We spoke to Laura-Jane MacRae, producer and director of Person 181
Can you sum up the project?
When I began working with Garsington Opera it became clear that Silver Birch was no ordinary production. It features 180 people on stage. Many of those people are drawn from local communities and have never even seen an opera before, let alone performed in one.
It’s an incredible undertaking and the creative team behind Silver Birch are really keen to introduce opera to new audiences. 360 video is a new way to experience this kind of performance and Garsington embraced the medium. They gave us incredible access and helped us think about different ways to share the story of Silver Birch.
Having previously worked on a 360 film (The Perfect Place), I wanted to ensure we told a story. With a stage consisting of 180 people – I thought ‘what’s one more?’ and so Person 181 was born.
In short, you are Person 181. You arrive at the gates of Wormsley Estate on opening night. ,
You spend time in the dressing room. Then it’s onto the stage for warm-up, a nervous wait behind the scenes and finally it’s show time on the opening night of Silver Birch!
How did you approach the creative process?
First of all, I needed to understand what opening night would be like for the 180 performers, so I took some time to get my head around how that feels. Next, I contacted Alia Sheikh from BBC R&D – she has always been a fantastic sounding board. From those discussions, I was able to pull together a story board, complete with pictures so that everyone understood what we were after.
We fell on our feet with the Pinewood Foley team who happened to be working on Silver Birch and have a just a bit of experience when it comes to sound capture! We also worked with 360 Events from Manchester to help us best capture the action.
How was it made?
There were a few points to consider, especially when working within a much bigger production. The creative team at Garsington were happy for us to put our 360 camera on stage during opening night, but it had to be in keeping with the set. We worked with designer, Rhiannon Newman Brown, to paint the stand and place the camera in the best spot.
With 180 people filling out every space on stage we found a location that somehow managed to let us see everyone and make you feel like you are in the thick of things, but didn’t get in the way of the performance.
I had been working with Garsington Opera on a behind the scenes film of the production. Through that I met an amazing group from the military community. If you ever want really great people to work with who show up super early and always have a good attitude – work with the military community! Paula, Beverley, Topsy, Luke and Keira are people with real stories to share. They became Person 181’s friend: meeting you in the dressing room beforehand and staying with you throughout the film. If you look, you may catch them glancing at you during rehearsal or in the middle of the performance.
We wanted to make the audience feel that they were really part of it all and getting a little glance from a friend helps with that.
You have made some 360 videos before. What do you like about the medium?
When I started making 360 films I wasn’t a fan. As a director, frames are how we tell stories. An exterior wide shot sets the scene. A close-up gives you emotion and cutting between these tells a story. Stepping into a world without frames was a difficult transition for me but it was worth it in the end.
360 stories are immersive in a way that can be really emotional and moving. Paula giving you a glance during the warm up as we hear Karen the director telling us how far we’ve come. Being able to look around you when Karen reminds there are 180 people on stage – these are things that 360 can do.
The medium definitely has a long way to go, but it’s really exciting to be discovering new techniques and new ways to tell stories.