By Robert Simonson
16 Dec 2013
A few years ago, Jeff Whiting, a choreographer and director, was working on a show for Disney in Hong Kong. Work was progressing at a snail's pace.
"There were so many languages represented at rehearsal," he recalled. "It was taking so long. I thought, let me draw this out and project it on the wall rather than wait for someone to translate for me."
Later, while working as assistant choreographer to choreographer-director Susan Stroman on the 2007 Mel Brooks musical Young Frankenstein, he was put in charge of creating the "Show Bible" — the book into which every stage movement and design cue is recorded. While working on the ponderous volume, Whiting's Hong Kong experiment began to solidify into something more advanced than drawings and projections. Whiting felt certain there must be a computer program out there that would render his work more easily.
So, Whiting decided to create the software himself. He called the result Stage Write, an app which makes documenting stage blocking and choreography a fast, fluid, clinical and permanent affair.
"Part of me wondered if I should do it," he explained. "Is it a big enough market to make it worth doing? I knew 20 people who wanted it. But was that the only 20 people who wanted it?"
He didn't have to worry. Stage Write, which was launched in early 2012, is fast on its way to becoming a permanent and indispensable implement in the choreographer's toolkit. Seventeen Broadway shows currently employ it, including Newsies, Mamma Mia!, The Book of Mormon and Big Fish. Stage Write is also being used at Disney World, Universal Studios, Cirque du Soleil and on two cruise lines.
"It's one of those things that people in our business jump on," said Stroman, who has used Stage Write on every show since Young Frankenstein, including her current project, the musical Bullets Over Broadway. It's one of those rare advancements that seems so obvious an idea in retrospect that one wonders why it didn't happen before now. Or, as Stroman put it, "Why did we wait so long?"
Apple was impressed enough that they decided to make a documentary about Whiting, selecting Stage Write as one of the five apps they showcase each year with such films.
The process of developing Stage Write was surprisingly quick. It took Whiting about two or three months to figure out how he wanted the program to look. After that, he went to four or five software companies with his idea, and the interested companies bid on the concept. He finally settled on Tekyz, based in Scottsdale, AZ. "They had the best understanding of what I wanted to do," stated Whiting. Tekyz spent five more months working on Stage Write.Continued...