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FRAY Studio Crafts Multiple worlds for the New Broadway Musical Mean Girls

New Broadway Musical Mean Girls

The much-anticipated new Broadway musical Mean Girls, based on the hit film, premiered at the August Wilson Theatre on Broadway this month. Responsible for the production's highly-acclaimed video sets is British video design team FRAY Studio, who worked closely with director and choreographer Casey Nicholaw and set designer Scott Pask to create the sophisticated, fast-paced and at times, surreal worlds of North Shore High's famous students.

"I love a gratuitously long fade but this was not the show for those," says Finn Ross, co-founder of FRAY Studio on Mean Girls' insta-fast scene changes. "Casey had an absolute stage vision for the show. He sees the video as part of the choreography, so that content moves and changes to the same beats and counts as the performers. The choreography on stage is very detailed, very fast, and Tina Fey's script can change location in a beat. Our design approach had to be one to embrace and enable this speed."

Ross's creative partner and FRAY co-founder Adam Young elaborates, "During a number in the musical's first act we hurdle between present day, the past, fantasy locations, basements, school corridors, a swimming pool, a party, canteens, and English classrooms! Using video, we are able to jump from place to place within a second, without disorientating an audience."

Ross and Young opted to use LED screens for the production's video display rather than projection to preserve the rich colors of the video content. Young explains, "Because the show's set is entirely LED, we could use colors and tones that we haven't been able to achieve with projection. The brightness of the screens can compete with onstage lighting so we could create video content such as dark brown brick or extremely dark blue night skies and moonlit gardens. If this was being done with projection, all of this would have been washed out unless the stage was practically pitch black."

Ross agrees, "It was clear from day one this would be a bright Broadway musical, so projection was never an option, it had to be LED. Scott wanted to clad the set in something pink and he had the idea of using pink-tinted Perspex to cover all of the screens that form the set."

Ross and Young saw an immediate opportunity in the material, "The stage is made up of two huge curved LED screens with various sliding panels and six LED screen legs that go into the wings," says Ross. "We realized that by cladding the screens in specific pink Perspex it would take away the LEDs' harshness in the intimate theatre environment. It would also allow us to run the LED processors at a much higher level, giving us banding-free, rich color. This ensures that despite the large amount of LED and video, the whole set feels magical and not digital."

Young continues, "For the more surreal moments we use video content to represent the characters' psychology. For example, Janis -- the 'art freak' of the show: her scenes are hand-drawn with streaky markers and everything feels rough and unpolished. When our 'Queen Plastic' Regina is still the most popular girl in school, her 'video worlds' are very pink and sparkly. However, later in the show when she's seeking her revenge for her social exile, we shift into a 'Bond' inspired world which, while maintaining her color, is less pretty, more stark, and holds a harsh and aggressive energy."

Mean Girls opened at the August Wilson Theatre in New York on April 8. The show's creative team includes Casey Nicholaw (director/choreographer), Tina Fey (book), Nell Benjamin (lyrics), Jeff Richmond (music), Scott Pask (set design), Gregg Barnes (costume design), Kenneth Posner (lighting design), Brian Ronan (sound design), and Finn Ross and Adam Young (video design).


(23 April 2018)

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