Projecting into the future

by Eva McEnrue

Audiences of the UK Opera Theatre’s production of the American classic “Porgy and Bess” will be the first to see what might be the future of theatrical stage design. A new scenic projection technology developed by the UK Center for Visualization and Virtual Environments (Vis Center) will make its debut in a theatrical setting.

“The technology used in our production and ‘Porgy and Bess’ will revolutionize the theatre and answer a major question in theatre: How to produce Grand Opera in theatres not equipped with a fly system of off-stage wing space,”Director of UK Opera Theatre Everett McCorvey said.

The technology, named SCRIBE (self-contained rapidly integratable background environment) by the Vis Center, utilizes a software system that blends multiple projections into one image that will be projected from behind onto two screens, which will include still images and video related to the various scenes in the production.

This new rear projection system creates large projections using a minimal amount of stage space, avoiding the problems front and rear projected backdrops caused for set design and performers. Normal front projectors can cast shadows and images onto the performers, and normal rear projectors require projectors to be placed far distances behind the screens to create a large enough image of scenery, which can limit stage space.

“This is groundbreaking scenic technology for theatre,” McCorvey said. “The possibilities for scenic elements using the technology are limitless. Using scenic content like this is just the first of many ways that scenic technology may be used in opera, theatre and many other parts of the performing arts industry.”

The Vis Center’s new innovative high-definition projection technology will depict images of real locations in Charleston, S.C. and the islands off the coast of North Carolina that were taken and edited by the Vis Center team, led by set designer Richard Kagey. Actual hurricane footage from The Weather Channel will be used as well.

The technology was originally developed at the Vis Center through a partnership with Fort Knox. Its initial application was to build rapidly deployable, high-resolution screens to be used in training or battle by military.

The project grew from a multi-disciplinary research collaboration between McCorvey and Brent Seales, director or the Vis Center.

“We plan to see more of these types of real applications of our technology continue to take place as we work with other researchers across the university in the future,” Seales said. “The possibilities are amazing if you consider what research can do when people step outside of their regular environments to interact with those with a distinctly different background.”

SCRIBE will be used for the first time in a theatrical setting for the UK production, and then will travel to The Atlanta Opera for performances of the opera, the first professional opera company to use the technology.

“After the Atlanta production is complete, UK Opera and the Vis Center plan to license the technology to a company that will be formed to allow opera companies around the world to use the technology,” McCorvey said.