5 Oct 2023

Wellington’s St James Theatre Cinderella projection enraptures city

by Jenny Barrett

Ticket sales rocket as new audiences drawn to ballet.

Ballet took to the street in Wellington’s Courtenay Place as a spectacular video animation showcasing the upcoming season of Cinderella lit up the facade of the then newly opened St James Theatre for two weeks last August.

A collaboration between Wellington City Council, the Royal New Zealand Ballet (RNZB), leading Wellington creative digital company ClickSuite, and projection company Streamliner, the Cinderella installation has since won an award for Excellence in Design and Innovation at the prestigious Australian International Good Design Awards, and a Designer’s Institute of New Zealand BEST Award in the Digital Installation/Exhibition section. Not only did the projection delight Wellingtonians by bringing the ballet to the street, it also resulted in increased ticket sales and new audiences.


Showcasing Wellington’s creativity and innovation

The Cinderella projection was one of those sweet moments when things just come together according to ClickSuite Creative Director, Emily Loughnan, “The City Council have done temporary installations in the past and they are planning more for the city in the future to enliven public spaces with digital murals. That will also give more Wellington digital creatives more permanent locations to showcase their work. The Council also needed evidence so they can measure the potential impact, to prove it could be more than just pretty pictures.”

With a decade long history of partnering with RNZB, Emily was also aware that the Ballet was preparing for a modern rainbow version of Cinderella that they hoped would attract new audiences. Factor in a celebration of the re-opening of the iconic St James Theatre and the stars were aligning to do something special. Emily pitched the idea of a video projection as art installation on the St James Theatre to RNZB and the Council and it was a go, everyone keen to support a collaboration between the arts and technology.


An enormous, long, crazy day!

The timeline however was incredibly tight, “We got the green light on the Friday night and the only day in RNZB’s schedule available for shooting was the following Monday. Then we had just a few weeks to pull together the animations and video. With Cinderella still being created in the rehearsal studio and costume department, the ballet itself was very much a work in progress, so we had to go with the costumes and casting that were available on the day, including a few costume prototypes!”

To complicate matters further, the choreographer had COVID, so he had to contribute to the shoot day over Zoom, “We shot the dancers in the studio with a green screen. It was an enormous, long, crazy day! The dancers got into character, RNZB choreographer Loughlan Prior was open to wacky ideas, and everyone contributed.

We workshopped ideas like the Step Sisters pouring tea from the left and the other catching it in a cup from the right which we hoped would look amazing on the building. It was the most collaborative, and hilarious, project I have ever worked on. We were flying by the seat of our pants and ideas just flourished. Seeing the reaction of the crowds afterwards, and the wonderful final ballet, I think we could have gone even further with the fun element!”

An unexpected result of the two creative processes happening in parallel was that some scenes choregraphed during the shoot made it into the ballet itself, much to Emily’s delight, “We had the idea of having the eligible maidens sit on the top of the building, at a giant scale, dangling their legs excitedly over the building waiting to try on the glass slipper. I went to see the show and there they were sat on the edge of the stage, doing the same movements. It was wonderful to see the cross- pollination of creativity.”

From a studio shoot to downtown Wellington

Very aware of the spectacular backdrop for the final product, Emily and her team wanted to treat the St James Theatre as a character so the opening scenes see the building spring to life with the Fairy Godmother lighting the façade and putting on its make up, “We projected onto it balconies and windows that we could light and the characters could play with. We even made the theatre cry at the sadness Prince Charming was feeling.”

The team also wanted to incorporate the very modern rainbow, queer element of this version of Cinderella into the projection so incorporated lots of colour, both literally and in the characters, “We wanted to democratize the ballet and attract people who thought it wasn’t their jam so we made the most of all these deliciously camp actors and the fabulous Fairy Godmother!”

Ultimately to test the Council’s premise that digital art could be more than a mural and to support RNZB, the video needed to be a call to action to drive ticket sales, “We need to reach out and invite new audiences to come to the theatre and enjoy a night of hilarity, and inclusiveness. We created many short scenes, and told the overall story several times during the projected show but using the different sequences to do that gave it true variety. That meant it always felt fresh. You could stand and watch for a considerable length of time before you had seen everything. Equally, a short watching meant you still got the idea of the show and that tickets were selling fast. Connection with the audience was everything to us, so we had to be sure it was satisfying for short, long, or repeat watching. Having witnessed people coming back night after night, it certainly proved effective.”

Again, the production was a collaboration of Wellington talent. Emily produced the video with ClickSuite’s team of Rex McIntosh, Meike Ahlers and animator Chris Callus creating the animations. Empire Films did the green screening and Streamliner Productions came on board with the stencilling of the building and the mapping, also providing the six projectors that covered the entire facade of the St James.

Art meets technology equals new audiences

The project was a huge success and the theatre filled up with new audiences, “We boosted the budgeted ticket sales by twenty five percent and the publicity about the projection drew attention to the rest of the coming season too,” celebrates Emily.

In fact, the projections created the highest volume in ticket sales across the entire season, and the theatre was energised by new audiences loudly enjoying this hilarious and inclusive ballet. The projection also had the highest social media engagement of anything the Council had done.

Emily loved watching the crowds, “It was extraordinary how people would stay, some for the whole fifteen minutes. One lady walking along with her shopping stopped and was so excited. She said she couldn’t wait to tell her husband and kids she’d seen the ballet.

The best result though was younger, party- going people who frequent the Courtenay Place district in the evening. They celebrated the rainbow story and cheered as Prince Charming, trapped in his mother’s dream of a future bride, meets his Prince Dashing!”

“We’re so lucky to live in a city that is known for its creativity and innovation and is prepared to showcase that. I love the collaboration of the arts and technology. Obviously it’s been good for the ballet, but this has also been good for the people of Pōneke Wellington too. That’s what matters.”

Watch the animations on YouTube:


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