Broadway Features and Reviews
American Idiot And Broadway's Technology Revolution
By Christopher Moore, Broadway Magazine
A heart monitor blip transforms into a glowing Arabic symbol. A grinning Hollywood hero bursts onto the stage from a wall of video screens blaring images of the Iraq war. A sign glows the cryptic message "too much, too soon" over and over again. In the new Broadway musical American Idiot, the media is more than the message—it is an actual character in the play. Part set, part Greek Chorus, sometimes driving the action, even birthing a character, technology plays an important role in the creative landscape of this groundbreaking new production.
The new Broadway musical American Idiot has been nominated for three Tony Awards, including a nod for Best Musical. Featuring the music of Green Day coupled with the theatrical imagination of director Michael Mayer, the unflinching look at America in the wake of September 11 boldly ventures into new territory for Broadway musicals. No small part of the show's considerable magic is the result of its marriage of theme, music, and technology as the production unfolds at the St. James Theatre.
The seamless blend of musical and media in American Idiot is the result of the work of a creative team that includes the band Green Day, director Mayer, designers Christine Jones and Kevin Adams, and video and projection designer Darrel Maloney.
While the name SenovvA may not readily hang on the lips of Broadway connoisseurs, there is little doubt that the work of SenovvA continues to leave Broadway in amazement. Across a wide stage towers a seemingly infinite wall aglow with over 40 television screens working at times in breathtaking harmony and at other times in heartbreaking chaos as the journey of the characters in American Idiot unfold. From a technical standpoint, that is what SenovvA does.
From Day 2 of rehearsals for American Idiot, Arianna Knapp was part of the production process. Since its conception, American Idiot was envisioned as a highly technical show. Through a connection with producer Tom Hulce, Arianna Knapp of SenovvA joined creative team. With a solid reputation in Broadcast media, SenovvA brought the technical expertise to collaborate and solve the complicated technological challenges that the new Green Day musical presented.
For Arianna it was a chance to bring together her two life passions: theatre and technology. A self described "geek at heart," Arianna's roots have always been in the theater.
"East coast based theatre is what I do," says Arianna Knapp.
She describes her work with SenovvA as a "beautiful marriage" between her passion for the stage and her love of "playing with computers." The technical challenge of coordinating 40 televisions at different times was significant. "That's a lot of TVs," she says, noting "the challenge was how to make them do what we wanted them to do when we wanted them to do it."
Technology on Broadway is a rapidly developing phenomenon, and SenovvA continues to be on the cutting edge.
"Now, audiences are accustomed to seeing moving video as another part of the story—another part of the palate. Six years ago, audiences struggled more with the use of video on-stage," explains Arianna.
It is no stretch to say that the Age of Technology on Broadway has arrived. In the current season, productions on Broadway of Fela!, ENRON, Everyday Rapture, Sondheim on Sondheim and American Idiot feature unique and technically savvy integrations of video and live actors to help tell their story.
For Darrel Maloney, the creative process around the creation and integration of video in this musical production was exhilarating. Video adds "a whole other layer to the story," explains Darrel.
A lighting & set designer by training with a theatre background, Darrel has spent the last 10 years working in all forms of media. Brought onto the production via Tony Award nominated scenic designer Christine Jones (nominated for American Idiot), Darrel has been thrilled with the results.
"There are over 600 pieces of media in the first number alone," confesses Darrel. More than flashing images, video sets place and tells story in American Idiot. The scale and complexity of video integration and imagery involved in American Idiot is staggering.
It was a collaborative creative process and both Darrel and Arianna have high praise for Green Day and director Michael Mayer. Darrel describes spending his first week of rehearsals sitting down and working through the script scene by scene and discussing what role the video element would play at each point in the musical.
With over 40 screens capable of each projecting their own images, or working in unison, the video in the show is far more than mere montages of images from 2003. The attention to detail and visual sophistication on-stage is state-of-the-art.
"I learned a lot about pattern and chaos," explains Darrel. The challenge to bring together the multiple video elements without overwhelming the action on-stage was an on-going process. Avoiding images that were "too cutesy—too perfect" when commenting on the action, Darrel says that there was always an awareness of the "poetics" of the video as it related to the story. The director and designers were always incorporating the video as part of a larger canvas on stage.
While there are no Tony Award nominations for video or technical innovation on Broadway, perhaps that time will come. For Darrel, he is quite happy to be working with Christine Jones and on Broadway.
"I'm back in the theatre where I belong...this is what I'm meant to be doing...it's reward enough for me to be back in the theatre," reflects Darrel, clearly pleased with the success of American Idiot.
For SenovvA, Arianna and Darrel, given the technological advance of media on Broadway, it is likely that they will all find themselves in the theatre for many years to come.
POSTSCRIPT: Both Christine Jones and Kevin Adams were awarded a 2010 Tony Award in their respective categories for their work on Broadway's American Idiot.
For additional Broadway features visit http://www.broadway.tv/broadway-features-reviews