In the first two months of 2019, Green Valley High School, Performing Arts Department in Nevada, piloted Broadway Media’s Scenic Projections for Roald Dahl’s Matilda The Musical by Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin. Led by award-winning educational drama director, Jennifer Hemme, the production incorporated projections using mapping and physical elements on-stage and a projected proscenium to create a fully immersive, animated show – a tremendous technological leap in the world of high school theatre that truly demonstrates the versatility of our digital scenery. On a personal note, the team at Broadway Media have proudly worked with Jennifer on numerous projects as a part of our renowned pilot process, bringing her invaluable dramaturgical and artistic expertise to refine our scenery before it becomes widely available.
A year later, we sat down with Jennifer to reflect on the production and get some insight into her artistic and planning process for utilizing digital scenery, a process – as a digital scenery convert – she employs now for almost every show.
Lawrence Haynes (Marketing Manager): Hi, Jen! Thank you for taking the time to chat with me and reflect on Matilda The Musical. You’ve paved the way for many schools to integrate digital scenery, and you’re obviously very well-versed in the integration process. Can you share your experience and decision-making process with our readers who may be thinking about using projections for the first time?
Jennifer Hemme (Drama Director, Green Valley High): Hi, Lawrence – it’s my pleasure! First, I always think that projections are best utilized along with practical (or conventional) scenery elements for a show – although you can simply use projections alone. Being in educational theatre, my job is to bring as many students – and as many fields of study related to theatre – as possible, into any production. I always look for opportunities for my technical theatre class to construct something that can serve multiple purposes for a show, as can be seen in the books in Matilda. Once i’ve reviewed the artwork and devised physical elements, I decide what, and how many, specific projectors I should use to cover the surfaces, taking into consideration brightness, distance and the limitations of the space. I’ve often used a single projector, but for Matilda, we wanted to utilize projection mapping techniques, so I used multiple projectors. I’m glad to have a team on-hand (I've also done a lot of it myself) to make it happen.
Lawrence: Did projections help with any scenery challenges in the script for Matilda?
Jennifer: Matilda includes quite a number of scenes and settings – the school, Miss Honey’s house, wormwood motors (to name a few) – and they move between them quite rapidly. That, alone, is a challenge for conventional scenery and can quickly become overwhelming on the budget and time. Being able to have those settings at hand and quickly move through them is a real lifesaver. I haven’t even mentioned the acrobat sequences and, for most, it’s simply not achievable without projections. They’re so intrinsic to who Matilda is (and the show), having animated projections for those moments was wonderful.
Once you add those physical elements like the hospital gurney, some school and home furniture, you can create a scene with visual depth and give the actors items to interact with – it ties everything together.
Lawrence: Did you have to adapt any of your initial vision for the show to account for the projections?
Jennifer: No, not really. It’s a matter of planning and carefully reviewing the materials beforehand. It will deeply influence your vision for the show once you’ve reviewed the projections. The projections of the story coming alive as illustrations was truly magical.
Lawrence: The experience is obviously different from using physical backdrops. Is there any advice you would give to other theaters who have not used Scenic Projections before?
Jennifer: Yes, absolutely. Projections can be much more interactive than you think. Plan ahead, if it’s your first time to rent, it will take a little longer than you might think just to work out some of the kinks... and definitely spring for the ultrashort throw lens! It takes a lot of worry away with avoiding shadows, and gives you so much more flexibility for staging.
Nonetheless, I would absolutely recommend projections. It’s game changing!
Lawrence: Okay, time for the big, scary question. What was your experience working with the team at Broadway Media?
Jennifer: BMD is so accommodating and flexible to work with! I could not ask for a better partner in my production team!
Lawrence: Phew – that’s a relief! Fun question: What was your favorite moment from the show?
Jennifer: The page turning with the actors coming out of the projection! The end of the show when the projections turn the page to “The End”. Ugh it was exactly how I envisioned it!
Lawrence: I love it. Thank you so much for sharing your experience with everyone! Last quick question – what was it like for your production team to work with projections?
Jennifer: It would have been super easy if I had chosen to use them on a full stage cyclorama, like I often do, but adding the various surfaces and masking areas made for a great challenge, but the result was well worth it!
Jennifer Hemme leads the Green Valley High School Theater program.
The Purpose of the Green Valley Theatre Department will be to provide the environment and the opportunity to pursue individual and collective goals in the study, understanding, and development of skills in Theatre, Musical Theatre, Technical Theatre and Film Studies. In addition, to assist students in developing a love for the arts as well as to prepare students for a post-secondary education, or careers in theatre or film if desired.
Photos by Myron Martin (2019).