The New Testament (Not!): Will Technology Transform the Stage Bible or Musicals?

By Hedli, Laura | American Theatre, January 2014 | Go to article overview

The New Testament (Not!): Will Technology Transform the Stage Bible or Musicals?


Hedli, Laura, American Theatre


THEATRE, IN MANY WAYS, REMAINS UNPLUGGED and offline, the form itself impervious Lo our desire to document our every move in the digital age. It's live and ephemeral. What you see one night will differ (even if only slightly) from the next. Often, we may not think about a show existing beyond a script, a score, production photos, a cast recording or our memory of a particular performance--yet it does, and an iPad app is changing the way theatre is created and maintained.

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

Jeff Whiting began dreaming up Stage Write Software when he worked alongside Susan Stroman as an associate director and choreographer. For shows such as Young Frankenstein and The Producers, Whiting was tasked with creating what's known as the "Stage Bible," a tome containing hundreds of pages charting every scene in each production. At the time, Whiting was using a combination of Adobe Photoshop, Microsoft Excel and PowerPoint to show how all the actors and set pieces moved throughout the space, providing notes on direction or choreography alongside blocking patterns.

Because it was difficult to make changes to these pages--though changes were invariably made in rehearsal--Whiting began thinking about how he might combine the functionality of the three programs into a single app. Fascinated by technology, but not familiar with code, Whiting approached a tech company, Tekyz, based out of Arizona, to create the app, which can be purchased on iTunes for $199.99 and is compatible with the iPad 1, iPad 2, iPad 3, iPad mini and with the iOS 6 or later operating system. Launched in the spring of 2012, Stage Write Software now contains a second in-app component known as Staging Score, recently made available for an additional $49.99. Whiting is planning to expand Stage Write into a web-based system.

"Oftentimes I think apps are created by larger companies that say: Okay, here's a market," says Whiting, who was recently selected by Apple to be featured in a doctunentary about five apps that the company has determined to be industry game-changers. "But I actually created it for me and for the market that I work in." Whiting purposefully didn't hard- sell the app, believing in the merits of his product and its ability to sell itself. To his delight, friends and colleagues are taking notice.

John Tartaglia, director of the new musical Because of Winn Dixie, which premiered at Arkansas Repertory Theatre last December, essentially discovered the art of directing with iPad in hand. With a solid background in performing, but scant directing credits, he says, "I had no basis for comparison as far as: This is better than this. But what I did have was a joy for it because it was exactly what needed--I just didn't know that."

Visually inclined, Tartaglia says Whiting's app gives him the freedom to be more creative in the room. Before he arrived in Arkansas, at a theatre he had never worked in before, Tartaglia was able to figure out the logistical elements of Winn Dixie. He set the dimensions of the stage and scenery in feet and inches, and Stage Write converted those dimensions to scale. (Whiting is working on allowing users to input metric measurements in future versions.)

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

"It's kind of like having a doll house," Tartaglia observes. Right now Stage Write provides an overhead view of the stage, and soon users will be able to see a front/audience view as well. Animation may also be added so that users can see in real time how a scene progresses. "It's like you have all the pieces and you have the structures, but you can keep changing and creating and moving and functioning until it is the world you want it to be."

TO SOME DEGREE, THE APP MIMics old-school animation, in which a light box is used to trace a drawing while making slight adjustments each time, except Stage Write preserves the chart you already created when you upload a new one. Thanks to Stage Write, the time resident director David Ruttura and associate director Seth Sklar-Heyn spent blocking the new national tour of The Phantom of the Opera was cut in half.

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