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DRAMA 519 A: Projection Design in Performance

Meeting Time: 
MW 3:00pm - 4:50pm
* *
Joint Sections: 
Kwame Braun standing outside in a grey jacket
Kwame Braun

Syllabus Description:

.Melies Moon.jpg

Georges Méliès is perhaps most widely known for “A Trip to the Moon,” his movie extravaganza from 1902, crammed to bursting with special effects. But first he was a theater maker, specializing in magic and illusion, with a repertoire of tricks and techniques readily applicable to the new art form. He may also have been the first theater practitioner to use projected film for a stage show, commissioned by the Folies-Bergère in 1904, within a decade of the birth of cinema.

But film was cumbersome and expensive, and appeared infrequently over the coming decades, mostly in the work of the theater avant-garde.

Slide projectors offered a practical, though more limited, alternative. Only with the introduction of affordable, portable video cameras in the late 1960s did such disembodied electronic imagery see sustained use in cutting-edge performance; with the introduction of video projectors in the early ‘90s the technology was finally ready for wider application.  Since then projected and other forms of digital imagery have become routine in contemporary performance practice, as projectors and large LED screens have become brighter and more responsive, and programming apps allow for the ease of control theatrical lighting has long enjoyed, sometimes incorporating computer-generated imagery created in real time, in direct response to the movement of the performers. But the ghost of Méliès is never far away: projections now bring a level of the fantastic to stage shows that he would have exulted.


This studio design class is an introduction to some of the attributes, uses, and technology of projections in performance practices today, from theater and dance, to live music and sports events, to stand-alone environmental installations and spectacles. In addition to examining some of these applications, students will design and create a series of projections of their own, using basic computer programs like Photoshop, After Effects, and Q-Lab to explore the three theatrical modes of projections: as lighting; as set; and as content.


NOTE:  Due to the CoVid 19 pandemic, this class will be conducted entirely online, mostly on Zoom. If you haven’t already, download the Zoom app through your MYUW homepage.

You will receive an invitation to our Monday and Wednesday meetings. The meeting is scheduled to start 30 minutes before the scheduled class time, and will continue on until noon: the extra 30 minutes before and after class constitute my office hours. If you want to talk to me, just join early or stay after. Or join early to socialize with your classmates.

The class session itself will be recorded and be available in Canvas Panopto.

The meeting password is: zoomzoom

Some recommendations if connectivity is unstable:

  • Close other non-essential programs while on Zoom to free up processing power. If you download the Zoom apt, you will not have to keep your browser open.
  • If possible, request other members of the household to stay offline.
  • Get as close to your router as possible. Plug in if you can.

Some common courtesy practices for life on Zoom:

  • To balance out social distancing, I would like everyone to be visible, at least initially, with video on. This will also be helpful during critiques—no one wants a critique from someone they can’t see.
  • It would be nice to see you well, so in addition to the light from your screen, have light—a window, a lamp-0-in front of or beside you.
  • Please try to not have distracting things in the background—kid brothers, mirror balls, spectacularly beautiful backyards. (Zoom does, however, allow you to swap out your background with video of a tropical beach, the Golden Gate Bridge, and outer space. If you put up a green screen, they may even look natural).
  • Distractions may include your own behavior, such as browsing the internet or texting on your phone.

  • Distractions also include noise, so turn off your music and close your door. While we will be muting your mics some of the time, during discussions, Zoom will detect and feature whichever feed is making the most sound. Cough into your elbow, and oil the springs on your office chair.
  • If using video, please wear clothes.
 You don’t want to become an internet meme.
  • Use chat for academic purposes only.

  • Please only record for academic purposes. Do not record for TikToc, Snapchat, Instagram, etc.




The class is divided into three units, focusing on each of the three modes of projection in sequence, with an exercise project exploring the expressive potential of each:

  • Projection as Lighting: tone, color, texture, shape & atmospheric movement.

Creating original imagery either by hand or on a computer, students will combine two or more static images in a video editing program to effect a transition between two distinct moods or atmospheres, then transform the images further to simulate movement through space.

                                                                                               2 weeks, 20% of grade

Designs for Units 2 and 3 will be for specific scenes selected (individual choice) from “Spring Awakening,” the original 1890 play by Frank Wedekind.

  • Projection as Scenery: form, “place,” changing conditions in a physical world.

Using more representational images, students will investigate the depiction of plausible physical spaces as theatrical scenery.

                                                                                               3 weeks, 30% of grade

  • Projection as Extended Content:

    • supplementary information (subtitles, etc.)
    • transitions, transformative scene changes
    • alternative dramatic vehicles (for example, closer views of performers or alternate, offstage spaces)
    • parallel, discursive, disruptive or contrary material

                                                                                               4 weeks, 40% of grade

  • In addition to these design projects, students, in collaborative pairs, will research, plan, and deliver periodic presentations on prominent stage and projections designers and artists, and on specific productions.

                                                                                                                           10% of grade

  • Each student will also be assigned to provide online feedback to 3 classmate's project submissions, assigned randomly after each critique session.


The more practical, technical concerns of design will be distributed throughout the units:

  • Conceptual and structural considerations:

    • Role of projections in production concept (lighting, set, discursive, live)
    • Incorporation of projection cues into larger design
      • Extension of set and lighting or independent?
      • Position, scale, number of projection surfaces
      • Nature of projection surface
        • Texture, color, structural features
        • Translucent? (scrim or rear screen projection)
      • Coordinated or contrasting?
        • Color, shape, pattern
      • Cues
        • How many?

          • Long cues vs. short ones
          • Superimposed? Masked?
        • Intermittent or continuous—how do they come & go?
        • Transitions
        • Live material? Video or computer feeds
      • Image creation.
      • Image acquisition and formatting:
        • Appropriated (Internet, print)

          • Copyright
        • Original—photographic, video, or handmade
        • LIVE video
      • Relevant design technologies:
        • Motion graphics
        • Video editing
        • 3D modeling and animation
        • Cueing programs
      • Projectors and LED screens



Catalog Description: 
Attributes, uses, and technology of projections in contemporary theater, dance, live music, sports events, public spectacle, and installation art. Students design and construct their own projections using basic computer programs to explore the three theatrical modes of projections: as lighting; as set; and as overt content.
Last updated: 
February 11, 2021 - 9:02pm