Curtains Calling: Videotaping Plays and Recitals

As a video enthusiast, you persistently seek new projects that challenge your skills. Whether it’s a birthday party, wedding, vacation travelogue or just some good old home "movies," powering up the camcorder continues to motivate and excite you.
Ideally, you want to put your energies into something that is enjoyable to do, but at the same time yields results that are entertaining and valuable to others. It’s also a bonus if the prospect of making money from your craft is a possibility. Does such a videotaping opportunity actually exist?
If you’re drawing a blank when trying to think of a production that can deliver fun, value and profit, consider taping plays and recitals.

Why Document the Drama?

Play and recital taping is a natural for videographers looking to expand their repertoire of experience. These events occur constantly throughout the year, in locales large and small, attracting hundreds of participants and observers while presenting action in a creative and visually attractive manner. Plus, the recording of such events presents many benefits to those on both sides of the camera.
First and most obviously, by capturing the event on videotape, participants, friends and family are able to remember the show for years to come. Still photos are always nice, but to do justice to something fluid and lively like a community play or a dance academy’s year-end recital, video is the way to go.
Plays and recitals are a display of talent and, unlike many other videotaping situations, subjects in these settings actually like being in the limelight. No more chasing Aunt Midge around the backyard trying to capture a couple seconds of clear footage. No more asking people to talk louder so your mike can pick up their voices. No more feeling like you’re more a nuisance than a welcome guest. Dancers, singers, actors and even the crews are only too willing to show off their skills. You can expect a lot of cooperation when it comes to getting what you need and this kind of working atmosphere makes your job more enjoyable.
Performers and their instructors also appreciate the educational aspects videotape provides. Mistakes barely perceptible to the live audience are often glaring in a video. By having the opportunity to re-examine their performances, those involved in the production can fine-tune their skills. Problematic sections of a dance, hard-to-follow parts of a play and maybe even dangerous sets or stages all can be identified through the use of video.
Plays and recitals are often the product of non-profit organizations, Another reason to get involved in taping these productions: fundraising. Churches, schools and community-sponsored groups rely on the kindness of members and supporters to continue producing these extra-curricular events. By gaining the proper permissions (usually from staff and organizers) you can team up with the group hosting the event and arrange to tape the live show for the eventual sale to parents and other audience members. Monies raised through such efforts can then benefit future programs and events.
While the idea of making money for an organization is certainly noble, I’m going to bet the idea of making money for yourself sounds even more attractive. With the many attendees and participants involved in plays and recitals, the potential to profit from your taping experience is huge. Be prepared to find yourself in direct competition with other camcorder-toting parents and viewers. Try to arrange to be the sole videographer present, promising a professional-level tape. Offer a free copy of the finished production to the school, church or community group holding the event. An advance notice to all involved should encourage sales, especially to parents who’d rather enjoy the show without seeing it through a viewfinder.

Shootin’ the Show

Taping a play or recital is very similar to recording any other event. While fancy production gear makes the job easier, you can do a respectable job using a camcorder and detachable mike. If working with a single camera, you’ll probably want to tape the event at least twice to get good coverage for editing. This can get tough, as a live performance by non-professionals sometimes means wild variations in timing. A dancer that spins on the second beat of a song one time probably won’t do it the same way the next time. It’s best to shoot one master shot of the entire show, then concentrate on getting close-ups of performers and audience members as cut-aways for the final edit. Close-ups will hide many out-of-synch mistakes.
If a second camera is available, you can do it all at once. Lock down one camera for the master shot while moving around with the second to get close-ups and alternate angles. One hint: keep both cameras running continuously from the start of the program to the finish. This will ensure running synch between the two tapes, allowing for simplified editing.
With plays and recitals, you’ll want to record the cleanest on-site sound possible. There are several ways you can do this. A single boom mike centrally located near the stage will capture all voices and sounds. Individual wireless mikes on each performer is another option, though this will necessitate the use of a mixer. You may also be able to tap into the facility’s audio system. A music-only recital makes audio replacement very easy. With no dialogue to worry about, you simply record new tracks using the original music source from the event.
Video of the facility’s exterior as well as shots of the crowd entering and taking its seats will allow you to craft a professional-looking opening sequence. Use information from printed programs to create movie-like end titles that crawl up the screen crediting everyone involved in the show. Finally, you may want to add some "bloopers." and behind-the-scenes footage. These are always a great way to liven up a tape.

Looking for Action

Like any other video opportunity, finding the action is your first step. As a starting point, ask friends, relatives and co-workers about their possible involvement in these types of events. Knowing someone "on the inside" helps in getting the work. You can also survey the calendars of churches, community groups, civic organizations, public and private schools, dance, music and gymnastic academies in your area. Identify any plays or recitals listed and call the organization with your plan.
Whether it’s an elementary school’s holiday program or a dance school’s 150-member annual show, plays and recitals offer the video enthusiast another way to creatively gain and sharpen skills. The fun, rewarding and potentially profitable atmosphere of these events makes them a great new production option for videographers of all levels. So get out there and break-a-leg!

1 COMMENT

  1. It was good could use more tech advice though. How to deal with lighting etc.. Also pricing out these events is always great to have in articles.

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