design outputs. Two composite surfaces were also created, one that would include all of the RP outputs and one for just the doors and hero. These surfaces were configured in QLab at around 50% of the final resolution. A 1024x768 projector would be 512x384 for development purposes for example. This created the ability to place the two windows at the top, the hero in the middle and doors at the bottom - all assigned to a single 1680x1050 2nd monitor connected to the laptop. The front projection content was programmed at 40% opacity on top of the other surfaces just as a reference. No custom geometry was used in the development phase to reduce the number of adjustments we would have to do once we were up and running at technical rehearsals.

projection blueprint

The transition to the actual configuration was exceedingly easy. Change the resolution in each surface to the actual resolution, patch to the appropriate output and let's go get coffee! It is worth noting that there would have been a number of additional steps necessary to get this done in QLab 2. One would have to use custom geometry to create the prototype, and then change all of that cue-by-cue once in the theater.

We always thought that we were asking for a lot of performance out of the Mac Pro by sending - at times - five simultaneous video streams of unique content. We did indeed encounter what we thought were either computer performance challenges or new software release anomalies. Consistently at start-up, the fades would lag by about a second, overall MacOS responsiveness seemed sluggish and the masks, corner pinning and patching would disappear. The workaround was to turn-on projectors, start-up the computer, re-patch, load masks and re-do the corner pins. If performance was bad, shutdown the computer and wait five minutes and start it up again. That always seemed to resolve the problem. Our indices of suspicion led to an assumption that the first set of problems was related to maxing out on what the computer was capable of doing and that the second set was related to the new software. One contributor posted a response to my question on the Figure 53 discussion board that there can be a problem when multiple display devices of the same model are connected in Mountain Lion. A solution is to put the computer to sleep instead of shutting it down. Since the operator's protocol was changed to putting the computer to sleep instead of shutdown, we have had ZERO projection notes in the stage manager's performance reports. Admittedly, this protocol change was implemented two days before a significant QLab software update, but the sleep vs. shutdown change was the Eureka moment.

video system configuration

This staging of One Night with Janis Joplin is going to San Jose Repertory as part of a co-production arrangement. The original cast production will start previews at the Lyceum Theatre on Broadway in the fall of 2013. The Broadway staging of this show has been renamed A Night with Janis Joplin to avoid apparent audience confusion about the performance running more than one night. The original projection design — the show premiered in Portland in 2011 — used a D3 server feeding a large overhead video wall. This designer received high fives from the Broadway producers on opening night in Austin when he told them that we were running our show off of an entry-level MacPro, with 2 hard drives, 2 video cards, maxed memory and a $400 piece of software.

All of the new video capabilities — surfaces, audition window — of the new version of QLab are phenomenal. However, the biggest time-saver has to be the ability to black out all desktop backgrounds without trying to pull down the desktop system preference window off of display devices that are often difficult to snag with the mouse in complex configurations.

QLab tech booth
show still
Colin Lowry has designed video for ZACH Theatre since Jouét in 2001. Some other favorite design credits include The Book of Grace, Rent, The Laramie Project, Ragtime, 33 Variations, Mad Beat, Hip and Gone (ZACH Theatre), My Favorite Year (Zilker Theater Productions), Gyre, Flush, Everything Between and Geometry of Proximity - 2013 Austin Critics' Table Award Nominee (Ariel Dance Theatre), Requiem for Tesla and How Late It Was How Late - 2003-2004 Austin Critics' Table Award for Video Design - (Rude Mechs.) Colin also produces/project manages live events/productions as well as designs/edits video/animated content for short subjects, advertising, live events, theatrical projection design and interactive museum installations. Extensive project profiles can be found at

Eric Gazzillo is a Washington DC based projection designer and engineer currently working as a 3D motion graphic artist for Quince Imaging. Eric earned his MFA at The University of Texas at Austin, specializing in integrated media for live performance. Additional accreditations include a BS in theater arts from Towson University and advanced certification in Coolux Pandora's Box.