Episcopal School of Jacksonville: The Wiz Production

I’m not shy at all, so it’s probably unsurprising that one of my earliest forms of artistic expression was theatre performance.  Whether of my own accord or by way of my parents’ gentle push of encouragement, I often found myself auditioning, acting, singing, and performing in stage productions.  A passion for theatrics emerged.  Although my current platform of performance is predominantly film and television, theatre is still a part of my life.  And a marriage of the two exists, now more than ever!
I had numerous opportunities throughout my high school years to perform, whether on stage or behind the scenes.  Through theatre and music classes, vocal ensembles, troupes and productions, I could always fill my artistic needs as a student at Episcopal School of Jacksonville.  A world class performing arts center was completed during my freshman year and it was a privilege and luxury to appear in its inaugural production of Peter Pan.

Returning to Episcopal A Decade Later

Fast forward over a decade later and I still find myself returning to the Munnerlyn Center, most recently as a creative consultant!  This past fall, Episcopal presented its production of “The Wiz” – at no more an appropriate time in history, I might add.  It was a welcomed delight when my former teacher, and director of The Wiz, Taylor Lee Horne, called me to support the production with some video effects!

 

The show’s production design relied on video projections in addition to physical set pieces for many of its scenes.  Initially, we were tasked with simulating a twister and the iconic Wizard of Oz’s ominous, floating head, but our scope of work quickly grew. Claymaker took on the task of developing a complete visual architecture that supported the visions of Director Taylor Lee Horne, Technical Director Megan Elsila Hunt and Scenic Designer Johnny Pettigrew.

I’m not shy at all, so it’s probably unsurprising that one of my earliest forms of artistic expression was theatre performance.

— Clay Greenhaw, CEO

Twisting Inspiration from Jacksonville

Keeping with the show’s ethos, we used the urban core of downtown Jacksonville for our principal photography of background plates.  Alleyways, industrial parks, graffiti murals and textured walls all found their way into our “land of Oz”.  Everett Sullivan, our brilliant Director of Photography, captured frames that supported the collective vision.
Of course, my favorite element of the show was the animated twister.  As the sun sets over the plains of Kansas, a sinister vortex of wind and debris slithers forward from the distance.  We used an existing fluid simulation we had, created with Fume FX, and we composited some stock elements of dust and debris.  We also added multiple layers of particle systems with standard Adobe After Effects plugins.
One of the more interesting challenges for the special effects was the timing of The Wiz head.  We filmed the leading man on blue screen, distorted his head and tinted him green in post.  The real challenge however was coordinating the timing of the video projection, practical set pieces and the live cast and orchestra.  To solve that, we embedded a click track in the video and fed it the conductor.  With that and the perfectly timed calls of the show’s Stage Manager, we had a spectacle before us!

Episcopal, The Wiz, and Returning Home

It was a joy to be back in the Munnerlyn Center with familiar faces this past fall, and it was certainly a unique perspective to see it as a creative consultant rather than a student actor.  The show came together fantastically well, with exceptional performances by the student cast and crew.  It was a delight to run backstage during intermission on opening night to shout my words of praise. The entire experience, as one of The Wiz’s signature songs suggests, was “a world full of love, like yours, like mine, like home.”

 

I hope it’s not another decade before I’m back again!