— The Emerson Paramount Theatre in Boston recently staged The Orchard, a hybrid theatrical adaptation of Anton Chekhov’s famous last play, The Cherry Orchard, and the production was a testament to collaboration and the creative use of technology in the arts. —
The Orchard was a joint effort between the Arlekin Players and Zero Gravity Virtual Theatre Laboratory, and featured both an in-person, and virtual version of the play. The virtual performance used the same actors
performing in the same play but experienced by the audience very differently – you could interact, chat, see effects, and experience different camera angles.
The result was a dynamic and immersive experience that showcased the capabilities and potential of NDI technology. NDI, or Network Device Interface, is a technology that allows video, audio and power signals to be transmitted over a local area network (LAN) using simple Ethernet cable. This makes it ideal for use in live events and performances, where mobility and flexibility are essential.
“We are at Arts Emerson the Paramount in the Orchard Theatre doing a hybrid production theatrical production of the orchard which is based on the Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhovand it’s hybrid because there is an in-person version of the play and also there is a virtual version of the play that happens simultaneously,”
said Igor Golyak, Artistic Director, Arlekin Players Theatre & (zero-G) Virtual Theatre Lab.
Kyra Bowie, the Production Stage Manager for The Orchard, describes the production,
“We have a full set with a robot arm, quadruped (4 legged) robot, interactive cameras and PTZs – and have a full, dynamic virtual and in-person experience happening!”
“We are using about 12 cameras with a total of eight BirdDog cameras. They’re all connected through an NDI Network using a Netgear M4250 switch that also powers them over PoE.”
The use of NDI technology was key to the success of the production. Leanna Keys, the Streaming Technical Director for The Orchard, explains,
“The switch receives all the signals and is connected to the control computer, compositing computer, sound, light control board, and teleprompters, making everything easily accessible from anywhere with just a single cable.”
Eric Dunlap, the Visual Effects and Stream Designer for the production, is thrilled with the ease and convenience of NDI,
“I’m designing the show in Isadora and I have, at any given time, nine or ten different camera streams all coming in over NDI. Being able to just run Ethernet cable and have access to all of those cameras in the design at any given moment is quite impressive – no capture cards, all just through NDI.”
The cameras used in the production are compact and have a large zoom range. According to Austin De Besche, the production Camera Specialist,
“they’re completely and beautifully remotely controllable.”
He explains that, compared to the motion picture world, where cameras are so big, the PTZs are the perfect thing,
“You can easily rig it with a quarter 20 bolt and that’s all you need, it’s pretty amazing” he says.
The use of NDI technology made it possible for the audience to experience the production from unique perspectives. For example, the robot used in the production has a PF120 camera with a surrounding ring light on the end of an arm that looks like a huge eye that enables viewers of the virtual production to experience the show from the perspective of the robot, all wirelessly controllable via NDI.
The hybrid theatrical production was a testament to the power of collaboration and innovation. By harnessing NDI technology with new, cutting edge theatrical techniques, the production team has created a dynamic and immersive experience that pushes the boundaries of what is possible in live theatre.
As Tom Doran enthuses,
“It’s something different! Sometimes theatre gets a little old – a lot of old shows come back but this is not! It’s an old show, but boy, is it different – and a lot of it is because of the cameras you guys have”.