projection design: Wendall K. Harrington
lighting design: Peter Kaczorowski
set design: Allen Moyer
costume design: William Ivey Long
sound design: Brian Ronan
associate projection designer, programmer: Zachary Borovay
The Broadway production of Grey Gardens, inspired by the cult Maysles Brothers’ documentary of the same name, chronicled the story of Edith Bouvier Beale (Big Edie) and her daughter, Edith Beale (Little Edie), relatives of Jackie Kennedy and Lee Radziwill, who were discovered living in decrepitude in a dirty, run-down 28-room mansion called Grey Gardens on Long Island. Directed by Michael Grief, the musical featured sets designed by Allen Moyer, costumes by William Ivey Long, lighting by Peter Kaczorowski, sound by Brian Ronan, and projections by Wendall K. Harrington.
Act I opened at the height of luxury; Moyer’s set of a grand living room in a seaside mansion circa 1941 dripped with money. That changed by Act II, depicting 1973, when the women had all but been deserted in their crumbling manse, accompanied by hordes of cats.
Much of the dialogue in the second act came from the film script, as did the look of the house: dirty rooms with cat food cans piled everywhere. To give the set a ghostly feeling, Moyer created walls of mirrored Plexiglas®, covered with layers of paint to create a partially reflective surface. Both Harrington and Moyer were inspired by a book of photographs taken by Deborah Turbeville of mansions in Newport, RI. “I spoke to Wendall about it early on and realized we were both referring to the same photographer,” says Moyer. “Her photos have a lot of reflections that seemed somehow ghostly.” The idea was to have images that come and go: portraits in the attic, cats on the staircase, vines choking the house.
The projected images included a newspaper collage of the articles that first brought the plight of the Beales to public light. As Act I is a flashback to the giddy past, the exterior wall of the second-act house was seen first, with images of leaves that gave the feeling that the garden was overgrown. Harrington and Kaczorowski worked together to blend light and projections, yet the leaves moved in a different way than leafy gobos would do.
In the second act, the projections added to the sense of despair and loneliness. Many of the images, including the projected cats, were taken from the actual 16mm footage of the Maysles’ documentary. Harrington made specific use of the various cats in the film, using not only what was in the film but also additional cat footage in the film’s outtakes, even using her own pair of feline pets as extras. The challenge was stabilizing the hand-held, sometimes jerky, footage and turning it into usable video imagery.
The video was extracted from the Grey Gardens DVD via a software program called Cinematize; it was then edited in After Effects 7, Final Cut Pro 5, and QuickTime, and the files were then moved Dataton Watchout Version 3.1.1, with control via a Medialon Manager 2. The projections ran along with the lighting on the ETC Obsession 1500 console. The images were projected primarily via three Barco R6 projectors spaced across the balcony rail and fitted with Wahlberg dowsers (with custom flags built by head electrician Drayton Allison to accommodate the larger lens size).
“It was important to respect the original footage,” says Harrington. “When the film was made in the 1970s, it was a film era, so digital video images would have been anachronistic. Even though the images from the film have been digitalized, they still have the 16mm resolution and the thickness and texture that go with it. The audience might not see the difference, but it has a resonance for me.”
Selected GearVideo equipment provided by Scharff Weisberg
Barco R6 projectors
Christie LX25 projectors
Dataton Watchout Version 3.1.1
Medialon Manager 2
ETC Obsession 1500 console
Adobe After Effects 7, Final Cut Pro 5, and QuickTime