Live Design has been running a series of columns titled What’s Trending, mostly focusing on hardware and software, from lighting consoles to cutting-edge content creation. We decided to shift the focus to another side of our universe: education. What is going on in the theatrical design programs these days, and what advice do the professors have to offer those about to step over the threshold into the vast unknown of “the industry?” There were no guidelines provided; we simply asked a few academics to muse on the question: What’s trending in education?
Who better to comment on this than Wendall K. Harrington, designer extraordinaire and pioneer in projection design since the 1970s? As head of the MFA program in Projection Design at the Yale School of Drama, Harrington shares her thoughts on the opportunities facing students going into projection and media design today.
From Wendall K. Harrington:
Grad school can be a pressure cooker of intense focus on your discipline. Those who take the opportunity to stretch and reach beyond their skill set, whether it is computer science or drumming, always seem to return refreshed and inspired. I jokingly call it intramural sports, and if there is one thing I see as necessary for theatre makers, it is to look outside the box.
The entertainment world is constantly expanding, especially for projection and media designers. At The Yale School of Drama, it seems crucial to offer opportunities beyond the proscenium and spoken word. Dance is welcoming the use of moving images, classical music venues can’t seem to get enough, rock and roll explodes with video, and many of the most exciting sculptures in the art museums are video installations. Modern drama seems to be incorporating many of these ideas as well. YSD is well known for the quality of the Rep and student productions, as well as producing designers with experience in set, light, costume, projection, and sound, but it seems important right now to look beyond the text-based and director-driven model, to return enriched.
This past year alone, we created a series of workshops and productions in shadow puppetry, dance, wordless drama, installation, animation, and musical collaboration. I see how these explorations deepen students’ understanding of text-based work.
We’ve worked directly with the Yale playwrights and built suggestive projected worlds for them—creating valuable discourse about the power of image as language.
This year the Center for Collaborative Arts and Media (CCAM) opened, offering a motion-capture system, a fully sprung dance floor, and green screen studio. The drama design students in sound and projection have led the way, experimenting with augmented and virtual reality. Working with the Buglisi Dance Company for several days of mo-cap and projection was an exciting collaborative project, yielding data and footage that will be a treasure for years of further exploration, and continued collaboration.
Visual Storytelling, a guest lecture class that considers all the possibilities of story, is one of the few classes open to the entire university. That means art, music, engineering, management, divinity, and even forestry students are all in the same room, listening to people like designers Tony Walton and John Conklin, animator and dancer Miwa Matryek, Lenore Malen, the installation artist, and Hope Hall, Obama’s videographer and one of the creators of wh.gov.
Every speaker expands the students’ thinking about their individual pursuits. The class is one of the most popular on campus because the hunger for looking outside your discipline and the remarkable effect of synergistic thinking is real. Not only do these students want to do well, they want to do good. They intuit that inclusion is a positive force that creates more satisfying outcomes.
So, if there’s one trend I see in education, at least at Yale, the walls between the schools are coming down; some hierarchies will get broken. I will admit to personally manning the sledgehammer at times. The goal is worth it, to produce designers who are confident, articulate, generous, generative, versatile, and reactive, who can write, direct, and create their own limitless future. Theatre can be anywhere, no media is necessarily better than another at telling stories, and excellence can come in any form, including ones that haven’t been invented yet.