OH, THE PLACES YOU’LL GO -- A look at the technical theatre of See Rock City & Other Destinations - A guest blog by Chad Henderson

see rock city See Rock City & Other Destinations opens on the Thigpen Main Stage this Friday at Trustus Theatre. This uplifting musical charts the journeys of various characters as they become risk-takers in order to find connection and answers to life’s questions through visits to various American tourist locales. This award-winning script takes audiences to Rock City Gardens, The Alamo, Roswell, Niagara Falls, Glacier Bay, and Coney Island all in the course of two hours. One might question how these tourist sites could manifest in a theatrical setting before the audience’s eyes, but the bold visions of director Dewey Scott-Wiley and designer Baxter Engle proposed the answer: projection mapping.


Projection mapping is a projection technology used to turn facades into display surfaces for video projection. Often times the surfaces used are unexpected such as a building or a room that is painted uniformly to accept projections.  By using specialized software, a two or three dimensional object is spatially “mapped” on a virtual program which mimics the real environment it is to be projected on. The software can communicate with a projector to fit desired images onto the surface of that object. This technique is often used by artists, advertisers, and promoters alike who can add extra dimensions, optical illusions, and notions of movement onto static objects. See Rock City & Other Destinations will mark the inaugural use of this type of technological design on this scale for the 29 year old theatre company that is constantly striving to bring current productions to Columbia.


Director Dewey Scott-Wiley assembled a talented cast for this moving production, but she knew that the technical theatre aspects of the show would have to match the thrilling performances of the actors. Many theatres have the privilege of fly systems and off-stage storage space for large scene changes – but Trustus simply doesn’t have those abilities. So the question remained: “How do we transport across America in a time efficient and visually appealing way?”


Baxter Engle, a Trustus Company member since 2007, suggested the first-time use of projection mapping on the Main Stage to take audiences on this journey. Engle has designed many creative projection designs for various productions in Columbia including Town Theatre’s Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, and Trustus’ Assassins, A Christmas Carol, and Henderson Bros. Burlesque. He also had the opportunity to design large-scale projections for internationally known designer Nic Ularu when he worked on Ularu’s original production Fusions, which premiered at the World Stage Design conference in Cardiff, Wales last summer. Naturally director Dewey Scott-Wiley, who is in her second year as artistic director at Trustus, jumped at the chance to bring something innovative to the Thigpen Main Stage.


Through the use of two projectors, a program called QLab (not usually associated with projection mapping), and various surfaces created for projections in the scenic design (designed by this humble blogger) – Engle is able to transition from Rock City Gardens, a journey down the highway, Glacier Bay, and Coney Island all with the click of the spacebar on the computer that’s running the program.


Modern theatre is certainly trending towards the use of projection technology in productions. It is cost efficient because it keeps scenic material costs low and allows for less backstage crew work in scene changes. In many cases it can add a mood or image into an audience’s experience that would be expensive or impossible to create live on stage. Some productions are even using holograms for scenic elements or characters in modern productions. See Rock City & Other Destinations will mark a technological advancement for the Trustus, but the goal is creating the sense of travel that the script asks for.


Audiences craving “new” can be rest-assured that See Rock City & Other Destinations will deliver. The show may not come with popular name recognition, but Trustus’ production comes with a talented cast, the music and book delivers in a big way, and the spirit of the production is steeped in innovation. This show is about risk-taking and the creative team of this production is striving for just that.


“You have brains in your head.

You have feet in your shoes.

You can steer yourself any direction you choose.”

― Dr. Seuss, Oh, the Places You'll Go!


SEE ROCK CITY & OTHER DESTINATIONS  runs at Trustus Theatre March 14 – April 5, 2014. Tickets may be purchased online at www.trustus.org or by calling the box office at (803) 254-9732.