When “Losing Something,” written and directed by Kevin Cunningham, opens on Friday at the 3LD Art & Technology Center in Lower Manhattan, the production will mark the first use by an American theater company of a high-definition video projection system called Eyeliner...
The Eyeliner system makes use of an old stage trick called Pepper’s Ghost that by most accounts was first seen onstage in an 1862 production of Charles Dickens’s “Haunted Man,” at the Royal Polytechnic Institution in London. John Henry Pepper (1821-1900) is usually credited with discovering the illusion, though an engineer named Henry Dircks was really first to suggest placing an angled piece of plate glass between audience and actors, allowing off-stage objects or people to “appear” reflected on the glass as if they were onstage. When the off-stage lights were turned off, the ghosts seemed to vanish.
With Eyeliner, the unwieldy glass pane is replaced with a lighter, nearly invisible screen...“Losing Something” employs both recorded video images and traditional Pepper’s Ghost effects — actors hidden offstage are reflected onto the screen, where they appear to be floating. Additional video images, projected from the rear, help to create a sort of three-dimensional movie box.
Then Isadora takes over. The software, invented by Mark Coniglio, a composer and media artist who is a director of the dance company Troika Ranch, gives its user real-time control over the digital video. An operator can make a recorded video character stop, look and listen, as if reacting to a real person onstage.
I just read about Pepper’s Ghost in the excellent book Hiding the Elephant, by Jim Steinmeyer, and I am tickled beyond words that someone is bringing it into the 21st century.