January 22, 2008

Video in the Court of King Richard III

This text was initially published by Profweb under a CC BY-NC-ND 4.0 International licence, before Eductive was launched.

I would like to thank my colleague Gary Plaxton for his help with this article.

The marriage of technology and live theatre is here to stay! There was a time when theatres used candles, and then, lanterns became preferable, and later, with the advent of electricity, we integrated that! Integrating leading edge technology into theatrical productions is almost a requirement because people want to see the latest and the newest on stage.

Video Evaluation of Student Actors

In our recently opened New Dome Theatre, the play Richard III was an opportunity to display not only the potential of the new space, but the fruits of integrating technology into teaching. The IT story begins with the use of video recordings in my 1st and 2nd year acting classes. 1st year mid-term monologue exams and 1st and 2nd year scene exams are always videotaped. I find that the video recording of these sessions is extremely helpful when the actual work is viewed during student evaluations. Students then receive their recordings on a DVD for future reference. The first selection on the video player is an example of one of these recordings. Each student is required to create a character, write a story for that character, find suitable costume, demonstrate the ability to affect an accent and apply the appropriate make-up.

The Model – video evaluation

The idea of using video clips in Richard III came from the fact that during the “Ghost” sequence in the play, all the actors playing ghosts, were needed as soldiers for the battle scenes. We had a limited number of students. Necessity is truly the mother of invention, and from that conflict and difficulty came the idea of using the technology that I had honed in my acting classes. The technological potential of the new theatre was also an invitation to do this kind of experimentation.

The Ghost Scene

Making Rain

The integration of slides and videos began at Dawson College’s old Dome Theatre on Notre-Dame, with shows directed by Gary Plaxton, Jude Beny and myself. Gary Paxton’s production of “The Good Woman of Szechwan” (Brecht), five years ago, made extensive use of video to produce, among other things, an integrated rain shower using sound effects and a 20-minute video of rain falling on the leaves of a Chinese maple, combined with live-action on stage and even a song entitled “The Song of the Water-Seller in the Rain”. In my production of “Pygmalion” video provided the introduction to the show and served as a through-line to the story, and Jude Beny’s “Laramie Project” had video built-into the play’s construct. So our Richard III was not without precedent.

Incorporating Multi-Course Content

Another benefit of using video sequences in the play was the integration of content from several courses. Gary Plaxton, who teaches “Acting for the Camera” and the “Make-up” instructor Pierre Lafontaine were consultants on the production. We were able to discuss the differences between acting for video and acting for live theatre. There are also significant differences in make-up techniques between video and live theatre, which were particularly pronounced during Gary’s filming of “The Killing of the Princes”, and the “Ghost” sequence. In the “Battle of Bosworth Field” sequence, we wanted to experiment with the sound of horses coming from around the theatre, and the Ghost Sequence was to be heard from the back of the house, but we are still working out kinks in the sound system of our new venue. All video clips were edited in Final Cut Pro, a Mac-based video editing software.

The Killing of the Princes

The “Stage Combat” instructor, Kimberley Barfuss choreographed the swordfighting, while allowing for input from the actors. She gave students feedback about their theatrical fighting technique, and to ensure absolute safety, all fight sequences had to be rehearsed before each show.

Technology Sets the Stage

A third important use of video during the production came at the very beginning of the play. A sequence was produced which gave a bit of historical perspective of the events leading to the Wars of the Roses. Given that this was a student production, we felt that not everyone would be conversant with the causes of the events that transpired during the play. I felt that this information was of use to the majority of people who came to see the production, not only students.

My project next semester is a production of ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ which also has video sequences inherent in the script. Video sequences are now a part of our production options. Come see us at the New Dome Theatre where information technology mixes with the smell of the greasepaint. We look forward to seeing you on Wednesday March 12 through Saturday March 15. Tickets are “pay-what-you-can”. For information on other productions, visit our website.

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