Technology has made a huge impact on our society. Some have questioned, how it has affected technical theatre? There are many unique roles that perform different jobs in technical theatre. Many questions arise when it comes to technical theatre, such as “how does this work”, “how can someone light the stage” or “how is it possible to move set pieces around the stage without someone pushing it?” Technology has enhanced how we see theatre today. Lighting, sound and set design work together each in their own unique way to tell a story to a captive audience.
There are many different definitions for theatre. The definition of theatre as a building is a place in which a play is performed. If you look at the Greek term it means “the seeing place”. In literature, the meaning of theatre is a form of art, which involves a stage, actors and the portrayal of a story. It consists of actors telling a story to the audiences which can be told through monologues and dialogues. Anthropologist studies show that theatre originated between 550-220 BC in Ancient Greece through rituals and myths. In rituals and myths, it is said that society became aware that supernatural forces controlled their food supply. They performed rituals in order to please the gods that provided their food supply. Some of the performers wore costumes and masks to represent the supernatural/ mythical creatures in a celebration. Throughout the centuries, theatre continued to evolve in the Roman era, Middle Ages, France and British until now.
Technical theatre helps keep the show going. There are many positions that help produce a show, each positions controls a certain area that either is seen in the show or makes an object move. The most basic ones are scenic designer, lighting designer, costume designer, graphic designer and master carpenter/technical director. Each one of these positions create the color, ambitions and the experience for the dialogue that is being performed on stage. The three designers that probably use the most technology in the technical theatre world are the lighting, sound and master carpenter/ technical director designers. These three designers are the most important part of a show. Their influence fills the stage that helps tell the story. Without these designers the show would be empty of lighting, sound and sets.
The earliest form of lighting design was in 532 BC in ancient Greece. Many theatres used natural artificial daylight for their performances. Many of them would build their theatres east to west and had no roof in order to light the actors on stage. Throughout the century’s advanced Lighting methods were created such as, candlelight, the use of chandeliers and candle sconces and gas lighting which started in the early 1800’s. The theatre began to grow and develop with special lighting effects, and sound (mics or music). As theatre began to evolve, new technology in lighting began to take effect. Lighting instruments, such as Source Four ERS (shown in the photo on the left), which was used in most theatres and allows more light through the lens at a lower wattage. Different lighting fixtures can produce different colors for different kinds of performances. Different lighting fixtures are known to give off a particular ambitions/ feeling for whatever scene is being performed. Each color that is put on the stage can represent an emotion and gives the audience the idea on what emotion is being performed on stage. All of this technological lighting is controlled through a lighting board. The board gives the ability to shut off lights, move them in a specific direction or program different lighting set transitions, so all someone needs to do is hit a button and a new pattern of lights that were programmed would appear on stage. This makes it easy for the designer and operator, because the designer programs the colors he wants and the operator hits the button during the performance to put them the stage. I talked with former Lighting Designer Doug Macur at Wilkes University, to get his input on technology’s involvement with theatre.
“In regards to theatrical lighting design technology has, in the past 20 years, become so intricately incorporated into the workflow of the designer that to go without it in at least some small form is very rare. As a theatrical lighting designer I utilize technology not only in my designs on stage but also in the creative process necessary to create those designs. As an example the computer aided drafting software that I use to generate the physical blueprints needed to explain what I want done to the technicians is a modern advancement in design technology. It allows me to draw complex documents at speeds that are an order or magnitude faster than the old way of drawing it all by hand with pencil and paper. The lighting design itself is rife with the technological advancements of recent years. LED based moving lights are wonders of engineering and are able to create colors at levels of intensity that would have been absolutely unheard of 20 Years ago. While it is still possible to perform the duties of a theatrical lighting designer without the modern technological advancements that we enjoy today it is a time consuming and inefficient process.”
My final question regarding lighting design, that I asked him was, “What are your thoughts on the future of technology’s involvement in theatre/lighting & sound design.”
“I don’t believe that much of technological advancement will ever slow down or stop. In fact I believe firmly in the idea that technology increases at an ever increasing exponential rate. The more advancements we make the faster and easier it becomes to make more advancements. I believe that we will continue to see things growing and becoming simultaneously more effective and complex as time passes. I fully expect that a large portion of the world of design will go virtual in my lifetime. One of the things that slows the design process down right now is that the designer cannot truly work in the physical space in which they are designing until they are actually installing their design in the theatre. I believe, and hope, that in my lifetime virtual reality simulations will get to the point where I will be able to enter a virtual model of the theatre that I will be working in and use it as a tool to complete my design work before I even set foot into the theatre in the real world.”
The sound’s main purpose is to evoke emotions, reflect moods, and create an atmosphere in order to understand the emotion that is being introduced. Without technology involvement things such as special sound effects, mics or even different sound levels that come through the speakers all at once would be impossible. In the 1890’s it is said that the first recorded sound used in a play was of a ‘baby’s cry’ in a London production of Stephen Phillips’ tragedy NERO. In the 1980’s MIDI and digital audio technology contributed to the evolution of sound.Production techniques, which allowed computerized theatre sound effects in certain productions. Doug Macur expresses his opinion on the nature of sound design in theatre.
