Live vs. Video

From my inbox:

“How do you feel about doing live stage performance, that has been carefully, planned blocked, with sets, entrances costumes, lighting etc, and then have video camera crew shoot the whole thing onto three giant screens floating above your head? Do you feel as I do that this pretty much sucks the life out of the art form and the relationship between the actor and the audience – especially since the audience stops watching the stage and watches the giant screens instead?”

1Can you feel the frustration coming from the question? And did you notice that the writer sort of answered the question—assuming I would agree—before I had a chance to answer? In this case the assumption is correct.  And then there is this:

“I have no control over the camera angles, close ups or long shots. The person in the booth who never sees the rehearsals takes it upon themselves to shoot the action on the stage any way they want to and thereby interprets for the audience what they want them to see.”

No question about it, church is not what it used to be.  Technology, like it or not, is here to stay. As much as some may long for the “good ole days” they aren’t coming back when it comes to technology.  Oh, there are the hold-outs—mostly churches that are more limited by finances and know-how, rather than desire. But it is rare indeed to see a church that doesn’t have a video screen and making use of power-point, video, and even interactive question and answers via texting from the congregation.

Technology is great and I love all the things we can do with it. But just because we have the technology doesn’t mean we should use it in every conceivable situation! The drama department—if you even have one—is one area of the arts that has suffered the most… that and add the printers of hymnbooks. Both, it seems have been replaced by the video screen.
Live theater and video are two very different art forms.  A stage play is directed with the understanding that a live audience is viewing the scene. It is up to the director to control the audience’s attention through the dialog, movement on stage, and the lighting. Video is very different and attention is focused through the camera’s lens.  There is no choice for the viewer on where to look, the camera tells you. I have seen some very professional stage plays shot on video… I am rarely impressed.

I can truly identify with the struggle expressed in the email.  I am often in situations where they want to project my image on the screen while I perform. I usually discourage it. The only exception being in the truly large auditoriums that seat thousands, and it is a legitimate concern for everyone to be able to see.  But that is not the case in most churches and in the scenario expressed in this email.

My advice for those that are caught in the middle of live performance vs. video is to make a choice. Is this script better or more effective as a live play or as a video?  If it is video, then go shoot a video outside the service time where the script is set up and shot properly as a video shoot.  And if it is better live, then turn the camera off during the service!

No question, I have a bias. We are inundated with video today. There is a power in live performance. There is a relationship between audience and performer that you can not achieve with video. So I say again, just because we can, doesn’t mean we should.

Do you have any other helps or advice for the writer of this email? How would you suggest the person handle this issue with those making the decisions to shoot the video? 

9 thoughts on “Live vs. Video

  1. tootie45 says:

    I also responded to her posting. I am a professional actor, also, and found this very upsetting. I pretty much said the same thing. Maybe she should show the problem person your blog!

  2. Dale Savidge says:

    Interesting discussion! First, I would say technology may not be “here to stay” — as in forever, and a lot of churches do choose not to implement everything they can afford, for theological and/or aesthetic reasons. Artists need to campaign for aesthetics to be part of the discussion when buildings are being designed and services are being planned. If you are an artist in a church, get involved and let your voice be heard. However, more Christians watch TV and movies than go to the theatre, dance, symphony or opera (at least in evangelical circles) so churches and church services are designed to appeal to their demographics.

    I agree that if a story is best told on a screen then shoot it and show it. If it is written for live performance then turn off the cameras. Make the theatre suit the size of the building and if the building is so large it requires projected amplification then theatre directors have to accommodate that and direct the camera people as well as the actors.

    Thanks for the conversation.

    Dale Savidge

  3. M Christopher Boyer says:

    Insist that the video people come to rehearsal and prepare a shot sheet in collaboration with the director of the play or leave the cameras off. A hybrid live-stage/video production can work but only with careful preparation.

