Christopher Kurtz has worked on four productions with video designer Sven Ortel: The Woman in White, Faith Healer, The Little Mermaid and Wonderland. He also served as head electrician on In the Heights, and worked on such Broadway shows as High Fidelity, Frost Nixon, and Billy Elliot. He will participate in the Broadway Projection Master Classes on Monday, May 23 at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts, on a panel about video design and technology led by Ortel. Live Design chats with Kurtz:
How did you get involved in the projection end of the biz?
My background is mostly as an electrician/light board op. Aside from a small video package I worked with while on tour with the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theatre, I really didn't have a video background. This turned out to be exactly what the video team of The Woman in White was looking for. They needed someone they could train an entirely different system to and having someone who arrived with no pre-conceptions on video was necessary. The Mesmerist System was a unique set up.
What is the most technically challenging project you have worked on? And why?
I would have to say The Woman in White. Not only was it my first major video project, but it was easily the most stressful show I have ever been a part of. The Mesmerist system worked very well. It's ability to move video through in 3D space was amazing. The issue was that the video didn't actually track automation as much as it was fired by it. That meant if there was ever an automation issue I had to be ready to blackout because the clips simply played. If automation stopped the clip would play off the scenery. The entire set was flat grey and all of the scenic elements in the production were projected. Every scene change was stressful. Of course, that doesn't even include the added bonus of the bouncing cove position at the Marriott Marquis.
Please talk a little about working on Wonderland with Sven...
Wonderland is my fourth production working with Sven. Each production has introduced me to new technology and a deeper understanding of the process. On Wonderland, unlike The Woman in White and The Little Mermaid, which were strictly projection, we have the additional elements of a PIX LED wall, iColor Flex LED panels, and Hypnotica all working together. All of that is being driven by Pandoras Box. With the help of Michael Kohler and TJ Donoghue from Scharff Weisberg, I have gained a pretty good understanding of the system and it's respective parts.
Of course the more elements there are, the more things that can go afoul. Wonderland is fairly low stress. The system has had its hiccups but most of those are easily sorted out in checkout. During production of Wonderland, as has been true on our past projects, Sven has been very generous in helping me understand the process. He has shown a high level of trust in me and I appreciate that. I look forward to working on many more productions with Sven and his team of Katy Tucker and Lucy MacKinnon as well as the video programmers I have had the pleasure to work with, Ian Galloway (The Woman in White), Peter Vincent Acken (The Little Mermaid and Wonderland [Tampa], and Cory Fitzgerald (Wonderland NYC).