Dimensional Documenting

Theater is three-dimensional.

An obvious statement, yes, but I didn’t realize how three-dimensional until I was behind the camera documenting CalArts’s productions. The camera immediately transforms the live three-dimensional performance into a two-dimentional representation of the performance.

Actors move their bodies around the entire stage and project their voices out to the audience. The performance through the display on the screen on the camera is flattened. Glancing between the screen and the stage it’s apparent how much the representations that we’re creating for the archive is just that, representations. Performing Arts like theater and music and dance don’t happen in mediums that can be stored for perpetuity. Recordings, photographs, manuscripts, etc are not the mediums of performing arts, but these are the mediums that libraries, archives, and museums are able to house.

Video recordings seem to come the closest to seeing a performance live. We had four days of documenting at Venue 13, the dress rehearsal and three performance days. The shows have not remained the same over the small time that we have captured and the shows will continue to change after we’ve left. The changes come from technical issues being worked out, to actors being more familiar with the space, to how much an audience laughs at a joke, and many other reasons that add up to each recording we collected being it’s own individual document. There are four recordings of each of the shows, but they are in no way identical and no recording is any moreĀ truly representative of the performance, of the piece. Each recording is an individual documentation of an individual performance while also being one instance of a show. They are connected and related, but not identical.

Yellow Fever, Kaspar, and Victims of Influence are all flattened, but it is easy to imagine the depth that exists when you are sitting in the audience of the live stage. Yellow Fever and Victims of Influence have the action of the shows fully on the main stage and within the world of the stage which was easy to set up a camera to document. As long as the entire stage is in the frame the show is being captured.

Kaspar mostly happens on the stage, but there are many entrances from the back of the house (audience) and then along the side up to the stage. For one performance we tired to set up a camera to capture the actors’s entrances as well as the main stage, but the video is basically just black as there are no lights on them when they enter. In a live viewing the minimal light from the stage allows you to see them, but cameras are not human eyes and do not have good night vision, even if cameras are getting better at capturing images in low light.

Things from Before has a beautiful set. There are picture frames of various sizes hung at different heights all along the edge of the stage. It looks stunning live to see the actors within the room that is the stage and then looking through the picture frames out to the audience to deliver lines or to look out into the yard of the house. As beautiful as it is though, it suffers from the flattening effect of the camera. The actors and picture frames interacting in the video don’t have the same depth that you can see live.

There is only one show that is exempt from the strange flattening out through the camera, Pomegranate Jam. Pomegranate Jam is a shadow ballet and therefore the normally three-dimensional aspect of theater is already switched to two-dimensions for the live audience. The shadows are cast by puppets and actors themselves onto the screen that lies in between the stage and the audience.

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