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BWW Blog: How Different Shows Use Digital Technology

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As the decades have gone by, Broadway has continued to develop and change along with the rest of the world. One of the ways in which it has changed the most is through digital technology, especially when using it in set design and scenery. Now that images are able to be easily projected, set designers are incorporating photos and digital images into their sets, creating a new level of immersiveness that goes beyond simple sets made out of wood and paint. In this article, I'm going to look at some shows that have used digital technology and see whether it has affected the immersiveness positively or negatively.

Dear Evan Hansen

Let me just start this by saying that I'm going to be biased when giving my opinion on Dear Evan Hansen because I am not a fan of the storyline and some of the messages that the show shares with its audience. I will, however, give the production team of Dear Evan Hansen credit for having an incredible set (designed by the wonderful David Korins) that uses technology just as the characters use social media in the show. Photos of the actors are displayed along with many social media posts, allowing the audience to see what the characters are seeing on their phones, adding a new level to the immersive performance. The moving pieces of the set even enable the technology to move along with the actors on stage, continuing to allow the audience to feel even more connected with the show.

Anastasia

Anastasia is one of those shows that I wished had stayed on Broadway long enough for me to see it in person in New York City, but I have heard enough about it (and seen it some other ways) that I am able to write about how technology is used in the show. By using digital sets, the production team is able to create an immersive production that makes the audience feel as if the actors on stage are truly traveling, whether it is on a train or whether they are walking through the streets of St. Petersburg on a snowy day. This is a performance that I've only been able to see with the grainy quality of the stereotypical bootleg, but even with the pixelated images, I can tell just how impressive the digital aspects of the set are and how well they are used by the production team.

West Side Story

There are many problems with the revival of West Side Story that are more important than the digital technology used in the show. The fact that there is a sex offender in the cast who still has not been fired. The dangerous set design that has caused multiple actors to get hurt and no longer be able to perform. To put it quite simply, it's a mess and people should not be paying money to support this show. But even by just looking at the screens and video used during the show, one can see that the musical will never reach the same level as the previous incarnations of West Side Story. By having ridiculous close-ups of the actors during their fight scenes and other moments, the crew has taken away from what makes theatre special. The musical is transformed into a cheap movie screen with some small actors on the stage below it. What's the point of having live actors if you're just going to project their faces onto the wall behind them, distracting the audience from the actual show? Let the actors do their job and fire Amar Ramasar.

Mean Girls

From what I have seen and heard about how Mean Girls uses digital technology, I am impressed with what the production team has done. While I'm not very impressed with the musical as a whole, I love how they use the screens to emphasize particular moments, especially during the song "World Burn" when they project some of the pages of the Burn Book around the stage, emphasizing just how chaotic the situation is. Another moment that stands out to me is during the number "I See Stars", when the cast takes a selfie together on stage and it is projected onto the screen, showing the audience the special moment. I can't say much about the show as a whole because I have not watched the musical in person, but I appreciate what it is doing to help change the theatre world with the immersiveness of digital technology.

Prince of Egypt

Unfortunately, Prince of Egypt was one of those shows that had digital technology at its fingertips yet failed to use it to its full potential. The things that make Anastasia great are the very things that are the failure of Prince of Egypt. The poorly-done CGI backgrounds pull the audience out of the story instead of immersing them in the Biblical tale, and even when the animation is done well, it does not live up to the expectations of the incredible animation that the musical was based on. And this isn't just someone trash-talking something that they don't like - I've been in love with the Prince of Egypt movie for years, so seeing the musical butcher the story was a true tragedy for me. There was so much potential for the production team to use some of the original animations to appeal to fans of the movie, but unfortunately, the team decided to take it in a new direction.

Ultimately, the way that a show incorporates modern digital technology can have a huge effect on the performance as a whole. It can either enable the audience to feel as if they are a part of the story or pull them out of the performance with a simple flip of a switch. Digital technology can make or break a show, so the production team must do a good job in knowing how to use if effectively for an immersive production. Do you agree with my thoughts? Feel free to leave your opinions in the comments.



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From This Author Student Blogger: Kat Mokrynski