The next advancement in scenery . . . none.

A friend of mine who stays up on the latest in all sorts of technology sent me a link the other day for a projection-like company called ViXen, which is marketing a “visual performance system”.  Check it out here.

My favorite part of their non-fancy website for such a fancy tech company is this quote:  “We invite any requests or ideas and we will work with our extended community of colleagues to source and/or develop a solution that can accomplish almost any design.”

In other words . . . “tell us what you want to do and we’re pretty confident we can deliver it.”

My early adopter friend suggested to me that there might be theatrical applications for their technology.  “Sure,” I said.  There aren’t many new shows that open up without a “Projection Designer” on the title page of the Playbill these days. (And we wonder why costs are escalating, we keep coming up with new types of professionals needed on shows, but we’re not getting rid of any in the process!)

Remember last year’s Tony Awards?  There weren’t many sets.  Most shows used a sort of projection/LED combo on a light wall to get their bright-lite-like point across.  And it worked, looking great and saving lots of bucks (not to mention lumber) in the process.

Do you think that we could be on our way to sets being entirely replaced by electronic representations?  In 20 years will it all be projections?  Will every theater come with screens, for you to light up as you wish?

And, will this make it possible for many, many, many shows to share the same space?

Oooooh, now there’s the most compelling reason for the adoption of this type of tech in some theaters.  With the flip of a drive, you could have an entirely different “set” of projections for a 2nd or 3rd show that split the rent.

While I don’t think sets will ever disappear (nor should they), in the same way that I don’t think orchestras will ever disappear (nor should they) no matter how much technology we come up with that simulates the same experience, I do think we’ll see a bunch of shows that rely solely on projections in the next 10-20 years.

Seeing a set might be rare.

But if that’s what it takes to keep people seeing shows, I’m fine with it.



(Got a comment? I love ’em, so comment below! Email subscribers, click here, then scroll down, to say what’s on your mind!)



– Win Two Tickets to see Venus in Fur on Broadway.  Click here to enter!

– Take the Musical Boot Camp!  Click here for info and an application.

– Broadway Road Trip from DC on 4/28.  Click here.

  • RLewis says:

    “And we wonder why costs are escalating…”
    “…looking great and saving lots of bucks”
    The contradictions used to be a few posts apart, but now there’s not paragraph between them. I doubt Barnum had this much trouble keeping things straight.

  • One comment was about the rising cost of producing Broadway shows. The other comment was about shows saving money to have their shows appear on the Tony Awards. Sorry if that wasn’t clear, but they are two separate issues.

  • Cam says:

    The backdrop with this system does look pretty, but I’ve seen screens used with projections that are great too (probably less expensive). With anything comes costs that don’t disappear. They only get switched from one place or person to another. You would not be able to eliminate the props completely. Where would people sit or climb etc? I’m thinking that you’re considering an idea that this would be the way to get the younger generation more excited about attending live theatre. Another xbox or xfactor or superbowl like something live on a stage. It’s possible, and if successful, would be worth the extra millions you’d have to pay in order to first implement this new computer enchanced technology; then maintain it. I wonder what the electric costs are or how many fulltime IT’s it would take to run it? Maybe Xfactor would divulge their costs to puchase, implement, and maintain. It’s certainly worth looking into. Then you’d be armed with all of the facts and the bottom line costs.

  • Amyleigh1982 says:

    Some examples:
    Ghost: Good
    Les Miz 25th: Bad
    I don’t think it’s fair to lump all projection based scenery into one category. We already create worlds that don’t exist and have the freedom to fill them with whatever we can think up. While I think it’s a great way to add dimension and artistic flair to a pared down performance piece, ultimately it’s the production designer that makes it sink or swim.

  • Shane says:

    Another great example of this was the recent Australian production of Hairspray. It was totally reconceived by David Atkins and the entire set was a series of LED screens with live animation. Incredibly effective and probably an example of what is to come.
    The Phantom anniversary concert was another great example. We are seriously considering this for our school productions as it is a reusable resource rather than spending $5k on sets every production.

