The closure of theatres and other venues due to COVID-19 has resulted in catastrophic loss of income for performance companies and artists. Spare a thought though for those behind the scenes, who work to make a production sing.
QUT Creative Industries BFA Lecturer in Technical Production, Tessa Rixon said the social distancing laws presented a real challenge to her students, one which they overcame by turning to ‘virtual productions’ of five plays including Romeo and Juliet.
“When productions across the state are cancelled, from Queensland Theatre’s Triple X to the Brisbane Comedy Festival to Gordon Frost’s Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, or postponed until 2021 in the case of Queensland Ballet, it impacts hundreds of Production specialists,” said Ms Rixon.
“QUT BFA Technical Production graduates work across a range of performance forms - theatre, dance, opera, festivals, music, corporate events - as technical directors, stage managers, production coordinators, designers (including set, costume, lighting, sound, vision), technologists and operators, producers, tour managers, and more.
“As part of their journey, our students also usually have the benefit of working with industry partners and collaborators to get hands-on experience; at places like Queensland Theatre, Queensland Ballet, La Boite, Brisbane Powerhouse, QPAC and almost every arts festival that occurs on Brisbane’s normally rich cultural calendar, as well as multiple interstate companies.
“As for almost every sector of the arts, and many other industries, COVID-19 changed everything in 2020.
“However, the show went on. When live performances were put on hold during Semester 1, our second and third-year students teamed up with industry experts, designers, directors, and partner companies in a new collaborative process nicknamed the Virtual Production (VP) Projects.”
Ms Rixon said the VP Projects included five theatrical performances – William Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, a new adaption of Keri Hulme’s Booker Prize winning novel The Bone People, Michael Gurr’s Crazy Brave, Louis Nowra’s Summer of the Aliens, and Andrew Bovell’s Speaking in Tongues.
“These theatrical productions were developed over two months to the point of virtual design presentations,” said Ms Rixon.
“Constrained by real-world budgets, venues and production schedules, young student designers and stage managers were guided by a team of expert lighting, vision, sound, set, props, management and curatorial mentors.
“Weekly production meetings, rehearsals and mentor sessions were held over Zoom. We used 3D modelling to recreate QUT’s Gardens Theatre and its classic proscenium arch to serve as the virtual space for the production.
“Working with computer-aided design programs, lighting visualization software, video and sound editing software, and costume and props digital render tools, the students combined both traditional analogue techniques with digital design processes.”
One such student was Michelle Hair, costume designer for Romeo and Juliet. She found virtual collaboration rather than face-to-face a challenge, along with the fact the production would not be performed live.
“At times, it was very easy to feel like I was working alone on the project but we collaborated over Zoom and used the social media platform MeWe to keep communication quick, easy, and accessible,” said Michelle.
“It was also sometimes hard to keep motivated during the project knowing that it would never be a real production - as our pre-pandemic assessment would have been. I instead tried to really focus on building my skills (sketching, digital art, and sewing) and developing a good portfolio I could take forward with me whether the designs came to life or not.”
Drawn to the timeless themes of Romeo and Juliet, Michelle’s inspiration for costumes came from modern-day op shop fashion, creating what she calls an eclectic, mishmash of styles.
“With a black ink pen, I traced my designs for each character so a scanner would recognise the line work to digitise the sketches. I was able to play with colour and texture within Adobe Photoshop to add realistic fabric to the pieces, which completed the designs,” she said.
“The purple lace dress was created as a physical recreation of my design for Juliet's wedding dress. I decided to construct it from scratch to solidify my aesthetic concepts and realise a part of the design knowing that the rest of the costumes would remain on paper/digital.”
Ms Rixon said that as well as creating the designs for the five works, students were assessed on their ability to produce documentation, plans, budgets, schedules and digital content that would usually be required in a normal theatrical production process.
“Process was privileged over product, and the students were encouraged to experiment and explore in this unique hypothetical scenario. It was very gratifying to show we could maintain their studies at a high level through an online learning environment,” she said.
Find out more via a video on the BFA Technical Production virtual production 2020 projects
Caption, main image: design by Kensington Fielder for ‘The Bone People’
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Creative Industries Faculty
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