Drama School puts spotlight on projection design

Midway through the first scene of “Eurydice,” projected images of a couple dancing to the tune of a gentle waltz float across the stage.

The use of projected images is used to enhance the dramatic effect of the scene — and it is a technique the show’s director Devin Brain DRA ’11 may not have had access to a year ago. Lieber is one of two first year students at the School of Drama currently piloting a new concentration in Projection Design. The program, led by the school’s accomplished designer and lecturer Wendall Harrington, is the first in the country dedicated to training students for a career in this field.

School of Drama Dean James Bundy DRA ’95 said the former lack of formal training in projection design in the country is one factor that led the school to create the concentration, which was first announced in October 2009.

“The field really required a high level training program in projection design that we were well positioned to initiate,” Bundy said. “[Harrington] has been one of America’s leading projection designers for theater for decades, and she continues a great tradition at the School of Drama of leading practitioners who are also phenomenal teachers.”

Lieber and fellow projection design student Hannah Wasileski DRA ’13 were selected last spring from a group of 11 applicants to participate in the first year of the concentration. They are currently enrolled in the same core classes required for all first year lighting, costume and set design students, a list which includes Harrington’s Introduction to Projection Design. The projection design curriculum will continue to grow from year to year as the students progress through the school’s program of study.

But beyond class work, in their first semester at the school, both Lieber and Wasileski have been given the opportunity to design for directors’ thesis shows, a privilege usually reserved for advanced students. Lieber’s work can be seen in Jean Anouilh’s “Eurydice,” which opened at the Iseman Theater Tuesday night, while Wasileski’s will be a part of a production of “A Streetcar Named Desire” coming to the theater in December.

Lieber said the two projects highlight the diverse ways in which projections can enhance a production.

“The role of projections in [Eurydice] is really just adding that magical, mythical element back in,” Lieber said. He designed his projections to depict flashbacks and to help recreate the emotions associated with the past moments.

“They’re absolutely beautiful movies,” Harrington said of the projections that Lieber designed for “Eurydice.”

Wasileski’s projection designs for “Streetcar” are bolder and more aggressive than Lieber’s for “Eurydice,” Lieber noted. Her design incorporates live video feeds from beyond the main stage — behind-the-scenes shots and views into the characters’ offstage lives — that will be projected on to the back wall and floor of the set. There will also be television running throughout the show, playing commercial images that will mirror the psychology of the characters onstage.

The two students, who have assisted one another on their respective projects, said they have had to rely heavily on each other and Harrington as resources because few books have been written on projection design. Despite the fact that these techniques have been used successfully in American theater since the 1960s, Harrington is one of few professionals offering training in projection design.

“I’ve been teaching almost since I started,” said Harrington who began doing projection design since 1978. “I’d show up anywhere if anybody asked me to talk about this because there was nobody else available to do it.”

Three time Tony award-winning scenic and costume designer Santo Loquasto DRA ’69 said he applauds the creation of such a training program at the School of Drama because it will give students the technical background that designers today need.

“You need more than just an eye to enter into this business today,” Loquasto said.

He added, however, that he is nervous about the increasing reliance on projection in all fields of the performing arts. He fears that adding too many technical elements into a piece can cause it to loose its “vitality.”

Nonetheless, Loquasto said he commends Harrington’s ability to incorporate projections into a show without taking away from the actors or the text.

“She’s been a real pioneer in developing projections as a real enhancement to a production,” he said.

Harrington, whose Broadway credits include “The Who’s Tommy,” “Grey Gardens” and “Ragtime,” has been lecturing at the School of Drama since 2006.

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