A projection design artist isn't necessarily a commonplace credit under a technical crew listing in a playbill, but a handful of designers have joined this fresh new approach to technology in theater. Jared Mezzocchi, a pioneer of the new design field and recent addition to the faculty of the School of Theater, Dance & Performance Studies at the University of Maryland (UMD), had plenty of insights about the emerging art form and its various capacities.
"It varies all over the place from wallpaper projection where you design an image or video that gets projected behind a scene all the way to the extreme live-ness of having a live camera onstage, adding effects to it and projecting that," he said. "What I do is try to find ways to project video images or some other textures onto a stage that have a sense of life to it that interact with the performers in ways to help tell the story."
Because it is still a relatively new approach to designing a show, Mezzocchi says his process in implementing his designs is a little different.
"Normally, you walk in with the design and show iterations of it to the design team and the director and come tech rehearsal, you implement it and hopefully it settles as you had predicted," he said. "It's trying to figure out how I am in the room at the appropriate times for as long as possible and to get designers in there to look at what we're doing because it does affect scenery, it does affect lighting, it affects costumes and I really believe there is a way to implement it so no one gets compromised."
Mezzocchi's work with video design on UMD's "Making of Night of the Hunter" last year allowed him to be approached by UMD to join the faculty as a visiting assistant professor. He just finished his first semester, and said he was excited by the opportunity to explore a very fresh, edgy design concept in graduate and undergraduate courses.
"Instead of thinking of projection design as its own thing, (we) learn the grammar, it was trying to figure out how it fits with everything else," he said. "The lesson I try and do in my own work is ask 'What does the character of media play in the story? What does it want? How does it get what it wants in every scene?' and really pick apart the use of media as character in the space."
Mezzocchi mentioned the semester went well and he looks forward to doing more with his students in the spring.
"It's exciting to see (the students) take charge of it and have administration say they are doing really great," he said. "It makes me feel really proud to say 'There's something we're doing right in these classes.'"
Mezzocchi's enthusiasm for his art and impressive body of work helped him earn the first Princess Grace Theater Fellowship to be awarded to a projection designer, which he described as a very humbling experience.
"It's very hard to figure out how to present your work in a grant application. (Projection artists) are fighting against the expectation set forth by cinema, and it's not cinema, it's a totally different form," Mezzocchi said. "I've hit a lot of hurdles with trying to figure out how to get a grant together that clearly shows what I do. The Princess Grace people are just amazing, the way they have such a life commitment to their artists - I'm really going to take advantage of the opportunity, being the first of projection design artists in it."
Whether it be in a classroom or a regional theater, Mezzocchi said he hopes projection design will continue to emerge as an art form in theater, and plans to utilize its unconventionality even further in the future.
"Today, as audiences are becoming more saturated in real life with media, that has to play a part in when they see a projection in a show, how not to let them pull out of the story just thinking, 'Oh, that was cool,'" he said.
"I'm a very interactive projection designer and most of my cues are based off of actors' movements, and it's really hard to figure out how that form fits it," he said. "The Princess Grace Award enables me to keep pushing for how I see video design to be in the next 5 or 10 years."
Mezzocchi's innovative projection design can be seen onstage at the Synetic Theater in Washington, D.C., in "A Trip to the Moon" by Natsu Onoda Power through Jan. 6, 2013. Tickets and more information is available here.
Photo of Jared Mezzocchi