Projections designer Jared Mezzocchi’s work can currently be seen at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company with their current production Women Laughing Alone with Salad. Previous Woolly Mammoth design credits include The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity and The Totalitarians.
He was awarded the 2012 Princess Grace Theater Fellowship and is the first projections designer to receive the honor. Other awards include Best Original Playwright for Lost World, and DCMetroDance Best Multimedia Design for Word Dance’s Once Wild.
Jared’s NYC credits include Downtown Loop at 3-Legged Dog Theater; You Are Dead. You Are Here at HEREarts Center, JETLAG 2011 and The Builders Association. Some recent regional theater credits include The History of Invulnerability at Milwaukee Rep; Breath and Imagination at Cleveland Playhouse; Stones in His Pockets at CenterStage and Body of an American at The Wilma Theater.
Around town you have seen Jared’s work in Yellowface at Theater J; Astroboy and the God of Comics at Studio Theater and BELL at the National Geographic Museum. He has also designed with Caden Manson’s Big Art Group (SOS, The People and The Sleep) at the Vienna Festival, touring much of Europe, Canada and nationally. Besides working in theater, Jared also designs commercially, having just created projections for Connect4Climate and Alcantara at Design Week in Milan, Italy, as well as in the atrium of the World Bank in Washington DC. He currently teaches Projections Design at The University of Maryland in their Theater, Dance and Performance Studies program.
It seems that projection is becoming more prevalent in theatrical design these days. If done wrong it can overpower a production rather than enhance it. Designers like Jared Mezzocchi have the delicate job of finding that balance. I have seen all of Jared’s DC design work and I can tell you that while you notice his projections in every production, they never take you out of the action. Next time you go to a show that has Jared’s name attached to it, you’ll see what I mean. Women Laughing Alone with Salad is a good choice…hint, hint. You’ll never believe what Jared does with the common lettuce. Jared Mezzocchi, another example of an artist doing what he loves in our ever vibrant arts community.
Had you been working in some other part of theatre before becoming a projection designer?
I was an actor as a kid through college and began to dabble in filmmaking during my undergraduate years. After school I continued to act a little bit in NYC but eventually just fell in love with Projection Design and finished up a Grad Degree in Performance and Interactive Media Arts at Brooklyn College and went from there.
Can you please take us through the process of building a projection design and from first meeting to final design how long does it generally take to create a finished product?
The first conversations usually have more to do with the feel of the show and how I see media engaging with the show. It’s important to name whether it’s a transitional concept of something more integral to the storytelling. The second and third meetings are more about general structure and aesthetic: What the media IS and how it falls onto the set. From there it really depends… if it’s more archival work, then I’ll begin to create bins of research and usable footage. If it’s self-generated work, then I hit the ground running with trying to create the content and showing as much of the process as possible. During tech, the first few days are really about a conversation with the designers and the director as to what we are looking at and how we can make it most effective in the space. We learn what tools there are to help pop the video, or what sorts of sequences we need to make sure the video is seen but not distracting from the overall narrative.
Can you please tell us a little something about your current project at Woolly Mammoth Theatre Company entitled Women Laughing Alone with Salad?
Sure. This was a conversation that had to do more with transitions at first and the script called for some specific media moments having to do with the meme that the title is referring to. As we began design meetings, though, I found myself looking up locations for each scene – which I wanted to avoid doing. I’ve fallen into that trap for past productions, and I wanted to be more pro-active with this show as to how I could really reign in the projection needs in order to fulfill a concept. That’s when we came up with the limitation that everything in my design would have to be made out of salad ingredients or from the meme itself. So we filmed a lot of salad and a ton of vegetables and then I would edit them to fulfill the needs for each scene. For instance, scene two needed to be a club environment. In that example, we filled a pitcher of water with tomatoes and lettuce and I fisted it to the beat of the music used. Then we edited it to have a filter that only saw the outlines of the vegetables…so it looked super clubby, almost like neon lights. That then was mapped to the wall and to the cutout clouds above the audience. Whether people realize it is made out of vegetables or not is besides the point, I’m just glad we had some fun with a limitation that made sense to the concept of the show.
Some productions tend to use projection to the point where it overpowers the performers and text. When you design for a show how do you find the balance between your projections and the other elements of the production?
I have failed at that many-a-time. It’s tricky, honestly. It’s a super new and glitzy tool we have to tell stories. I have consciously decided to work in the more traditional side of theater, not the multimedia side. As a result, I work with a lot of scripts that don’t intend for the use of projections. So it’s extremely delicate. This choice stems from a desire to create an environment where projections aren’t the new glitzy tool, but are just a standard in theater practice. As a result, sometimes I discover that I shouldn’t have been in that show, but even then I hope the team discovers that from a constructive place where we now have a new vocabulary to name when projections should and should not be used to enhance the story. I hope even in the times where projections overpowers that the creative team sees it as a learning curve and not a fear tactic.
Truthfully, though, I just try and make a show that is flexible in the tech process so that I can make quick adjustments and be able to generate new ideas that the team comes up with. If I can maintain the flexibility of an actor while maintaining the speed of the lighting designer, then I exist in a good creative space during tech for my colleagues and for myself. That’s the best I can ask for. For the most part, I feel like I have helped sculpt a new means of communicating for theater goers. And I hope that, in 5-10 years from now, we have sustained a healthy platform where projection design has a solid foundation to be a part of the process in a more collaborative way that doesn’t bend a budget too much and isn’t looked at as the precious new commodity. I also hope we have a shared vocabulary to talk more effectively about the varied uses of the technology. It’s a team effort, for sure.
What are your next few projects?
Next I have Vietgone by Qui Nguyen and directed by May Adrales out at South Coast Rep. After that, I am working on the first show for Mosaic Theater, Unexplored Interior directed by Derek Goldman. In the spring I am designing American Song at Milwaukee Rep and then The Nether at Woolly Mammoth in March.