  • janiska says:

    Sounds like a great cost cutting concept for Bdwy and small theatres as well as touring shows that can cut down on transportation costs while more easily adapting and constructing sets for different venues.
    But for heaven’s sake, let’s not allow technology to take prescedence over creativity. If we sacrifice more of the “live” in “live theatre,” more of the audience will either go to the movie theater or stay home and play computer games or watch TV.
    If the show is good enough, no one notices the set anyway and when critics rave over sets and costumes, far too often it’s because the ‘show’ is lacking.
    Many of us actually find something very endearing about a small theatre with a small budget that compensates with an abundance of creativity in sets and costumes.
    Perhaps the current economic downturn will force more theatres to return the creativity to actual productions rather than applying it all to the field of fund raising.

  • Brian says:

    With all the added positions, soon our credit pages will look like a television or movie credits list… I’m not complaining since it keeps me employed, but just saying.
    You can almost always tell when something is projected versus real or painted. Shadows, motion of projection surface, light glare, texture or lack of texture just to name a few clues. Cost wise, what you lose in scenic construction costs you replace with projections costs (surfaces, equipment, software, servers, lamps etc.). As with all technology there is a shelf life to the product until the next best thing comes along. For an awards show like the Tony’s, Grammy’s, or Oscar’s this technology is awesome technology since the producers can accommodate multiple needs, genre’s, artists and shows with one scenic theme.
    I enjoy projections in theater so long as it compliments the production and doesn’t steal the spotlight. I liken this debate to the introduction of Moving Lights and Digital Sound Consoles. Both have enhanced the show, but you can tell when they are used by the look and sound of the show.
    Projections have been a part of the big shows for years. I don’t think sets will be replaced, merely enhanced. The spark I have about this is what’s the next step? I think we are moving towards interactive projections where the actors interact with projections in a non-scripted way. I have seen some pretty cool technology where the projections travel with the surface in real time with rotation, keystone, and aspect correction as the surface is moved among other things… gives me lots of design ideas given the right show…

  • richard rizzo says:

    Projections would certainly have improved Gershwin’s Porgy and Bess. That set was a travesty. Beige slabs of plywood. What were they thinking? And for the picnic scene a huge white sheet ..the at least could have projected some sea gulls on it.

  • Jay says:

    Hi Ken,
    This is exactly the technology I have been developing for all of my musicals, especially the new version of my Incredibly Deaf Musical coming this spring. So I hope you will check it out. I used it for a video mapping installation at the New York Academy of Medicine in October, and am now expanding from realitively 2d surface projections to 3d –which means, yes, an off bway space with a projection system properly installed can easily meet the needs of several different productions, even including morphing set pieces onstage with the actors that change surfaces depending on needs. So, to any producers, designers, techies, etc out there who want to seriously get involved, I welcome you to check out my website and send me an email.

  • Randi says:

    Very coincidental timing with this blog post – I just saw Ghost the musical yesterday here in London, and I have never been so bombarded with the digital projection set design. I felt as though I was in a video game (obviously in a bad way). The actual physical set (only the loft, I think) was a breath of fresh air every time it followed the in-your-face insanity of the projections. I hope this is not the future.

  • DB says:

    There *are* projections in Porgy and Bess

  • Cam says:

    I wanted to add one more comment. I saw “Porgy and Bess,” a redux yeterday performed by the Cincinnati Opera. All they had were three screens, a table, and a chair. I must say that a good story line, fine actors, and wonderful production staff made it a good show. They didn’t need all of the extra frills. My daughter and I had a good time.

  • Always important to remember that the projections or even LED screens are Light. I love projections, but we have to keep the brightest thing in the room the actor. not the wall.

  • While projections in scenic design may be a trend gaining traction, I don’t ultimately see it taking over, especially within the next decade. While those on the cutting edge of theatre (us) may find these daring and inventive, the average $121.25 paying public is looking for something more traditional — the casual out-of-towner theatre goer doesn’t do “daring” well.
    While projection elements (Ghost, etc) can add to certain productions, their sole usage takes away by shifting the audience’s focus from piece itself. Audiences complained during The Woman in White and were unsure of what do make of them in the acclaimed (and beautiful) Sunday in the Park… revival.

  • Kevin McCoy says:

    So, as you reduce the amount of scenery and cut the salaries to those evil scenic designers and carpenters and scene shops, the ticket prices will go back down, right? To reflect the new lower cost of producing?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *