Fans of all ages are filling the Palace Theatre as the beloved Nickelodeon character SpongeBob comes to Broadway. “SpongeBob SquarePants: the Broadway Musical” was created by visionary director Tina Landau, a legendary roster of Grammy Award-winning songwriters and a Tony Award-winning design team. It tells the story of SpongeBob’s heroism as he and all of Bikini Bottom face the total annihilation of their undersea world.
WorldStage is supporting the production with a large complement of Panasonic and Christie video projectors, main and redundant disguise (formerly known as d3 Technologies) media servers, a BlackTrax camera tracking system, and Rosco specialty lighting fixtures. WorldStage has been involved with the SpongeBob production since its inception roughly five years ago.
“We have been working with the ‘SpongeBob’ team since Day One including various workshop versions of the show, its limited run in Chicago in the summer of 2016, and its eventual arrival on Broadway in late 2017,” says WorldStage Account Executive Lars Pedersen. “The workshops and the out-of-town stint were extremely informative for the design team and for WorldStage.
“WorldStage was willing to join the project early on when we didn’t know where we were headed,” notes Projection Designer Peter Nigrini. “WorldStage signed on early and has been a unique and helpful partner through the many stages it takes for a show to get to Broadway. WorldStage committed to taking the journey with me and the rest of the creative team. They were game to try anything.”
Nigrini points out that during the show’s Chicago engagement “SpongeBob” became “one of the very first theatrical productions to integrate BlackTrax. The system had largely been used in arena shows, but now it proved viable in theatrical productions, too. That led to a lot of interesting possibilities we hadn’t foreseen. Integrating BlackTrax and disguise and using them to manage the entre projection system was quite new and began to take shape when we were in Chicago.”
“We’re seeing the combination of disguise and BlackTrax more and more as part of the design spec for these theatrical productions. Add in Notch, the generative content creation tool, and you’ve got the trifecta,” observes Pedersen. “A lot of shows are asking for that combination of technologies, and WorldStage is able to provide that comprehensive solution.”
“WorldStage has a great deal of expertise no doubt, but what’s even more valuable to me is their willingness to acquire even more expertise in technologies that are brand new,” says Nigrini. “They’re expert at becoming experts – and on every project I hope there is something I haven’t done before so I really value a partner like WorldStage.”
SpongeBob” features a lot of projection surfaces, including many indeterminate surfaces like drums, pool noodles, hula hoops and a 35-foot tall pile of boxes. There are few knowable points of reference on stage to anchor a projection system to. BlackTrax allows Nigrini to manage this complex environment; BlackTrax and disguise give him a detailed understanding of the three-dimensional environment.
WorldStage has furnished “SpongeBob” with a BlackTrax system featuring a full complement of cameras, beacons and LED stringers. Three disguise systems integrate seamlessly with BlackTrax; another is on hand for inline back up and Notch Block playabck.
The projection content for the show includes environmental imagery, fictitious news footage and graphics. “There’s quite a wide range of material,” says Nigrini. “The way anything can happen at any given moment in the original cartoon – that’s the mandate for all the departments of the show.”
Several Panasonic laser projectors, Christie Digital S+14K projectors and Rosco X24 X-Effects projectors are positioned all around to the set to cover the large stage areas, smaller set pieces and provide specialty effects.
“Now most of the projectors we use are laser phosphor projectors,” says Nigrini. “They are quieter, dimmable and save thousands of dollars in lamp replacement.”
He likes how he can use BlackTrax data to calibrate all of the show’s projectors. “BlackTrax not only tracks scenery but calibrates the whole projection system in a very reliable way,” he reports. “That’s new for us.”
He also cites the ability of the three Christie projectors to accurately recall various lens positions. “They constantly refocus themselves as part of the cueing and do it reliably,” he says. “BlackTrax recalibrates their lens movements, too.”
“What we do on ‘SpongeBob’ is complex and exciting,” Nigrini concludes. “That’s why we need a partner like WorldStage.”