Translight Fabric for Goodman Theatre’s “Objects in the Mirror”

Photo courtesy of The Goodman Theatre – Chicago, Illinois

The backdrop used for Act Two of the Goodman Theatre Chicago’s production of “Objects in the Mirror” is mesmerizing. The richly saturated blues of the water are separated from the brilliant hues of the sky by a whisper of a horizon line.
“The play or opera being presented onstage dictates everything we do,” explains Scenic Designer Riccardo Hernandez. “There are two distinct locations for this play. The first act is set in war-torn Africa. The second act opens with a panoramic view of the beach in Adelaide, Australia. The scenic design creates two complete opposites by using hard surfaces, such as corrugated metal and wood, in the opening act and a large-scale, digitally printed backdrop of an actual photograph of the beach for Act Two. I chose this particular photo because it provided a wonderfully lyrical, poetic vista that spanned the entire width of the Goodman’s stage. The sky reminded me of a Rothko painting. The clouds are peaceful, not threatening.”

The contrast between the action on the stage and this backdrop is intentional — and poignant.

“The main character in the play is searching for his identity,” Hernandez says. “He is from Africa, so even though Adelaide appears to be safe, he still feels out of place. The fact that there is a clear horizon line, but no distinct sense of land reinforces this.”

The Goodman Theatre’s Technical Director, Mark Prey, knew he needed to find the perfect combination of fabric and technology to preserve color saturation on the back drop, which would be illuminated from both the front and back.

Prey called Big Image Systems to see what options its staff could propose.

“The Goodman Theatre had ordered a back drop from Big Image in the past,” he says. “So when Riccardo requested a large printed drop for this production I knew Big Image was the company to talk to.”

“We recommended Translight Fabric [Translight] for the ‘Objects in the Mirror” drop because Big Image developed this double-sided printing technique to offset the loss of color saturation that always happens when a backdrop is lit from behind,” says Olle Lindqvist, President of Big Image’s U.S. Operations. “By printing on the front and back of muslin (Cloth 201 HzN), we knew the backlit colors would be as vibrant as those we used to achieve printing on vinyl (RP Screen).” Since Translight drops are printed on muslin, they are far more durable and easier to work with than vinyl drops. Big Image can also use its proprietary Infinitus printer to produce seamless Translight backdrops that are up to 160’ by 40’ in size.

“Achieving precise registration of the images is absolutely critical for successfully employing the Translight technology,” Lindqvist notes. “Using Big Image’s water-based inks is, in effect, like spraying water on a cotton fabri c. The first side is printed and the fabric shrinks a small amount as it dries. Thus the dimensions of the fabric and the printed image have already shrunken by the time the fabric is prepared for printing on the second side.” So Big Image’s production team needed to pay meticulous attention to sizing, aligning, and registering the digital art before printing on the backside of the drop.

“The drop looked great onstage under light,” Prey says.

Hernandez agrees: “The cotton Translight fabric was quite friendly to light. The effects we could achieve were more real, more mysterious than if we’d used another material or technique. For decades audiences have seen painted reproductions of photographs on hard surfaces. Now, though, the Translight technology directly recreates the photograph and this allows designers to light it in ways that enrich the storytelling we can do with theater. I would absolutely use Translight again.”