Life on iPad

Leading moves on Broadway.

Jeff Whiting, Director and Choreographer. Behind the magic of every Broadway show are hundreds of thousands of steps, all precisely calculated, staged, rehearsed, and perfected. Jeff Whiting uses iPad to stage every move his actors make.

When the curtain goes up on a Broadway musical, the audience sees months of hard work come alive in every turn, step, and leap. And with anywhere from 10 to 50 dancers on a stage at a given time, none of it can happen without serious choreographic organization. Directors chart every one of their actors’ movements over the course of an entire stage production. And the show bible, as it’s called, can add up to around 4000 sheets of paper.

“Here I was, lugging around three giant 3-ring binders everywhere I went,” says director and choreographer Jeff Whiting, who has been working on Broadway for nearly a decade. “Before iPad, we had to document all the choreography and staging manually, by drawing on pieces of paper.” The volumes weren’t just unbelievably cumbersome to tote around, they were time-consuming to create and edit.

“The first moment I saw iPad, I knew it would change my life. It’s intuitive, easy to use, and streamlined. It made a lot of sense to me as a creative individual.” Jeff Whiting, Director and Choreographer.

Whiting decided to develop an app called Stage Write to digitize the process of staging a production. Available exclusively on iPad, the app lets a director draw images and create icons representing the stage, scenery, and actors — and drag icons around to track movements. Because dimensions are kept in proportion, the director can get a visual sense of how things fit on stage. Arrows can be drawn to indicate movement, and a table can describe the dance steps of each actor on every count.

“Directors are visual people,” says Whiting. “I might have a vision of how I want to put people in a formation. With iPad, you can plot it out and see how it works ahead of time. It’s a huge freedom.” Instead of using valuable time with the actors for blocking and staging, Whiting can plan staging ahead of time on iPad. And he can focus more of his time with the actors on experimenting with choreography or finding motivation for a scene.

“In my job, creativity happens on the go. I run around working with actors and dancers at a very quick pace. The size and mobility of iPad make it so easy to take with me as I work on my feet.”

Whiting sends the staging chart to his actors, set designers, and stage managers right from his iPad, so they can study at home. Now the cast and crew know about changes instantaneously, rather than having to wait until rehearsal. And one wonderfully unexpected side effect: iPad has allowed for more exploration and discovery. Before, there was a single master document. Now everyone has access to the staging chart and can give input and suggestions.

“It has led to more creative solutions,” says Whiting. “An actor or stage manager might have an idea, and instead of telling us and having us envision it, he can just show us right on the app.”

Instead of lugging around 4000 pages, now Whiting just has his iPad in hand. “I have all the info there, and it’s accurate, and it can be adjusted,” he says. “With iPad, I can be more creative than ever.”

“iPad frees me up to focus on the creativity, rather than the practicalities, of putting on a Broadway musical.”