“I feel that sound design in theatre is of paramount importance when it comes to the construction of a believable and consistent world on stage. Sound support, when well executed, helps tremendously to create the world in which the play lives. Be it a full soundscape that plays throughout the entirety of the show or just some well-placed sound cues the sound design of a given show grounds the show in reality for the viewer. In real life everything makes sound, we are never truly without sound, therefore when trying to imitate or represent a real or imagined world having sound really sells the authenticity of the world. “
Another sound designer, Victoria Deiorio says, “Sound design focuses on the emotional journey of the play. My job is to understand how the director would like the audience to feel at every moment,” and that “some of the best moments of her career came when an actor said they couldn’t get a feel for the scene or monologue until they heard the music playing underneath them.” In today’s theatre every actor must wear a mic on stage; by raising their volume the audience can hear their voice from miles away. Some sound designers say it’s hard to find a balance when finding the right spot to put a mic on an actor in order to get the perfect amount of sound. Deiorio said in one of her interviews that, “She had to find a delicate balance between the actors and the band, which typically wasn’t there during tech week. This meant moving mics around from the hairline to the forehead to hear actors better. What seems like a small movement in position made a huge difference to the amount of level we could get from the mics,” she writes. “It didn’t look great, but if we had used booms then they would have been very visible, as well. Sound can produce any sound, such as a car horn, dog bark, and war zone. It can give any sound that is programmed into the system. The sound system controls the mic and the sound effects that come out of the speakers and mic.” If the goal of theatre is to immerse audiences in the message, then improvements to sound technology and mics can only improve the experience.By improving and making advancements in sound will brighten up the audience ears and allow their imagination guide the story on stage
The Technical Director builds the whole set, and the various things he uses to build that set involves technology. The Set Designer (The Technical Director) builds the home away from home on the big stage. In order to build a set, you must have the power tools and the equipment to build it. Technology influences started off with a graphing computer that makes it easier to build the set on paper rather than taking the time to draw it on paper which can take longer. Technology is also in the tools that build the set, like screw guns, the saw and router etc. These instruments help save time in putting the set together. In an interview with Set Designer Tom Rupp who currently works for Wilkes University theatre department. The first main important question I asked him was, “What is your opinion about technology’s influence in theatre”, he responded by saying that “It is huge! I have been around for a while now, and ran lighting boards with old rheostat dimmers. There could be eight people running the board because of all the levers. Old slide projector, shows, no wireless mics and CNC router. I am constantly amazed at how far we’ve come.” My next question, I inquired on was the impact technology has in the various tasks that a set builder/ technical director does. In other words the various machines and equipment are a huge part of a set builder’s job, because they are what put the set pieces together. The last question I asked him was “How do you think technology will continue to shape theatre in the future. He responded by saying “With computerized motion, motorized counter weight system, large format digital drops, and holograms will take away many jobs that craftspeople and artisans now do. The scenic artist is a dying Art form, machines and 3D printers will be building scenery and props, designers are photoshopping rather than doing renderings in watercolor. I am saddened that these very tactile aspects of the art form are fading away, but it is a way for institutions to save money by reducing the staff.”
Though technology continues to benefit the theatre with new sound, lights and set equipment that allows the actors to perform crazy action on the stage, there is a downside to these new advancements. In 2010 in the Musical Spider-Man a harness snapped during the performance causing the actor to fall 30 ft. down into a pit. Whether the technologies give off an amazing theatre experience some of the technologies involves can be very dangerous for actors on stage. January 8, 2005 in the Broadway musical of Wicked, Jordyn Williams is a junior double major in English and Theatre arts at Wilkes University. She has been involved in theatre since the age of six, and has engaged in technical theatre and on the stage. The goal was to shed light on three designers that impact the theatre dimension and how their technology creates the magic that comes to life on stage. After college she wishes to pursue a career as an actor and as a lighting designer. fell through a trapdoor during the performances where she melts on stage. Another wicked incident was “Elphaba was supposed to “fly.” the illusion of flying is done by placing the actress on a cherry picker that lifts her up several feet into the air. The cherry picker didn’t rise, so the ensemble had to compensate by lying down on the ground and pointing to a still-on-the-ground Elphaba to convey the illusion that she was supposed to be flying. (The Richest). Another incident was when the chandelier in the ‘Phantom of the Opera’ refused to rise from the stage, which had the show stay in the intermission session 10x longer. The Aladdin Spectacular show at Disney, the magic carpet that flies two actors around the audience during their “a whole new world’ piece, the rug either malfunctions and starts to tilt or shuts off during the performance. Though, technologies influence on the stage creates a dramatic performance for the audience, it is still dangerous. Flying machines are probably the most dangerous equipment on Broadway, because they are known for breaking down or malfunctioning during the performance. An actor should always be careful when performing in a show that involves machines flying anyone or moving anything. In the future, companies who rent out their equipment need better procedures or advancement in their machinery in order to better protect and prevent injury or death on stage. Based on the horrific events trust issue between an actor and technology still arise today.
Advancements in lighting, sound design and stagecraft have improved the stage for the better. As we can see, theatre today would not be the same without the advances in technology.It’s used in theatre productions every day and enhances the experience for the audience. Lighting Design helps produce different colors by different instruments and boards in order to see the actors on stage Sound design allows different sizes of audiences to hear what the actors are saying, it also provides different sounds effects that can connect to a different scene. Without the use of power tools or graphing computers it would be hard to create a set for a theatre production. Technology gives the audience a magical experience in the world of theatre.
Jordyn Williams is a junior double major in English and Theatre arts at Wilkes University. She has been involved in theatre since the age of six, and has engaged in technical theatre and on the stage. The goal was to shed light on three designers that impact the theatre dimension and how their technology creates the magic that comes to life on stage. After college she wishes to pursue a career as an actor and as a lighting designer.