  4. Wesley Brainard says:

    I really identify with the desperate helplessness that comes when the video guy has never been to rehearsal and now we are subjegated to showing the audience what he/she decides they should see. But it’s time to make the effort to get the vedeo people (all of them…including camera people) to the rehearsal(s). Some actors are pretty speedy and hard to follow smoothly and camera operators need a little time to see the show, experience it and then transpose their art for the sake of the audience. Also, while it may be true that some stories give themselves better to one medium as opposed to another. But, often times the story just needs to be transposed for the medium. The story of Jesus can be a movie, a mime, a live theatrical pageant, a poem, etc. While each medium finds its strength zeroing in on a particular facet, as creative kingdom servants we can embrace a wide variety of ways and means and find venues that suit each. I’m a live theatrical performer. But I appreciate film and television…who doesn’t? Yes. Live is a place of breath and life that cannot be replicated onto film. But that’s why film is a different kind of art. Both have their place in the kingdom.

  5. Ric Moxley says:

    as a person who’s been both the actor and the guy directing the live behind the scenes video editing of a live performance, i feel that there may often be no choice but to do the big-screen stuff. Many churches today are so large that trying to follow an actor’s live performance from the back half of the congregation is impossible because the actor is just a dot up there, emoting to the first 20 rows only. if I’m in the back half of the sanctuary in this situation, it’s effectively like a radio audio-only performance … unless assisted visually by the big screen blowup of what’s going on up there.

    The trick for the performer is try and connect with the video director in advance. yes, ideally to have hte director there for a rehearsal — unlikely to happen. But at least a conversation, encouraging them to stay a bit wide in their coverage, so you won’t be falling out of frame every time you pace out or in.

  6. Dan E says:

    I admit to strong feelings on the whole subject of video technology. My
    prejudice is toward church being a place where live interaction trumps
    technological advance. Where we learn to live with one another… I
    would also like to think that a video director who is seeking to use the
    technology as a means of worship would also respect the desires of
    other artists and not insist on the cameras.. If video enhancement is
    necessary because of sightlines, etc, there should logically be a *lot*
    of interaction between the actor and the videographer, to make certain
    the latter is in tune with the intent and artistic vision of the former.
    Where such collaboration is not welcomed….. wow, here’s where it
    gets dicey. The congregation might still need to hear my message even
    in its corrupted and truncated form. So, walking away is not
    necessarily the universal “correct” response. It could turn into a
    teachable moment, so that “next time” they understand why we want not to
    be on the big screen… Graciousness has to cover, but technology
    should ideally never overrule personal contact.

    1. Lin Sexton says:

      Sometimes when a church invests the money to get the best technology, there is pressure to use it. Forgive me, but some leaders get crushes on the latest greatest tech and you just can’t talk them out of it! I agree with Dan. Church is about Presence. It is about being in community in the presence of God. It is about God’s presence in us. It is about our presence with one another. The more we can encourage that idea, the better, since we are in a sense, all refugees from cyberspace. Have you ever sat in a movie and ignored the story because the technology was so wonderful? I am afraid of that in our worship experiences in general! We don’t want people to get caught up in the “how”. We want them captured by the “Who”.



  7. Jeff Barker says:

    Great topic, Chuck. Here’s a recent experience I had. My college troupe traveled to a mid-size church. They didn’t put my actors on screen (would have been nearly impossible to follow), but the local church’s lighting guy tried to help by doing a bit of on the fly focus supplementation (even after I’d asked him not to). Since the play was presented in very brief scenes in different parts of the platform, the result was that each scene started in darkness, and then by the time lights came up, another scene was starting in darkness on the other side of the platform.

    The principle is this: is if you can’t come to rehearsal, don’t plan to be perform. This is not a problem with the tech staff. It’s a problem of leadership. The person in charge has to articulate the vision and then enforce it.

    And a final note: when have you been to a Broadway play that is in a theatre larger than most churches? Well, most of the time. When has that Broadway play used screens to provide live feed so people in the back can see better? Never.

    Jeff Barker


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