The stage of the Olivier Theatre is not just a deck for actors in The National Theatre's new production of Measure For Measure; it becomes a canvas for a variety of video projections that set the scenes and provide metaphorical moving backgrounds or textures to emphasize the interaction and tension between characters.
Simon McBurney's provocative production — a collaboration between Theatre de Complicite and The National Theatre in London — has also captivated audiences with live manipulation of video playback, which necessitated the first time use of a Catalyst digital media server at the National. The video and projection system was designed by Mesmer's Sven Ortel, with Dick Straker and Ian Galloway, and was coordinated by Malcolm Mellows.
For his scene-stealing projections, Ortel opted for a Barco G10 projector, because it could project when hung vertically and aimed down, without overheating. It also fit nicely into LD Paul Anderson's lighting rig. “The size of the mirror [in the projector] would almost certainly have led to slight distortions of the perfect square I intended to project,” Ortel explains. “The fact that the projector had to be directly above the stage meant that I had to find a gap large enough to allow me to project a 10.6×8m image without clipping any fixtures.”
The Barco G10 was supplied by XL Video along with the two 2-GHz Catalyst media servers, complete with a special version of its proprietary software, written by developer Richard Bleasdale, which offered more layers than normal and allowed them to take in two live camera feeds per unit. The Barco had a customized vertical flying frame so it could be rigged at the correct angle and a 40" plasma screen. The rear projection is done with a double stack of the National's own Barco 6500 projectors.
Ortel previously worked with Anderson, sound designer Chris Shutt, and set designer Tom Pye, but in this production he found himself trespassing into Anderson and Pye's domain due to the size, scope, and the location of his projections. “I was immediately stepping into traditional set design and lighting design territory by projecting on the entire stage floor,” he says. “I could change the texture and feel of the set at the touch of a button or two, delineate a certain portion of the stage, divide a section off, or project a red square around an actor, just to name a few options. All these tasks have traditionally been solved by set and lighting designers.”
When it came time to collaborate with McBurney, Ortel was the “new kid on the block” next to the usual suspects — lighting, set, costume, and sound designers — to discuss the language of the production. “I had to find my place within those established positions and together we had to establish a way of working together,” he says. “My work has a visible technical component, and I do not have a lot of time to run around with a sketchbook on a show like this.”
While it is understood that LDs and sound designers can be both designers and technicians, Ortel feels that parameters for a projection designer still need to be established to avoid any misunderstanding as to what he does or does not do.
“Sometimes I served as my best technician even though I should have been sitting behind my shiny Mac with a script,” he says. “It is a new profession and it goes through similar struggles to that of the sound designers ten years ago when the audio technology was too slow in realizing their creative wishes and ideas. We are getting closer to an acceptable speed now with projection and media show equipment. Every show is a leap forward. It's an exciting time.”