Day 3 2012: The scourge of the performing arts.

OK, let me start off by saying that all of our groups (so far) have been very nice and I’m sure, once they let me see them, their shows are amazing. Today’s post isn’t about any group or performer or show. Understand? No flaming me because you think I’m talking about The Winnipeg Fringe Playerz’ production of The Bestest Show Ewe Will Ever See.

Today, when the festival opens at 6:00 pm, the master schedule comes into effect. It dictates the lives of everybody who is involved with the Fringe for the next two weeks, and it is drilled into everybody’s head from day 1, including the 15 minute rule. A group has 15 minutes to set up their show, 15 minutes to let in the audience, do their show within the allotted time that is listed in the program (which was decided on when they filled out their tech riders a decade ago), and then 15 minutes to strike their set and clear the venue….. Repeat that 7 times in a day.

Not all venues are created equal however, and some are better equipped than others. Because Venue 2 is attached to one of the largest theatre companies in Canada, we are fairly well equipped with computerized lighting and sound consoles, and my venue partner and I have, a combined, 780 years of experience in the fringe and general theatre.

Because of this, we tend to get shows that have a high degree of technical requirements. Shows with an abundance of lighting cues, an abundance of sound cues, musicals, and shows with large sets are all par for the course in our venue. Some groups use the technical aspects to enhance and support their shows (and these tend to be the most successful), some shows have technical centerpieces that the entire show revolves around, others hide behind technical tricks thinking they add substance where there is none.

But there is one technical aspect that makes me shudder…

Video.

I hate video in the preforming arts. It makes me crazy as a technician, and makes me sad as a patron.

Setting up and running video is always a huge pain in the butt. It takes a lot of time to set up, focus, cable, and troubleshoot. It’s that last one, troubleshooting, that always takes the time. I’ve never been involved with a production that had video projection that went exactly as planned. Never. And I’m not just talking Fringe shows. The big shows for the big companies like MTC, Vancouver Playhouse (may she rest in peace), even when I did the Boys in the Photograph for Mirvish productions. Every time, something goes wrong with the frickin video.

The projector isn’t recognizing the computer, the fans are too loud, the image is crooked, the sound doesn’t work, the computer keeps crashing, the manual is in Farsi, all of these things contribute to my dislike of video.

These things also contribute to an elevated heart rate when we only have 15 minutes to set up a fringe show on a performance day.

And whenever you ask the technician involved, or the group who brings the gear “Why is it doing that?”, we always get the same answer… “I don’t know”. And thats because most technicians and a lot of people in general, know just enough about video to set it up, and not enough to understand the processes that are going on in the machinery, myself included.

And when you call costomer support for your دستگاه تصویر نور brand of video projector, you end up with a conversation like this:

“Hello, I can’t get one of your products to work”

“Where are you calling from?”

“Canada”

“Which model do you have?”

“I’m not sure, it’s all in Farsi”

“Oh, that must be the Pictures in Lights Machine, what seems to be the problem?”

“No picture, no lights”

“Did you turn it on?”

“YES I TURNED IT ON”

“Both switches?”

“There’s a second on switch?”

“Yes, the one on the back of the unit, and another under the cover beside the lamp assembly.”

“Why in Gods name is there TWO on switches??? That is the dumbest… why… WHY!? Does everything over there have two switches? Why does your country export such dumb products?”

“Hey, you guys export Justin Bieber. This is just sweet revenge”

From a patron’s point of view, video in the preforming arts makes me sad. When I go to the theatre, or the opera, or ballet, I want to see the live performances on the stage. It’s thrilling, watching a production, knowing that this is the only time that exact piece will be performed. Once it’s finished, all I have is my memories of it. I can’t rewind and watch it again.

Don’t get me wrong, I like movies and film, but I go to specific venues to watch that. Movie theatres and my living room on the TV, but it makes me sad, that in order to keep an audience’s attention, we feel the need to put a screen with video in our opera, or play. Are we so addicted to moving pictures that we can’t use our imaginations anymore?

Sporting events and big concerts are the same way. The new stadium in Dallas has an enormous screen hanging over the football field. When you watch the crowds, they are watching the screen, not the field. Why bother paying $200 for the ticket and seeing it live? Stay at home and watch it on your دستگاه تصویر نور.

I’m hoping it’s a fad, but I doubt it. More and more shows are incorporating video projection into their shows, and more and more audiences are attracted to them. They think that they can better understand Shakespeare if it’s presented to them on a widescreen. Makes me sad.

I gotta tell you, the first guy who puts a big screen in his production of Uncle Vanya and projects in 3D, passing out glasses to the audience, is going to get a serious glare from me.

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About JBJ

John lives in an abandoned toolshed behind a fake rubber vomit warehouse in Winnipeg Manitoba Canada with a squirrel named Peanut Hoarder, where he steals an internet signal from the Kung Fu school next door. He is a little "off". View all posts by JBJ

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