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From Spark to Hologram: A Timeline of Theatre Technology

A figure emerges on the stage. It’s a man dressed in dark clothing. He disappears through a wall. He was never real; he was a hologram.

Such is the magic that we’ve come to accept as part of the modern theatrical experience. Imaginative designing and directing team Michel Lemieux and Victor Pilon have infused their company—aptly titled Lemieux Pilon 4D Art—with this sense of wonder and technological engagement, and they bring it from Montreal to the Boston stage with the ArtsEmerson presentation of La Belle et la Bête.

The Beast from La Belle et la Bete interacts with one of the many complex holograms from Lemieux Pilon 4D Art.

But the optical illusions so masterfully crafted by Lemieux and Pilon would not be possible without a long history of technology in the theatre. We’ve come a long way from the ancient origins of theatre: performed in daylight with three-sided set pieces turned to change location. Yet some things aren’t quite so new; the Romans made good use of trap doors, moving platforms and changing scenery in their theatres, and the Greeks were infamous for making gods fly in baskets or chariots suspended above the stage.

Whereas the modern effects of defying gravity have advanced, the principles are the same as they were centuries ago. The main difference? Electricity. One spark changed everything. And now, the effects are inescapable. With the internet, Skype and live chat running rampant, it’s easy to forget how we got here. Take a look back at how far we’ve come (or what has barely changed) from the Renaissance till now:

1545: First recorded use of stage lighting design—with candles and torches filtered through vessels of colored liquid. Light from candles is adjusted by stagehands going on stage to snip the candle’s wick.

1 Comment

  1. Benny Sato AmbushNovember 28, 2012 at 7:52 am

    Re: The Pianist of Willesden Lane ~

    Beautiful, symmetrically balanced, partially fragmented set. Light glinting off gold framing and moulding throughout – nice! Lovely use of the black box space. FANTASTIC pianist. Compelling story. Clever use of projected imagery within the picture frames. Great music! An enriching experience overall. Thank you for bringing this production to us.

    I felt the post-show music was not just unnecessary, it crowded out the live music from the show that was still reverberating within me at the final fade to black. I would rather leave the theatre with the live music from the show working on me than post-show curtain call recorded music. Silence is all we need at the end of the show. That, and the music of audience applause.


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