Drama School students ‘project’

Technology-savvy drama students will soon be able to focus their studies on an emerging theatrical medium: onstage projection through slides, films and live video feeds.

The School of Drama announced last week the creation of a new projection design concentration for its Master of Fine Arts program. The concentration, which will focus on incorporating still and moving light images into theater production, is the first specialized program of its kind in graduate theater training in the United States, according to a School of Drama press release.

Important skills for projection design students include a knowledge of theater performance, cinema language, digital imaging technology techniques, Photoshop and programming, according to the School of Drama’s Web site. The concentration will be offered to drama students beginning next fall.

The School of Drama decided to implement the new program at the suggestion of Design Department co-chairs Ming Cho Lee and Stephen Strawbridge, who pointed out to a growing use of projection design in contemporary theater, School of Drama Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 said.

“As projected images and video technology become more prevalent in our culture, we’ll see more and more of them in theatrical performance,” Bundy said. “And there will be better and better reasons for training artists to use the technologies effectively.”

The technology of projection design is not new to the Yale drama scene. In the Yale Repertory Theatre production of Dostoevsky’s “Notes from Underground” last spring, the character the Underground Man’s onstage performance was simultaneously projected as a live video feed on a screen. And “POP!,” the upcoming Yale Rep musical based on the life of Andy Warhol, will feature video projections evoking Warhol’s art and the era of Warhol’s iconic studio, The Factory, Bundy said.

The new concentration will be headed by design lecturer Wendall Harrington, who has been teaching projection design classes at both introductory and advanced levels for the past three years. Harrington said her classes are consistently very popular among students.

“It was clear there was a lot of interest among the student body,” Harrington said. “It did not take too much to see the writing on the wall.”

But the new concentration is more than just a response to interest, Harrington said. Everybody in the theater world today should understand what projection design is, she said, and well-rounded drama artists should understand how to incorporate multiple images and media into the broader vision of a piece of theater.

“We now have a very media-savvy audience, and projection design is a visual that speaks to everyone,” Harrington said. “It’s important to have basic knowledge of things like typography and visual iconography. It’s a way we accept and embrace information on the stage.”

The new concentration will not be a financial burden on the school in the present economic climate, Bundy said, because projection design involves inexpensive technology, Simple projectors, screens, cameras, slides and computers are often sufficient for designing projections.

Christopher Mirto DRA ’10, who is currently taking Harrington’s “Introduction to Projection Design” class, said though he is not thinking of concentrating in projection design, he has appreciated the techniques and technologies he has learned in class.

“Projection design isn’t meant for every production, but when it’s used well, it can be great,” Mirto said. “As theater moves forward, it’s a really awesome thing to know and have.”

Though Harrington said some of her students may only be interested in projection design for what she called the “gee whiz” factor — “It’s new, and everyone likes new things,” she said — she added that she thinks students will stick around to acquire a deeper understanding of the concept and its role in theater today.

“It’s like dating: a lot of guys are attractive, but they are not always keepers,” Harrington said. “Projection design is a keeper.”

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