The Oregon Shakespeare Festival Production of “Mother Road” is presently playing at Arena Stage until March 8, 2020. “Mother Road” is written by Octavio Solis and directed by Bill Rauch. It was first produced at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival.
The story is a sequel to classic novel, John Steinbeck’s “Grapes of Wrath,” which followed the Joad family from the Dust Bowl of Oklahoma to migrant labor farms in California during the Great Depression. “Mother Road” takes us to the present where William Joad now owns the family farm in Oklahoma. Facing his death and being heirless, William still wants to pass his farm down to one of the family’s descendants. So, he travels west to California where he finds the only direct descendants of the Joad family are Mexican-Americans, specifically a man named Martin. The two travel back to Oklahoma on Route 66 on an epic road trip where they must decide what family really means.
The fine cast includes David Anzuelo, Natalie Camunas, Ted Deasy and Derek Garza, Cedric Lamar, Amy Lizardo, Kate Mulligan with Mark Murphy (William Joad) and Tony Sancho (Martin Joad). The Director, Rauch, is joined by Christopher Acebo, Set Designer, Carolyn Mazuca, Costume Designer, Pablo Santiago, Lighting Designer, Paul James Prendergast, Original Music and Sound Design and Kaitlyn Pietras, Projection Designer.
I had a chance to interview Kaitlyn Pietras who designed projections for the production. For those of you who do not know what that is, here is a little insight. Theatrical projection design formerly meant a slide show or a design on a wall. Today in the age of the computer, projection design allows theatre companies to make multiple scene changes, create nighttime or daytime skies, and a multitude of other effects that were only dreams when this writer began her theatrical training in the 1960’s. They are used not just in large theatres, but projections allow touring companies to put together quick and interesting sets without needing a great deal of time and local labor. They are starting to appear in local community and regional theatres when they want to do productions that need multiple backdrops. They are often intertwined with more traditional stage design in larger theatres to create new and interesting visuals for the audience.
Bio: KAITLYN PIETRAS (Projection Designer) recently designed “Gun & Powder” at the Signature Theatre in D.C. New York credits include: “A Fable” (Cherry Lane Theatre); “The Gin Baby” (IRT Theatre, NYIT Award nomination); and “Do Like the Kids Do, Shiner” (IAMA Theatre Co.). Regional credits include: Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Geffen Playhouse, Pasadena Playhouse, South Coast Repertory, Artists Repertory Theatre, Kansas City Repertory Theatre, Portland Center Stage and Denver Center for the Performing Arts. Opera credits include: “Lost Highway” (Frankfurt Opera); “A Trip to the Moon” (LA Philharmonic, KOI Award nomination); and “Young Caesar” (LA Philharmonic)
- Can you tell us at little bit about yourself?
I grew up in Cleveland, Ohio and have lived in Los Angeles for over 10 years. I have my BA in Architecture from Clemson University and my MFA is in Design for Theatre and Entertainment Media from UCLA. At UCLA I focused on Scenic Design and dabbled in Projection Design. After graduating, I slowly began working more as a Projection Designer.
- Some think projection design will eventually change theatre as we know it. What do you see as the future of projection design especially in regional, community and touring theatre companies?
Projections are such a powerful tool because they can be used architecturally, as a character, to complement lighting, set the mood, provide emotional context, for special effects, or even to enhance a costume. The technology is only getting better and there are so many exciting and new ways to use projections in live entertainment. In a lot of ways, we are only beginning to scratch the surface.
- How did you use projection in “Mother Road” to complement the direction and other designers?
In “Mother Road”’s original production in Ashland my main projection surface was a billboard, so I used the aesthetic of an old peeling billboard as the base for the design. I played with the idea of layers peeling and being stripped away-suggesting history and the ghostly passage of eras. Because we are doing this version in the round, we have two billboards for content but I am also able to paint the floor with projections. I am projecting dust, rain and snow as well as other textures to compliment the lighting and provide some atmosphere.
- Did you use front or rear projection or both, and do you do your designs on the computer or hand-drawn sketches and painting (or both)?
For this show I used front projection for each billboard and blended two more projectors to the floor. For content creation, every show I design has a different process. When I read the script for “Mother Road” I knew I had to travel the path of the play. I wanted to explore the show through the landscapes of each state and have that be my touchstone for the design. My husband and I got a rental car and mounted a Panasonic GH5 to the front, a GoPro Fusion to the top, and a GoPro Hero 6 Black on the and hit the road with our 7-month-old baby. I mapped out the route ahead of time so we got the correct lighting and time of day as we drove. It took us almost a week to travel 1500+ miles of Route 66 from Bakersfield, CA to Sallisaw, OK.
- What do you consider your best work and what projects do you have in the near future?
“Mother Road” is one of my favorite shows I have designed, because my work not only delivered an honest scenic context, but provided imagery that was both specific to the play and evocative in its abstraction.
My husband and I have a company together called PXT Studio, where we design for opera, theatre, museums and commercial venues. Our next show is called “Revenge Song” at The Geffen Playhouse in Los Angeles, and it opens the same night as “Mother Road”. “Gun and Powder” is another show my husband and I designed together that is currently running at Signature Theatre.
If you are interested in following our work, visit our website and our Instagram handle is @pxtstudio.
“Mother Road” will be performed at Arena Stage until March 8, 2020. For tickets and information about this show go online.
Arena Stage is located at 1101 Sixth Street SW, Washington, D.C. 20024