Creators: Daniel Fine and Paul Kalina
Director: Daniel Fine
Assistant Director: Sarah Lacy Hamilton
Scenic Design: Courtney Gaston
Costume Design: Chelsea June
Lighting Design: Courtney Gaston
Budget for this Design Area
Comments by the Designer
Media Clown is a continuing exploration into the question of how digital media interacts with an analog world and what that means for both the performer and the audience. Using the style of classic clowning, inspire by performers like Buster Keaton, our character finds himself stuck in the digital world of his iPad after attempting to use technology he does not understand. What follows is a journey towards understanding and acceptance.
We used motion capture suits, tracking camera systems, live content creation, moving lights, and a high-powered media server to allow our clown to interact with the digital world in a way that has never been used in live performance. Over the course of two semesters, our team at the University of Iowa devised, rehearsed, and designed Media Clown while researching materials and systems to use to achieve our goal of true interaction between performer and technology. During weekly video meetings with our collaborators at the Backstage Academy in Wakefield, England we would provide updates on developments made during our rehearsals and they would relay logistical information on execution.
When I began exploring the scenic design for Media Clown, there were several questions that I was trying to answer. The team knew that we wanted the clown to enter the digital world, but what did that look like? The digital world needed to be unfamiliar to the clown, but something that the audience understood. It also needed to tie into the story. As we had decided that the clown would become stuck inside a technological object, I pushed forward with the concept that the digital world is framed by the iPad that he has been using. I designed a large frame with rounded edges that had pepper scrim stretched inside of it. This particular scrim was useful in that it has a screen-like sheen to it, but it becomes invisible when objects are lit behind it. This screen remained inactive until the digital world begins to invade the world of the clown.
One of the biggest challenges was avoiding the scrim or “screen” of the iPad. When light hit the scrim, it would wash out the projection that comprised our digital world. I needed to isolate the clown without interfering with the images in front and behind him. This led us to the use of location tracking software, BlackTrax, that fed x,y coordinate data into my console and allowed me to use moving lights as operator-less spotlights. This allowed me to dynamically light the clown without washing light across the scrim.
The next challenge that I faced was unifying the lighting with the digital world. In order for the clown to really look as if he has stepped into the digital world, he must match it in style and form. As the projections were for the screen and not for the actor, they did not produce light with which to see him. I needed to think about what kind of light this world would generate and model my design after that. The Particle Scene was the clearest example of this. As the clown discovers and plays with light particles within the world, they move and change color. Directionality and color became the elements that would really connect the clown with the action. As the light source, or particle, moved, so must the true source of the light. Using intelligent fixtures from both sides and above the stage, I was able to follow the source and change colors with it from red to green to blue. This resulted in a beautiful dance of light.
The final challenge that I faced involved myself and the costume designer, Chelsea June. We needed to answer the question of what the clown would bring back from his adventure. How were we going to acknowledge and represent his own transformation? We knew that the clown begins with no knowledge of the digital world. As he navigates the within the screen, his understanding of the digital changes. By physically changing his appearance, we illustrate the evolution of the character. We chose to do this with a light up jacket. It represents the clown embracing the possibilities of this new digital world. As he exits the screen, the clown questions whether these events have really occurred or not. The reemergence of the light up jacket gives the audience the hint that the clown has grown, and he exits the stage with more than he entered.
This jacket became one of our key research points. With a project budget of $500, we experimented with three light sources: EL wire, LED tape, and laser wire. Each had different power and control requirements. We ultimately chose LED tape with red, green, and blue color capabilities as it was the most straightforward and affordable approach that could be operated off of a pack of eight AA batteries. I then wired these lights into a wireless DMX controller that allowed me to have control of the jacket from my console. This way, I could decide when and how the jacket lit up. This presented many challenges as inserting this many lights into clothing while making it both hidden and accessible was bulky and cumbersome. After much time and soldering, we had a jacket that illuminated front and back.
Through research grant funding our team was able to travel to the UK to collaborate with students from the Backstage Academy in May of 2019. We teched our show there over the course of three weeks, loaded it onto a truck, and met our equipment in Prague to have our first public performance at the Prague Quadrennial. We were invited as part of the emerging artists showcase at this internationally renowned festival and succeeded with a four-performance run over two days, near the end of the festival. This gave us about two weeks of rehearsal time and the opportunity to explore the historic city before our fast-paced, overnight load-in at our venue, the Divadlo X10. With less than 24 hours before our first performance, we made extensive plans in order to accomplish everything in the small amount of time we had available. After two evenings of performances, we disassembled our production and packed up to head back to the United States.
This research project continues to develop, and we hope to advance our story and techniques further over the next few years. One of my deeper interests lies in the development of more complex and streamlined lighted costuming. Pixel-mapping is of particular intrigue. With this technology, we could create pictures, patterns, or words with the lights hidden within the clothing. There are many avenues to explore including alternative technologies and story development.
Copyright 2020 Courtney Gaston