For many years now I’ve been assisting in the creation of stage scenery for an amateur dramatic society called the Square Drama Circle based in Dunstable Beds. Their latest show which was performed in October 2014 was the hilarious comedy by David McGilivray and Walter Zerlin Jnr entitled ‘They Came From Mars and Landed Outside The Farndale Avenue Church Hall in Time For the Townswomen’s Guild’s Coffee Morning’
In essence the play is about a Women’s Guild drama group performing a play about a Martian invasion or in other words a drama group playing a drama group performing a play – badly.
The group asked me to help in several ways. Firstly they required a cloth backdrop 8 feet x 20 feet painted with a Martian landscape which was to include a spaceship. Next they required an audio recording manipulated to give the impression that the voices were emitting from a loud speaker on a launch pad. Thirdly they wanted the show recorded so that they could see the performance themselves. This included rigging two microphones next to the stage and running cables to a mixing desk and a digital audio recorder. The sound recording would then be dubbed over the camera audio in the editing and a DVD of the show produced. Lastly they required some publicity stills shot on one of the final dress rehearsals.
The painting of the backdrop took a couple of sessions, first to block paint the base colours of orange and black. Then to add the detail of the spaceship, stars, planets and the craters. To add fun for the young members of the cast I also added a tiny Tardis and a small Starship Enterprise although these were not part of the script.
The audio recording was made with the cast members reading their lines and then loading the recording into an editing programme. This allowed me to cut and add other sound effects such a ‘beep’ similar to the sound heard on the Apollo mission recordings, and the noise of the blast off of the rocket. Adding a filter over the vocal section allowed me to distort the sound to make it sound like a bad loud speaker. The final recording was then played at full volume during the performance and forms the basis for one scene.
For the still shots I used my Nikon D800 and a flash gun as the light levels were very low in some scenes.
For the show recording I used a Canon XA20 video camera mounted on a tripod and adjusted the white balance for Tungsten and low light levels. One scene was performed in the dark with florescent lights illuminating shapes against a black background. For this I used a second video camera, Panasonic HX-WA10, also mounted on a tripod leaving the camera to decide the correct exposure. Both cameras performed well.
The audio soundtrack was obtained with two directional microphones one either side of the stage pointing in. Between them they picked up the vocals no matter where the actors were on the stage. The stereo effect was cabled back to a mixing desk as two separate feeds and then to a digital recording device. Headphones ensured that the best audio possible was achieved during the performance. My thanks to my two assistants Scott Bailey and Antony Elmes who helped on camera and rigging.
As the show was filmed with a one camera view so editing was straight forward. I decided to add in a basic animation to the credits at the start and finish which took some time to make the stills based on the spaceship design on the show poster and my spaceship design on the backdrop. These were animated using key framing.
The show was a great success and most of the cast ordered a copy of the video. I have been asked to assist on the next show ‘Sleeping Beauty’ performed at the end of January.