Two local companies collaborate with new projection technology and cue system to strengthen theater’s community and educational leadership
Artisan Center Theater in Hurst, Texas, isn’t just focused on theater. The 16-year-old production house is committed to building a stronger, more active arts community. Originally only opened three nights a week, now visitors can catch their favorite plays and musicals being performed on two stages, six nights a week. That kind of dedication and volume is due in large part to Artisan’s co-founder and executive producer, Richard Blair, who is always looking for ways to involve the audience and community by getting them interested in all aspects of theater production. It’s a mission that’s evident in the organization’s roster of acting, musical, dance, producing, and design classes that are offered throughout the year.
Artisan’s other focus is ensuring that theater stays relevant in the digital age as well as being an educational leader when it comes to theater technology. For the past decade, Artisan has been using projectors to change the traditional way of creating scenes and other story details. Rather than using painted sets and backgrounds — that are not only expensive and time consuming to create but also limit the theater to one static image that must be used throughout the show. Artisan relies on projection technology to design stills and video images as the backdrop and centerpieces that they can change throughout the performance. These play on the four walls of the performance space, immersing audience members in the show. Background images and other storyline details are rendered digitally by a production designer in a matter of hours rather than days. In a tightly scheduled six show season on the mainstage, that time savings allows the company to focus resources on other pressing production aspects that might otherwise get short changed.
After 10 years, the time had come to update its aging projectors, but finding one that would address the theater’s unique specifications wasn’t going to be easy. That’s because the theater isn’t a traditional shape. Instead of square, it’s a rectangle, which would require more advanced projectors with edge blending capabilities to make the image look as if it was one continuous display wrapped around the four walls. Determining the right projection solution was an involved learning experience, as Blair and his production team setup a number of models in the theater for a “shootout” to compare their performance. After a rigorous search, the organization eventually chose BenQ’s MW632ST 3,200-lumen, WXGA short-throw projector. The feature rich model serves the company’s very specific needs but also had a slew of features that Artisan initially lacked the expertise to leverage.
As luck would have it, BenQ America’s headquarters is located in Plano, and their newly minted Digital Marketing Manager, Carly Burton-Sallay, happens to be a patron of Artisan Theater Center. During a performance in the fall of 2018, Burton-Sallay was curious about what projectors the theater was using, as she was about to join the team at BenQ. When she noticed that Artisan was using BenQ projectors, she reached out to Blair and asked if the theater needed any tech support.
Artisan invited BenQ’s technical staff out to help fully calibrate the MW632ST projectors, and dive deeper into what the projectors could do to further enhance production value. The projectors are integrated with QLab, Artisan’s new all-in-one audio, video, and lighting control software. For 10 years, Blair had wanted this platform as the backbone for their cues, and for good reason: it’s the same system used on several Tony-award-winning Broadway plays. It enables Artisan’s technical team to control lighting, sound, and crop and change the video on all six of the new projectors as needed at the press of a button.
But the show doesn’t end there, this technology has also amped up Artisan’s community aspect and theatrical leadership. Artisan is one of the first community theaters in Texas to use the QLab design tool in concert with high-quality projection. As a community-based theater that pulls talent from all the area schools, the new capabilities open another area where Artisan can get community interested, educated, and engaged in theater production. The organization has also become a resource for other theaters and schools in the area exploring new technologies to enhance their own productions.Submitted by Carly Burton Sallay. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org