The Forgotten World

Mark Farr, Shed@ThePark Theatre Company, England
February 2009

Brief

This year's annual production of our inclusive children's and youth theatre was an ambitious one. The director team wanted to "raise the bar" from the previous performances to both challenge the performers and give the performers and audience a real sense of development.

The remit for the technical team was to provide 3 performance areas on which we could project video, and through which the cast could move, enter, or exit. This required 3 screens to be built and operated by 3 individuals during the show. As we moved through the scenes, various projections would be cued along with different lighting and audio to change in time with the blinds being raised and lowered. A key part of the projection was the cast's interaction with the characters on the screens. Timing was key.

It was also a requirement to include younger participants in the backstage crew in order to keep with the ethos of involving youngsters in our productions. My aim from the very beginning was to make it as simple as possible. The final solution was very simple indeed, because the complexities were hidden within the simple building blocks of QLab.

Set - Frames and Blinds

The 3m x 2.25m frames were built to conceal the backstage area and to house the blinds/screens to project onto. It was a fairly simple frame construction that had to be free standing. The blinds were taken from a roman blind design and scaled up to the size we needed.

GEAR LIST
  • Mac Pro
    • 2 x 2.8 Ghz Quad Core Intel Xeon
    • 1 x Serial ATA Hard Disk 300 Gb
    • 1 x ATI Radeon HD 2600 XT
    • 1 x NVidia GeForce 8800GT
    • 2 Gb DDR2 F8-DIMM 800Mhz RAM
  • 3 x Epson Projectors
    • EMP-X3 2000 ANSI Lumens

Film - Projection skew/adjustment

Once the blinds were ready the projectors were mounted onto a shelf 4 meters above the stage floor at a steep enough angle to project over the heads of performers, and unfortunately at an angle too steep to make any use of the projectors automatic keystone correction.

The projectors we used were not the best for the job (they were kindly discounted by a supplier and met our budget) and projected a splash far too big for the screens. There was no option to move the projectors or the screens, they were in fixed positions. I knew QLab could provide a non-full screen view mode for video so I didn't see this as a problem.

We ran QLab on a Macbook Pro and connected it up to the projectors. The video was cued through QLab and as suspected was far too big for the screens. We used the 'resize' feature and quickly positioned the video correctly using the handy drag positioning feature. The only problem now was the skew that was caused by the steep angle (future QLab feature?).

The skew was corrected by using a Mac paint package to draw a nice rectangle on each of the projections, and then skewing the video at source in the Movie editting package to match the skew given by the rectangle. There may have been an easier way—but it seemed a brainwave at the time.

Now we had 3 nice screens, with 3 nice projectors, projecting 3 nice clean images.

Sound and Lighting

The sound and lighting needs of this performance were more straightforward than the video. We had a lighting desk and a mixer that were working fine independently. A quick test through QLab proved we could control the lighting desk and output to the mixer through QLab. I was now confident of fulfilling the technical needs of the show. Now we just had to put it all together (cue some long nights of editing film, finishing music).

QLab

My favourite part of the pre-show work was building and creating the cue list. I created a Group for each scene, and then a sub Group within the scene for each section requiring a change of light/movie/sound. I found this gave me greater flexibility when wanting to change things later. Between each group I added a Wait cue simply to give a clear break and indication of the next Cue—these cues were numbered and annotated within the script. This gave the QLab cues a lovely structure and allowed you to follow the script and hit 'Go' whenever the cue points were reached.

The automatic transitions were quite satisfying. Some of the automated sequences were many minutes and included multiple movies, sound and lighting cues. This gave reliability and confidence that once it is set up and working, it can be trusted to work each and every night.

The only flaw in this plan was that the stage manager had an awful lot to cue both vocally and within QLab, there was simply too much going on. Monitoring the script to execute a cue is one thing, but getting the timing right to call a blind up/down command as well as triggering the cue is another. Add to that the feeling of knowing everything hinges on getting that right—this creates a pressure pot. If we could remove the need for him to call the blind cues it would simplify this role immensely.

We had another brainwave—and QLab saved the day! Instead of calling the blind up/down commands via the backstage comms, we pre-recorded the voice commands and cued them alongside the film/lights/sound in QLab. The output of those cues were channelled through the Mac's line output and split into the 3 headphones of the blind operators. This gave us power over backstage control I never even considered. Once this was cued up the technically complex show was very simple to control.

Finally

So much power was behind a click of the 'Go' button—the building blocks provided by QLab are simply presented and are simple to understand, the power truly is in the relationships between the building blocks.

QLab played a huge part in the production. I really cannot think how we would have maintained the quality of the production with any other affordable alternative.