Frankenstein and the Eruption of Tambora

The Script

We started this project knowing we wanted to tell a story that happened over a long time scale. We gravitated towards volcanoes or natural disasters, but it was difficult to find our “story” with a beginning, middle, and end. The script really came together when we found several articles about how Frankenstein was influenced by the apocalyptic weather following the eruption of Tambora in 1815. This gave us a clear beginning and end: from the eruption of Tambora to the idea of Frankenstein.

We distilled the montage of environmental effects down to a few Turner paintings. We knew from the start that we wanted to incorporate the paintings because they came from a similar time period and portrayed the power of nature very well. We considered having additional narration to describe some of the effects in more detail (tsunamis, famine, etc) but ultimately decided to make it more abstract with only paintings and a howling wind. The narration saying “1816: the year without a summer” while a snowy scene is projected does a lot on its own to summarize the strangeness of the weather.

For the text, we found excerpts from Mary Shelley’s journals about the summer of 1816. We also looked at her introduction to Frankenstein and some passages within the novel.

Technology used

Our setup involved rear projection onto a screen, sound effects over the light lab’s speaker system, and lighting with the lighting console. We used a single laptop to run the piece.

We created a cue list of sounds and images in QLab and projected the images through Isadora.We then hooked up QLab to the lighting console in the light lab with a MIDI cable. MIDI show control messages were sent from the lighting console to QLab, which then sent MIDI show control messages to Isadora virtually.

Design Decisions

Lessons learned

During the process of this project, our group learned about creating a consistent atmosphere. A major criticism of our piece was in regards to our projection of the body parts at the end. The class felt that it did not maintain the mood but rather felt false and forced. Each slide or lighting cue needs to have a specific tone and effect on the piece as a whole. This projection pulled the viewer out of the world. It was too abrupt and obvious, seemed to be the criticism.

We learned that even the smallest detail can take viewers out of the imaginary space of the performance, like eye glasses on the silhouette of a character that probably wouldn’t have worn glasses (as in, the Frankenstein monster). Also, we used a whiteboard as a partition between the audience and the actors, but accidentally turned the side with random words and numbers on it towards the audience, which seemed to have been distracting for some viewers. Although relatively small, these mistakes were a good lesson that attention to detail in the staging and costumes does matter when it comes to effectively creating a world.

We also learned about the power of sound and the defining role it plays in the universe of the performance. For example, the rain sounds that we used were particularly effective in creating a sense of continuity throughout our piece.

More technically speaking, we gained an understanding of the light board and how to manipulate it in order to create the most striking effects. We found that, due to a lack of time, there were other lights that could have been utilised that would have improved our piece.

Previous critique feedback

One change we made after the draft presentation was to reduce the repetition between sound, light, and projection. After hearing feedback given to other groups about the relationship between sound and projection, we wanted to remove some of the redundancy in our piece. For example, our initial script had Mary Shelley describing a lighting storm in detail, but in the final version Shelley simply describes the summer “wet” and “ungenial.” The rain and thunder sounds and the light flashes add new meaning to Shelley’s statement.

The biggest shift between our draft and final performances was our use of images. In the draft performance, our projections included both historical landscape paintings and photographs of settings like a volcano and a lake. After David pointed out the sense of discontinuity between the two different kinds of images, we revised the projections so that all the images were paintings or illustrations of some kind.

We also made the video footage more abstract. Instead of using footage of an eruption, which would have to be from a different volcanic event, the video of the eruption is two close-up lava videos with an additive blend, which has the feel of an eruption but doesn’t feel as bound to a particular place or time. The transitions between Turner paintings use a smoke effect. This feedback really helped us improve the piece, since the fluid transitions between paintings created a much more vivid, immersive experience in the space and time of the narrative.

Before: photographs to indicate locations (Tambora, Lake Geneva)

After: illustrations more in line with the style of the piece


There was an issue with the lighting for the first recording that we noticed after the fact, so we have two videos: one with the full piece minus lightning effects, and one with all tech working but no Mary Shelley (called “with lights”).