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Projecting "The Blue Flower" Inside the new musical's daring projection design

By LINDA BUCHWALD

The Blue Flower is not just a musical---it's a collage.

"The music and the words and the images and the stage movement are all operating at once," says Ruth Bauer, who developed the show with her husband Jim Bauer. Now at Second Stage, the formally daring production follows a group of artists and thinkers across both World Wars, tracing the rise and fall of their romantic and intellectual lives. (The story is loosely inspired by the painters Max Beckmann and Franz Marc, the scientist Marie Curie, and the Dada artist Hannah Hoch.)

From the very first moments, it's clear that projections will be as integral to the storytelling as actors and music. The show begins with Max, a painter, sitting on a park bench in modern day New York. He speaks in a made-up language, and translations are projected behind him. In another scene, Hannah gives a performance dressed in fairy wings and horns, and she uses a flyswatter to squash images of giant bugs. After she whacks them, we see projections of splattered bug parts.

Whether they're practical or playful, projections are always created with the same criteria. Projection designer Aaron Rhyne says, "They should come into play when there's a specific reason for it, or some way to help tell a story through projections that couldn't be done otherwise. They can allow audiences to see something additional or help understand the story that's happening on stage."

In other words, the projections should enhance the story, but not distract from it.

Often, the content for projections is generated by outside sources, but in The Blue Flower, Bauer made almost everything herself, including the collages that represent pages of a book Max creates about his life.  She used everything from public domain photos to photos of her husband to get the collages she wanted.

The projection design also includes videos. There's period footage, such as World War I propaganda films, and clips created by Bauer and Rhyne, such as films of the actors from the show.

Bauer's favorite video features a horse running in the mud, which she shot in New England in the pouring rain. "It ended up being a great thing because it was really evocative," she says. "World War I was fought in the mud, [and] the horse imagery is really important iconography in the show because of the American country-western elements of the music."

Rhyne put all these elements together, working closely with the Bauers and director Will Pomerantz on the timing and editing. He says, "There are so many different things from all different time periods, and I wanted to take all these pieces and make them cohesive and fit within the language of the production, so that they didn't look like they came from ten different sources and time periods."

Rhyne also worked closely with the creative and design team on where to project the images. Most are projected on a screen that looks like an artist's canvas, but images are also projected directly onto Beowulf Boritt's wooden set. "As a projection designer, you work very closely with all the other designers in the room," Rhyne says. "You have to be familiar with the set design. You have to respond to how the lighting interacts with the video projections, and everybody in the room has to work collaboratively together." All the departments work separately until the tech period, when everyone comes together and moves through each moment in the show until it's finished.

Projection design is becoming more prominent in the theatre world.  Rhyne, who is also the projection designer for the new Broadway musical Bonnie and Clyde, says, "Sometimes it's used really successfully and sometimes it's not, but it's still a relatively new art form in the theatre, and as time goes on, it becomes more and more accepted and easy to work with and more successful."

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Linda Buchwald also contributes to StageGrade.com. She's on Twitter as @PataphysicalSci.