Bag&Baggage Productions Projects into the Future

by Stage Directions
As You Like It with a projected set at Bag&Baggage Productions
As You Like It with a projected set at Bag&Baggage Productions

As its name implies, Bag&Baggage Productions (B&B) is a malleable theater company. What was started as a touring company in 2005 with nothing more than just a van, simple sets, and a handful of actors, the Hillsboro, OR-based troupe quickly become known for its artistic quality, affordability, and a unique, provocative sense of humor. The company’s services grew in greater demand, with double the audience numbers and budget size. The company's Technical Director, Jim Ricks-White, talks about how Bag&Baggage turned their move into a new permanent home into a projection opportunity.

In 2008, the company moved into the Venetian Theatre in downtown Hillsboro, calling it home for eight years until the converted theater came up for sale. Ever resourceful, B&B bought and turned a 5,000-square-foot former bank building into its permanent residence just two blocks away from their old stage. Giving a nod to the building’s former history and the company’s future, they named it The Vault. The new space would provide them not only with a permanent residence but an opportunity to make a new mark. The building was built out as black-box-style theater. This style of theater is known for being a simple, somewhat unadorned performance space with untreated walls and a flat floor, which would lend itself to the type of sets the company envisioned.

“This was a great opportunity,” said Ricks-White. “We didn’t just imagine a theater; we imagined a multipurpose venue. We immediately started thinking about how we could use technology to give us the flexibility we didn’t have at the Venetian. That meant no permanent staging, no permanent lighting rig. It would be like getting back to our roots of being very flexible.”

Fighting Shadows
Though the Venetian Theatre had provided B&B with a large, 386-seat traditional-style theater, it had limited technological capabilities. Originally a 1920s-era movie theater, the building only had a single projector and about 46 lighting instruments in the whole building. This required expensive and labor-intensive set designs, which B&B wanted to get away from and alternately use more lighting and projection for the scenic elements.

“The projector in the Venetian, because of the way it was set up in a cinema-style, the image cast all the way across the stage and all the way down to the stage floor,” said Ricks-White. “The minute you put an actor in it, you were fighting shadows.”

At The Vault, space was much more limited, which meant actors would have to be much closer to the walls. To project scenery, the projector would have to be placed up in the ceiling and be capable of projecting from a much higher angle. They also wanted the flexibility to project half-wall scenes rather than fill the entire wall and have the actors be able to get within three feet of the wall without casting shadows. In addition, the system needed to be able to cover the entire 48’x52’ performance space while projecting true black onto the theater’s yellow pine walls.

“Because the walls are not black, any light bounces off them,” Ricks-White said. “When we go to a blackout in the room for an entrance or scene change, if we can't get a true black, then we can't control the lighting in the room, which is critical in live performance. That black had to really be black to work in this space.”

In addition, the company needed a projector that would lend itself to other purposes including the Cultural Innovation program, which is a program that earned the company a $50,000 grant to fund the projector purchase and create a state-of-the-art digital projection laboratory that will allow area artists, students from throughout the state, animators, innovators, and digital content producers to experiment with the technology. Other uses would include showing 4K HD movies in the space as well as serve any presentation requirements for banquet and event clients.

Crisp, True Black
No stranger to technology, Ricks-White attends the LDI tradeshow every year. This has allowed him to keep current with the current trends in the live entertainment and theater industry and see the best technology on the market, including projectors. He selected BenQ’s professional 4K BlueCore Series LK970 laser projector as a frontrunner and even conducted his own shootout with several other projector brands to see how BenQ would perform. Right away he could see the true difference in the projector’s color performance.

“That's where the BenQ far surpassed our tests. The blacks were super impressive. They were so crisp, clean, and truly black. They weren’t blue. And when we projected black, it didn’t gray or go charcoal on us. That was the thing that made it stand out to me. It's just how crisp the blacks were in the images.”

The BenQ LK970 BlueCore laser projector boasts 4K resolution with 5,000 ANSI-lumen brightness. Featuring BenQ's innovative BlueCore Laser technology with Texas Instruments' latest DLP chip, it delivers a picture with subtle details in true-to-life color performance that makes graphics and motion video pop. The industry-trusted chip is complemented by a dual color wheel specifically engineered to project rich, saturated color with superior accuracy that's capable of meeting the hefty color and reliability requirements of venues such as The Vault as well as other spaces where color performance is critical.

It also met the theater’s stringent installation requirements, guaranteeing reliable projection from any angle, including 360-degree rotation and portrait applications and capable of projection mapping onto ceiling, walls, floors, and even angled signage. Additionally, the LK970 offers HDBaseT connectivity for uncompressed transmissions up to 100 meters. HDBaseT connectivity combines video, audio, and device control signals from multiple sources including PCs, laptops, document cameras, Blu-rays, and DVDs onto a single Cat-5 cable for seamless long-distance transmissions. the LK970 is compatible with Crestron, AMX, and Extron control systems for convenient system integration with various third-party devices.

Ricks-White installed and centered the BenQ 4K projector in the ceiling, allowing it to project either on a true screen, the theater’s wall, or whatever a client or a play might call for. It’s a further cost savings to the theater, as the filter free, dustproof solution is able to withstand the high event turnover in the space, including the company’s need to build sets in house.

The projector is operated with a Crestron controller, allowing any client to walk into the room and use it. Furthering the flexibility of the projector, wireless HDMI transceivers can easily send a client’s computer signal or the control booth’s video signal to the projector.

Positive Results
The biggest benefit for B&B has been able to do shows that have acts that are multi-scene without having to build sets. One person can build the content for an entire play versus needing a crew of carpenters to build just one scene. This presented enormous savings on labor and materials.

B&B has also put the projector through its paces in several other applications, including a film series, board meetings, and the company’s Cultural Innovation program. Clients just walk in with a flash drive and drop their content straight into the system for their video element.

“When we surveyed our options, we had all these ideas of what we wanted to do next,” he said. “For instance, we want to put in a 25-foot screen, which is something our old projector would never have been able to handle. We would have had to push it so far back into the room that its output would have played out before it got to the screen.

“We are currently projecting an image that wraps around two of the theater walls. The actor's space comes up within five feet of that projection. With the next show, we are going to project down onto the floor by mapping one of the scenic elements in the show and use just that as a surface. These are all things we couldn’t have even imagined doing before. Throughout this process we’d been asking, how are we going to be a theater company in the 21st century on into the 22nd century? This projector has that answered that question.”

Despite having been opened for only 10 months, The Vault Theater and Event Space is booked for all but six weekends of the 2018-2019 season.

Further information from Bag&Baggage Productions:
Further information from BenQ: