“Every word she writes is a lie, including ‘and’ and ‘the,’” goes the notorious quote by Mary McCarthy about her legendary rival Lillian Hellman. For the recent Broadway production of Nora Ephron's play Imaginary Friends, which explores the battles of these two literary legends, projection designer Jan Hartley created a series of title cards that looked as though someone were typing the words in real time.
The play stars Swoosie Kurtz and Cherry Jones as Hellman and McCarthy, and features music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Craig Carnelia. Directed by Jack O'Brien and choreographed by Jerry Mitchell, Imaginary Friends played a pre-Broadway engagement at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre last fall and opened at Broadway's Barrymore Theatre in December. Hellman and McCarthy, who had sharp minds and even sharper tongues, barely knew each other but became bitter enemies and legal adversaries.
Scharff Weisberg supplied the play's video package, including Dataton show control, Scala Media management and playback, and a complement of Christie and Barco projectors to deliver video and graphic content onto various scenic elements. “We project on the downstage curtain, the upstage curtain and scrim, and, at one instance, we shoot onto a sheet that an actor holds up,” commented Scharff Weisberg project manager Derek Holbrook.
The video inputs included Scala Infochannel Designer 3, live camera, and MPEG-2 videos playing from a computer. Also included were an FSR compass switcher, a Dataton Show Control system, two Christie L8 projectors (one on the downstage curtain and one on the upstage curtain/scrim), and two Barco 6300s (one plus a backup) that project on the sheet.
The Dataton system controls the Christies (including scrollers), the Barcos, the cues for the Scala system, and the FSR switcher. Scala is the primary video playback controller for the projectors. Two video clips are played back from the MPEG-2 playback card in the Scala computer, which also provides the audio for these clips. The Scharff Weisberg Media Resource Center did the MPEG encoding for the clips.
“In the San Diego production, they used PowerPoint to provide audio and graphics. The producers and the designer wanted to upgrade their reliability for both elements in the New York production, so we chose a separate Dataton show control system and Scala. Dataton triggers the graphics at the same time as it sends a MIDI note cue to the audio department's samplers. The end result was better control and flexibility,” added Holbrook.
“The programming on this show was really a team effort. Lars Pedersen preprogrammed the Dataton and Scala in our shop. Jan Hartley, the designer, and Paul Vershbow programmed on-site. Tom Whipple was the video engineer, who optimized the projections and the hi-res FSR switcher for graphics, live camera, and video playback,” concluded Holbrook.