Written for IdeasMag: http://www.ideastap.com/IdeasMag/the-knowledge/kim-beveridge-video-designer
Kim Beveridge has created video for productions at the Royal Court and the National Theatre of Scotland. Kim talks to Naima Khan about avoiding clichés…
What challenges do video designers face when working on theatre shows?
One common problem you face is being asked to work on a production that doesn’t necessarily have the budget to realise what the director and the company want to do. Ambitious projects are more and more common now as you can easily run video off a laptop. There’s not a lot of troubleshooting you can do if, say, your video’s not bright enough. You can’t give it more lumens [measurement unit for light] and you’ll have to communicate that to people you’re working with.
Physical spacial challenges are also common when you put video into a space where actors need to be lit at the same time. You have to work closely with the lighting designer so you don’t bleach out what they’ve created. With the right budget you can get it right but it takes experience and experimentation.
Talk us through your working process for Pests (Clean Break Production at Royal Court Theatre and Manchester Royal Exchange)
The work I make is very figurative so I like to start with something real and then manipulate it and edit it down to fit the show’s needs. One of the things I always ask is: what is the role that video is playing in this show? What is it here to do?
In Pests, it was clear video was there to illustrate one character’s psychotic hallucinations. The other thing we had to nail were the elements that the playwright Vivienne Franzmann had written about in her script. She’d included fire (that was really pared down by the final edit), blood, which she wanted coming through the walls, and also the presence of men. So I wanted to find images that were actually frightening not Hammer House of Horror-funny because when you start to work with blood it’s easy to go down that road.
We were keen that the images had a real textural quality because they were going to be projected onto mattresses. So I spent a lot of time filming ink and synthetic blood being bled onto fabrics like silk, and cotton. We put the camera underneath a stretched canvas of the material and just watched it move and bleed.
How can video designers and theatremakers use video or projections in a way that is relevant while steering clear of clichés?
When it comes to clichés, the fact that I’m working in collaboration means that it if I make a choice that’s obvious or boring, someone will tell me. But there’s nothing I wouldn’t try. It’s about experimenting. It’s about trying to make things lean, not having projection unnecessarily and only having it to support something that isn’t explicitly written in the text.
I’d also recommend trying to be involved in the collaboration from the earliest stage. Don’t be precious about rough edits, bring them into the space early on so you can show what you’re doing and see if it works before you spend hours on the animation. Be open about what you intend on doing, trust that the people you work with will have good imaginations and they’ll be able to use your rough sketch to come to an agreement about how to move forward.
How did you get your first job in theatre?
I studied Time Based Art at Duncan of Jordanstone College of Art so my background is doing video installation, sound and documentary. But I was always aware of spaces and I like projecting work in unconventional spaces. It was around 2005 that I left art school and the National Theatre of Scotland (NTS) started soon after. I was headhunted by them and hired to work on documenting the process in rehearsal rooms. What I learned was, if you do video and sound, your skills are really transferable and you don’t have to work in theatre design.
Pretty much immediately I started meeting loads of people who make shows and started working with them. It wasn’t long after that that Vicky Featherstone asked me to work on a large-scale production called Wall of Death, which was a documentary installation projected onto eight screens. Getting into theatre can happen quite quickly, it’s a lot about recommendations. I don’t have any business cards but if you get your name out there, things can start to happen.
How should video designers prepare themselves for work in the theatre industry?
There’s a book you should read called Staging the Screen: The Use of Film and Video in Theatre by Greg Giesekam. You’ll learn about the history of it and it’s surprising actually how long people have been doing this. If you really want to get into video design, just start experimenting. Find your strengths and see how they work with something live. Document people or performers interacting with your videos. Find a peer group that includes actors, maybe cabaret artists or even live musicians.
You could also go straight to people who are already working in theatre and ask them about work experience or courses. For example, there’s a great company called 59productions, which did some amazing stuff for the London Olympics, and one called Forkbeard Fantasy who do really cool experimental stuff, they also incorporate puppetry and animation. I don’t think you should worry about the industry too much. If you’ve got talent, and the guts to contact these people, they’ll help you through it. If they can, they probably will give you their time.