Editor's note: In discussing Grey Gardens, Wendall K. Harrington lamented the lack of video black, noting that at certain critical moments in the show, she could not use projections, as they could not fade to a blackout with the lighting cues. She offers the following comments and a challenge.
It is out of the darkness that we begin our plays. Darkness allows people and scenery to move unseen and to be revealed; magic can happen. In darkness, the audience leaves a world behind to join the world of the play. We all agree that darkness is important.
So, why is it that we cannot solve the horror of the dreaded video black? How can we take these projectors into the theatre? They are like a handsome dog that needs a muzzle. Okay, I admit that this is not as terrifying as the sound of a couple of PIGIs on the rail, but dealing with the video black on Grey Gardens made me wonder why something this critical isn't being figured out.
Basically, even when no image is being projected, as long as there is power to the lamp, there is light emitting out of the lens. That light is all over the stage, and it's bright. The shiny walls of Grey Gardens — though an exciting surface when we wanted pictures on them — exacerbated the problem. Shutters are the usual solution, but you can always see the shutter coming in. Think of a singer in a projected atmosphere, the image fading softly at the end of a song, everything carefully calibrated to vanish with the final note, and then, a visual wallop, when the guillotine comes down to hold back the light coming out of the projector. It makes me want to scream. It ruins everything.
So you find ways to fade out in the light, or, in the case of Grey Gardens, “musicalize” the shutter cues. We could not use projections at the end of either act. How do you think that makes me feel, not being able to be a part of important moments in the play because my own tool cripples me? Using video projectors now means having to research and then acquire a separate device that requires its own complex software that must be programmed and rehearsed. Doesn't anyone else find that crazy? Can we find some way to dim the lamp or create an iris that is in the picture plane so the coming darkness is invisible?
Geniuses, start your engines.