I would first like to note that an ongoing part of the process was learning how to use Isadora thoughout all 7 weeks. This was particularly important for me as I was editing all of our content into video files, programming, and operating the show. We learned Isadora over Zoom tutorials with Andrew Crofts and a two in-person tutorials prior to the tech rehearsal.

The first part of the process was costume designs. A challenge in this process was using costumes that were suitable with green screen. For example, we initially wanted to put Andy in all black but since our green screen was made with a cyclorama lit in green, the light reflected onto any pure white or pure black surface and didn’t read on the Isadora output. We figured this out by experimenting in our own clothes. 

The first was turqouise and/or yellow, which we immediately rejected because it was too close to green. The second option was red, which we also rejected because we were planning to have quite a bit of red in our background designs. We ended up deciding on fuschia/magenta because the color contrasts perfectly against the green screen. And, we were amused by the juxtaposition of a “girly-girl” color in a “hyper-masculine” silhouette. We thought that suited the concept of the montage and the struggle of a woman in a male-dominated industry: she will always be seen as less for being a woman despite her attempts to transcend that label. Andy only appears in the “real world” so we put him in a red turtleneck to make sure we would not sturggle with the greenscreen, as well as patterned trousers to give his character some personality in the black & white output and because his appearance is so brief.
We began with Valerie in her montage/nightmare. We wanted her to stand out extremely and to establish her presence as against the status-quo. Inspired by Twiggy, Grace Jones, and Bowie we styled her in a bright colored power suit. However, we were unable to measure Adela, our actress, prior to fitting the costume so the suit we sourced did not fit. So, we searched online and among our things to come up with a few options: 
The second challenge was costume changes. We wanted a clear distinction between “montage Valerie” and “real world Valerie”. However, there was not enough time for Valerie to take off the suit and put on her civilian clothing. This informed the decision to put “real world” characters in black and white, so the color of her pink costume did not matter. She just had to put on a coat to change up the style & silhouette. 

To begin background designs, we split up the sections of the narrative like we did with the research. Firstly, we split up the “real world” which we decided to paint over screengrabs of the films we researched. I created a comic book page for the scenes of Valerie walking through NYC referencing Taxi Driver (1976). I then choreographed this scene. I also decided to add color tints over the desaturated black & white filter, in order to show a build up of anger on Valerie’s face in a more heightened stylized way. The edge detect filter is inspired by the comic book illustrations from our research to give her an etched look and bring out angled features. 

Here is a screenshot of testing the filters on myself, you can see that the green screen was pixelating, partially because I was wearing black and because the settings were off. I had to toggle this before each rehearsal & filming to adjust to the specific lighting on each run. 

  1. Freezeframe on Valerie’s eyes with desaturate + edge detect Isadora filter
  2. Establishing shot.
  3. Valerie enters left walks on a slight diagonal facing camera across to right, exits frame. 
  4. Close-up of previous shot, Valerie enters left and walks across to right, exits frame. 
  5. Freezeframe on Valerie’s eyes with edge detect Isadora filter + yellow tint.
  6. Valerie enters left, walks across to right, observes couple, exits frame. 
  7. Valerie enters left, looks back, walks on a slight diagonal away from camera, exits frame. 
  8. Freezeframe on Valerie’s eyes edge detect Isadora filter + red tint
  9. Valerie centre frame facing camera looking up (as if at a building). 
  10. CUT to next scene (entering building) 

One of the biggest challenges of visualising the scenes for this performance was thinking of everything as a film. The actors were playing to various cameras not a live audience, which took my a while to adjust my thinking to. This is one of the reasons that this scene I designed was the hardest to choreograph and programme, when I designed it I did not think about it like a film, but as one long theatrical scene. So I struggled with the programming and direction especially when it came to keeping within the camera frame and the frame of the comic strip boxes. 

When I first designed this scene, it seems quite static because there are no people, and where I have painted people (the couple), they have no presence. This was a concern because it did not establish the atmosphere of New York City, but rather just dull 2D backgrounds that a live actor was prancing around. So, I decided to add animations of cars and people walking across the pavements that Valerie could interact with. 

Here is a video experimenting with the scene & programming for the first time where you can also see the added car & people animations. In this clip, I had not yet adjusted the scale and placement of the camera output. This was something challenging, as it depended on the camera placement and settings everytime we tried to rehearse or run. Other groups had different settings on the camera, so we marked ours and set basic parameters on Isadora and tweeked slightly when we ran it. 

*** IMPORTANT: As soon as we started seeing things coming together and began talking to Pete and Adela, our actress, about the storyboard, we realised that the dramaturgy did not work. It did not make sense that the montage happens after she has already decided to shoot Andy because we were trying to show what led her to that act. Here we decided to go back to the drawing board. 

Since the three of us are designers, we undeniably hit roadblocks due to seeing things only from the visual perspective. It became critical to talk out our ideas with Pete and Adela before we got too far in making. This process taught me a lot in how to expand my thinking as a designer when devising, and to be willing to let go of things that would just look good, because there is more effective dramaturgical ways of story-telling. 

Finally, we also decided to add some filler scenes. At the start, to have an establishing shot of Valerie in her flat, then sleeping in her bed before we enter her dream. I painted a pillow for this. And secondly, we also needed a filler scene to transition from the dream to her waking up in the “real world”, so I painted a telephone which rings and thats the trigger for her to wake up. Additionally, while the telephone is on screen, Adela does the costume change. 

We wanted to show pent-up anger and fear, so we refered to the nightmare sequence in Vertigo (1958). However, we did not want to suggest a manic episode or delusion for Valerie, as she has often been written off as “crazy” or “insane”, so we merely used Vertigo (1958) as a benchmark for the dramaturgical structure.

While Isis & Inigo worked on painting the remaining backgrounds for the shooting scenes and put together the voice-over from SCUM Manifesto, I did more research to create compositions for the montage. I kept the main research points we had from before (male gaze in renaissance portraits, political propoganda, contemporary art including surrealism, german expressionism, and pop art). I was simultaniously creating the animation and video designs so we could begin testing them in rehearsals. 

I also made a new storyboard for the nightmare montage: 

After creating all of our backgrounds and video files on After Effects, I established the foregrounds and backgrounds to export them into Isadora. We began to rehearse; Isis & Inigo did most of the blocking and directing while I programmed. The programming process was essentially just putting each scene in the right layers of foregrounds and backgrounds and adding the filters. The challenging part was putting in the jump cues, since in each scene we had 2-5 background changes, so my job was to time everything accurately.

For the camera outputs we used 3: close up, mid-shot, and long shot which the actors switched between. This was more useful than each actor getting one camera because Valerie was on more frequently than the othres, and our scenes had cuts within them. 

In this video you can see the set up. Here is a scene I designed that was extremely hard to programme because it was dependent on switching from one camera to another and actor placement.


© Jida Akil 2024