WAVES – A Black Box Experience

I’ve been down the rabbit hole of theatre the past month, producing my new show “Waves.” We had a successful three performance run which concluded Thursday night with a great, responsive crowd, and a group of young actors who had loosened up to show their grit on the stage. It was a great experience.

For the production of this show, I decided to create a black box theatre experience. I was introduced to this concept more than a decade ago when I walked into the now-defunct Penang Performing Arts Centre. Their black box theatre had seating for 120 max, and it was modular and could be shifted into different configurations. I was intrigued by the intimate setting and quickly fell in love with minimalistic shows which brought the audience right to the cusp of the action.

My new show “Waves” was a one-hour show featuring three dramatic duets and then the 30-minute one-act entitled “Waves.” My school does not have a black box theatre, but it does have a large stage and many platforms which had been constructed for graduation ceremonies. Hey, why not create my own black box theatre? I did, for the second time ever, and it turned out great.

Let me walk you through the photos below. Let’s start with the middle top one. That gives you the perspective of where the black box theatre is: on the stage. The empty chairs in the auditorium look on, wondering what is happening. It’s the same look the audience members have when they enter the auditorium and ask: “What? I go up on stage?” Yep. The photo on the top left gives you and idea what the audience perspective is like during the show. It seats 80, so it’s intimate, and the actors are just a few feet away from the audience. It’s creates an urgency and an energy which couldn’t be duplicated if the audience was WAY DOWN BELOW.

The photo on the top right shows the complete set-up. It had three acting areas – two on platforms and one in the middle. We created the waves backdrop and these strange cage-like structures on either side, with beautifully painted waves on a wooden ramp. Everything worked great and the audience loved the lighting effects and the intimate setting.

The last photo shows some weary-looking director who needs a couple days to recuperate from a crazy, intense week. But these are the kinds of weeks that this crazy director lives for. Watching students come into their own on-stage, in as close to a professional setting that we can give them. Waves was a great success. Now let me rest. Be back soon.

The Awesomeness of Show Week

Again. I’m privileged. I write, and I’m in a situation where I can produce it for the stage. And it’s awesome!

Show week is coming up. It was obvious last evening as I put in six hours on set and light design. It’s not a finished product yet, but here’s what I have so far.

No. “ORIE” doesn’t have any meaning. It will actually eventually say “Stories Vol. 2” – just not there yet.  I’ve had so much over the past couple of years learning lighting design and I still have SOOO much more to learn, but it’s a pretty cool thing to work through your own script and plot out the lighting cues and imagine what the final product will look like.

This is a black-box theater type of show. I don’t have a black box theater at my disposal, so I’m making one. I’m putting the audience on-stage on platforms overlooking the small rectangular stage I created by using four ellipsoidal lights. You can see it in the picture on the left. That area is the stage for this show. It’s tiny. But that’s the way I like it. The audience will be crammed all around that area. Even the lighting console has been moved to stage right. Intimate in the extreme. In my mind, there’s nothing like intimate theater.

When I told people that the audience is going to be sitting on the stage, they look at me and shake their heads. “What is wrong with this guy?” They look out over the 650 seat auditorium and ask, “What about those seats?” They will be empty, is my reply. But they’ll understand when they see it. When they experience it. When the actors are so close you can see the veins popping out of their necks. When they see the intensity, and feel the emotion up close. Then they’ll know why I did what I did. Or at least I hope.

It’s show week. I only get about three of these a year, so I’m going to enjoy the stress, the last minute to-do list, the horrible dress rehearsal, the myriad details, the dropped lines, the dead crowds, the scared look on the faces of the young actors backstage … I’m going to enjoy it all, because it’s awesome.

 

Wearing a New TECH Hat

My role as drama director has shifted as I now produce my shows in a brand new theatre-style auditorium. In the past, I’ve had a dedicated theatre tech staff, professionally trained in lighting design for dramatic shows. I used to tell those fine professionals what I wanted and they worked their magic.

Well, no more. I’ve had to add lighting tech to my list of responsibilities, and shall I say, I actually love it.  Here’s a photo of me doing design work from the ETC Element console in our auditorium.

Lighting Booth
I designed that setting red sun along with a blue wash for my play “No in Spite of Itself.” I added a starry gobo to it as well though not noticeable in the shot.

 

Lighting design is just the type of creative activity which I love to do. Along the course of my theatre journey, I’ve had to learn graphic design on photoshop, audio editing on Audacity, and now I’m knee deep in the wonderful world of theatre lighting.

I have a lot to learn, and I have to learn how to do proper lighting with the limitations of our new theatre.

Drive By
In this shot, spotlight on stage left focused on the mayor’s press conference. A scrim at center stage is lighted by a Source Four ellipsoidal and the cyclorama is lit in blue and red by our Source Four LED par lights.

dress rehearsal
Distant view of the same shot.

 

I was happy with the results of my first lighting design. I can’t wait to do more!  There’s really an unlimited type of creativity offered in this type of work–especially with the high-end LED lights that we have. The color, oh my, is tremendous. Every scene can be shaded differently to help set the tone.  So much fun!

I’m fortunate to be able to run the whole gamut of theatre in my current setting – writing, producing, directing, and now sound & lighting design.

Let’s keep it going! I have three more shows planned for next year.