Theatre

400 apparitions to storm the stage in world’s first holographic production

By Kitty Knowles 27 May 2016
Summary

Symphony To A Lost Generation will bring the human tragedy of the First World War to life in a groundbreaking hologram performance.

Tomorrow, Symphony to a Lost Generation will debut in an 18th-century church in central London.

The moving musical production aims to bring to life the stark realities of the First World War, with the help of a 400-strong cast, including the Vienna Philharmonic Choir and the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra.

Hints of Beethoven and Chopin move into soundscapes of horror, and balletic trysts fall into butoh (the Japanese “dance of death-in-life”) depicting the lives of those caught in No Man’s Land.

What’s even more exceptional?

There won’t actually be anyone ‘live’ on stage.

That’s because Symphony to a Lost Generation is the world’s first feature-length fully holographic dramatic production.

Why a hologram performance?

In recent years, holograms have been used to bring Michael Jackson back to life and allowed Kate Moss to spend a month as part of the Alexander McQueen exhibition, but they’ve never before formed the basis of a full stage production.

“Holograms allow a far larger cast, and mean I can address the scale and universality of the horror, moving between countries, battles and experiences rather than trying to tell one person’s story,” director and composer Adam Donen told The Memo.

“It allows me to create the insides-of-people’s-heads on stage with far less limitation than with real actors, and with far more immediacy than 3D film.”

How do you make a hologram production?

While Symphony to a Lost Generation is made up of a combination of classical music, dance, drama and archival film, creating it’s holograms has been the most challenging feat.

First, Donen spent six months testing lighting setups, camera angles, film actors, dancers and musicians in front of a green screen.

Then he built in the 3D space and “tortured” visual director Mikael Jaeger Jensen (of Framestore, Avatar, and Gravity fame) and VFX supervisor Ivan Sorgente for a year, “building explosion scenes, and impossible appearances and disappearances.”

“You edit on a life-size stage. Rinse and repeat,” says Donen.

“I am aware this sounds comically simple, it’s not. It’s a bloody nightmare, but the nightmare is in the details.”

Big benefits

The payoff of using holograms makes it all worth it though, says Donen.

In the first movement of the performance, Lord Kitchener (of the ‘Your Country Needs You” poster fame) appears as a still 2D poster at the front of the stage.

“Some 10-year-old children come running along, see the poster, and he springs to life, climbing out of the poster onto the stage to teach them how to march,” explains Donen.

“Holograms allow a switch between different sorts of reality … from being a poster, to an actor, from being a transparent character, or a ghost, to dissolving into poppies – and all of it appearing to be really there.”

More accessibility

The play’s hologram form also means the production can tour even smaller towns and cities across the world.

“Holograms can travel to places that great performers can’t or won’t, en masse,” explains Donen.

“Getting dear Minako Seki, Sergei Polunin, the Vienna Philharmonic Choir and the Lithuanian State Symphony Orchestra to Bury St Edmunds, Portsmouth and Weymouth would likely prove difficult,” he adds.

“I didn’t want my work stuck in capital cities with gazillion pound tickets.”

The challenges

Perhaps unsurprisingly, taking on such a groundbreaking task has not been without its difficulties.

“The single biggest challenge is that we’ve been swimming in completely uncharted waters throughout – no-one has ever done a work on this scale before,” said Donen.

However the composer also faced up to any critics who might suggest that holograms can’t live up to real life.

“It’s like saying sunglasses are better than strawberries,” he explained.

“Holograms allow modes of expression and effect that nothing else can do – using real life as the measure by which to judge holograms is just silly.”

The future for holographic productions

Although Donen says that holograms “won’t replace live performance any more than film”, Symphony to a Lost Generation is just the tip of the iceberg: after a short 3 week break, the director plans to move straight on to his next work.

“We’re keeping the core team together, about which I’m delighted,” he said of the mystery project. “Working with the holographic form, we discovered so many things that weren’t appropriate for this project that feed into another dramatic idea.”

Here at The Memo we can’t wait to see what it looks like when holograms storm the stage.

Move over Michael Jackson and Kate Moss, there are new holograms in town, and it looks like they’re going to be mesmerising.

Symphony to a Lost Generation will run at LSO St Luke’s between 28-31 May, before touring the UK. Book your tickets at www.symphonytoalostgeneration.com.