“American Idiot: The Musical” features an extensive amount of video with more than three dozen flat-screen monitors, provided by Vizio, suspended in frames throughout the obliquely angled warehouse-like living space by set designer Christine Jones, who netted a Tony Award for the Broadway show. The set's walls also serve as large projection surfaces.
WorldStage was tasked to provide a cost-effective video package that would satisfy and support the sophisticated design requirements and which could also withstand the harsh and rigorous environments of a touring show. In the end, the delivered package was comprised of a specialized playback system, a high-brightness projection configuration, and a one-to-one signal distribution system capable of delivering the bold and brilliant imagery created by projection and video designer Darrel Maloney.
Maloney crafted hundreds of video images for the show. The stream of images conveys the influence of media on society, set an emotional underscore and help tell the story. Imagery for each song ranges from Iraq war footage and clips of Britney Spears to graffiti art, home movies, test patterns, paint splatters, color bars and live video.
“I've always respected WorldStage a lot, and when it was time to do this show I had to put together a package that would be extremely road-worthy,” says the tour's technical supervisor Rhys Williams. “I needed a team that could support me and everything I needed to get accomplished. WorldStage, with Lars Pedersen and TJ Donoghue, was the perfect complement to what I needed.”
According to Williams, all the video elements “make a really strong impact on the show.” Before the tour's current technical team came on board it had been determined that front projection could not be used for the show. But Williams thought that point deserved reconsideration. After meeting with Maloney and members of WorldStage's New York City office, Williams felt it was indeed feasible to do front projection for a tour that would play a variety of different theatrical venues from coast to coast.
The president of Charleston, South Carolina-based Technical Theater Solutions, Williams set up the show's walls and a trio of Christie Digital S+16 projectors from WorldStage near his shop to test the projection system they devised. “I felt we couldn't do front projection from a balcony rail since we wouldn't always have a balcony rail in the theaters on the tour,” he notes. “We needed a system that would work and be within our envelope. WorldStage instantly translated our desires into a working system within our budget.”
He points out that the stage set used on tour, which is black with gray and white elements, is “much darker” than the one used on Broadway. “We had to have projectors strong enough to pop against the dark background,” he says. One of the Christie S+16 projectors is mounted stage left and projects onto the right wall of the set. Two S+16s are mounted stage right and project onto the larger left wall. “Nobody can tell that there isn't one projector shining from the front,” says Williams. “Three images appear on stage as if they are one – it's pretty amazing. I have no idea how they do it, frankly.”
A major dilemma for the WorldStage team centered around finding an economical solution to meet Maloney's desire for an independent feed for each of the monitors and projectors. In total, 40 channels of video were required to feed the various display devices. Initially, budgetary constraints looked as if they would restrict the design to just six or eight discrete feeds to the monitors – a major limitations for Maloney's design. “But by working with Lars and other members of the WorldStage team we were able to get 37 discrete images on 37 monitors,” says Williams. “It's amazing what that does visually for the production.”
WorldStage's solution? Three United Visual Artists' D3 4ru quad-output media servers each outfitted with a 4x multi-display adapter. Two United Visual Artists' D3 2ru machines served as main and backup masters and provided additional video feeds. WorldStage also designed the signal distribution system including the aforementioned 4x units, a large matrix router and various signal converters. Since fragile and expensive fiber optic cable was not a practical option for a touring show, the company opted for HD-SDI via coax, which is proving to be a robust choice.
“Thanks to the collaboration of Darrel, WorldStage, D3 and [UVA's] Ash Nehru we were able to come up with an extremely good solution,” says Williams. “The system is rock solid and does more than we ever hoped it could. We believe we're doing more video more aggressively on tour than on Broadway. That's partly because the set's walls are a little over half as tall as they were, but there are still the same number of monitors so their density is greater. As a result, they have a bigger impact.”
Williams reports that every time he sees the show he's amazed by “the quality of the production and how solid it has been – we've had very few issues on the tour. We've got a system that works, is within our budget and delivers a product that's just unparalleled.”
At WorldStage Lars Pedersen was the account executive on the project, TJ Donoghue was project manager, Barry Grossman design engineer, Raoul Herrera media server technician and Dennis Alfonso projectionist.
Robert Allen is the touring video manager for the show.
WorldStage Inc., the company created by the merger of Scharff Weisberg Inc and Video Applications Inc, continues a thirty-year legacy of providing clients the widest variety of entertainment technology coupled with conscientious and imaginative engineering services. WorldStage provides audio, video and lighting equipment and services to the event, theatrical, broadcast and brand experience markets nationally and internationally.