The Alley Theatre is a nationally recognised performing arts company and nonprofit theatre based in Houston, Texas. With two venues, the Alley produces up to 16 plays each year, and gives nearly 500 performances each season. However, during the pandemic their production focus changed and producing digital programming became essential.
The Alley’s leadership team has since then identified the need to deliver theatrical experiences digitally to further its community engagement efforts, leading to the creation of an in-house video production department complete with a full post production workflow based on DaVinci Resolve Studio.
During its entirely digital season from 2020 to 2021, the theatre produced 14 productions viewed by remote patrons around the world. During the next season 2021-2022, the Alley operated on a hybrid model, making digital versions of in-person shows available for purchase for remote viewing within the two week period immediately following a show's closing.
Bringing the Live Experience to Audiences
“During the pandemic, our goal was to bring the live experience to patrons when they had to stay at home,” said Alley Theatre’s Director of Video Production Victoria Sagady. “Right up to the final export, the Alley’s shows stayed in Blackmagic DaVinci Resolve for the entire post process. Resolve remains a crucial part of our production pipeline. The accompanying Blackmagic keyboards and panels help us keep everything in one system. These resources have made the Alley’s process incredibly fast, efficient and straightforward.”
During post for the previous digital outputs, Victoria and her team depended on the multicam interface in DaVinci Resolve Studio’s Edit page, playing through the shows and choosing cameras -- as if it were a live event, but with the advantage of being able to stop, go back and move the edits around quite easily. Once they had a solid cut, the team mastered the sound in the Fairlight page using a Fairlight Desktop Console, making sure that all audio was properly synced via timecode and equalised to sound as much like the live experience as possible. The Theatre’s Sound Department contributed to the mixes as well, using DaVinci Resolve Studio and the Fairlight Desktop Console.
The Alley’s video team also graded the live performances in Resolve Studio with a DaVinci Resolve Micro Panel, and the Fusion page was used for any keying or special effects. Theatre staff have also shot several projects on the Blackmagic Pocket Cinema Camera 4K digital film camera, which Victoria noted produced beautiful footage and was easy for members of the Alley’s Resident Acting Company to use.
Today, as audiences return to the theatre for live performances, which are the core mission of the Alley, digital content production is still a major initiative for the theatre. Continuing from the 2020-2021 all-digital season, the Alley@Home program has become a new method to engage audiences both before and after shows, with narrative short films and episodic series that relate to specific titles or themes in its seasons.
In the future, the Alley Theatre will continue to expand its digital productions in ways that bring live audiences a richer and more engaging experience. This would involve behind-the-scenes digital content and educational outreach programs. The Alley Theatre doesn’t just produce content for digital distribution but also develops content that is seen on stage by live audiences – for example, original projection design that incorporates fantasy elements into productions.
New Workflows and Hardware
“DaVinci Resolve Studio makes it much more feasible for us to work with different types of projects now, given its expansive, built-in functionality,” said Victoria. “The Alley Theatre makes heavy use of its multi camera editing feature, which has made the process much simpler. I spend the majority of my time on the Edit page, where I use the Auto Align tool to sync audio and video tracks with timecode. Most importantly, having Fairlight, colour and Fusion available in the same environment makes exports and round trips unecessary.”
They have also found the Resolve hardware, including the Fairlight Desktop Console, DaVinci Resolve Speed Editor, Editor Keyboard and DaVinci Resolve Micro Panel, is having a major impact on the Alley team’s workflow and flexibility. They save considerable time, allowing the staff to equalise a channel or use automation to mix a scene on the panel, for instance, without having to switch screens in Resolve.
By using the jog shuttle and specialised keys of the DaVinci Resolve Editor Keyboard, they can limit the use of a mouse to click or drag various controls. The Alley has also deployed a SmartView 4K monitor for colour accurate camera previews during production, and SmartView Duo panels for multi-camera shoots with live audiences. www.blackmagicdesign.com