The Real Show is Backstage

On Friday I got the opportunity to film and document backstage during Pomegranate Jam. I was really excited to see how the shadow ballet is performed to produce the amazing show of shadows and light the audience sees.

The curtain onto which the shadows are cast during Pomegranate Jam is right at the front of the stage, so all the performers have the full stage that they would’ve had if it wasn’t a shadow performance, but all of their movements are completely altered. The closer to the light source or the back of the stage, the more mammoth the actors figures’s become, the closer the actors are to the curtain, the more life-size the figures.

All of the puppetry was done with small puppets right up against the curtain and all of the dance sequences with the actors was also performed in the restricted space right at the front of the stage. The only times the actors were towards the light projector and the back of the stage was to produce specific moments of grandeur.

All of the scenery is projected onto the curtain with a classroom overhead projector. The colorful gels/sheets and dark roots that make up the different scenes are all backwards to the tech member controlling the scene. She has to reach around carefully to push up the flowers of spring towards her so that her arms and body don’t cast an unwanted shadow.

Tricks that seem difficult to fathom from the audience become simple as you see that a bowl of water spun over the projector creates the eerie scenery for one of the climatic scenes of the show. Actors can also disappear by lying down flat on the stage so that they no longer cast a shadow on the screen/curtain.

Being backstage for Pomegranate reminded me of being on stage during orchestra performances and thinking that it’s infinitely more interesting seeing the conductor’s face rather than their non-expressive backs. I think many audience members would be shocked to see the facial expressions that help produce beautiful music. Far fewer people would ask what it is a conductor “does” if they could see from the performers’s side of the stage.

Performing in Pomegranate Jam means not knowing what the show looks like from the audience. This is true of any production, but there is something about producing shadows with the actions on stage rather than just acting on stage that adds an element of mystery to the performers and for the performers. During the tech day for the show, while trying to figure out all of the technical issues and transitioning between cues, people kept running out in front of the curtain to see what they were doing actually looked like from the audience, to ensure that what they were doing translated well to the audience to tell the story.

Every person that helps produce the show of Pomegranate Jam knows exactly where they need to be at every moment to not miss any of their cues and to also not be in anyone else’s way. The show is a shadow ballet performed for the audience, but there is also a kind of dance happening backstage to produce the show.

I enjoyed watching Pomegranate Jam from the audience, but if I had a choice, I would much rather be backstage to see how the show comes together.

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