JARED MEZZOCCHI ON CREATING THE PROJECTIONS FOR THE ELABORATE ENTRANCE OF CHAD DEITY

Jared Mezzocchi

http://jaredmezzocchi.com

Jared Mezzocchi is a multimedia director and designer for live multimedia performances. He holds an MFA from the Brooklyn College for Performance and Interactive Media Arts Program.  Jared is a recent recipient of a Princess Grace Theater Fellowship (Nominated through HERE Arts Center, NYC) as the first Projection Designer to ever receive the honor. He also won BEST ORIGINAL PLAY in the NH Theater Awards for his adaptation of The Lost World at Andy’s Summer Playhouse. As a video designer, Jared recently designed A Trip to the Moon at Synetic Theater (12/2012). Credits include: The Mountaintop (Milwaukee Rep), The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity (Woolly Mammoth Theater), Astro Boy (Studio Theater) and The Glass Menagerie (Arena Stage, DC). Jared tours internationally with Caden Manson’s Big Art Group (The People, Fleshtone, SOS, The Sleep, CITYRAMA), and has recently worked with The Builders Association (Jet Lag 2010), Rob Roth (Screen Test), Untitled Theater Company #61 (Hiroshima: Crucible of Light, Velvet Oratorio, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?), and 3 Legged Dog (Outdoor Projections, SPYGARBO 2011, New Georges GERM project).

Jared also has directed at Andy’s Summer Playhouse in Wilton, NH (The BFG, The Lost World 2011, Dick Tracy 2010, Donkey Xote 2009) and continues to direct original works throughout the NYC area (Stoplight 2007, Projectionist 2010, Poppa God Bless 2011/12). Jared has taught multimedia courses at NYU’s Playwrights Horizons and the Performance and Interactive Media Arts MFA program at Brooklyn College.  Fall, 2012 Jared moved to Washington D.C. to begin creating a curriculum in Projection Design at the University of Maryland’s (College Park) Theater Department, at both the Undergraduate and Graduate levels.

What is your background as an artist?

I started out as an actor. I went to undergrad at Fairfield University, double majoring in Theater (as actor) and New Media: Film (Production). When my father passed away my sophomore year, I started dabbling in the cross-discipline of film and theater and found a voice with it as a means to better understand the criss-cross of mortality and immortality through putting these two forms together. From there, I got accepted into Brooklyn College’s Performance and Interactive Media Arts MFA program and starting learning the mechanics of interactive computer softwares such as Max MSP, Modul8, Isadora…

I then picked up a gig as a resident Projections Designer at Santos Party House in Downtown Manhattan and started learning how interactive video design can get when cross pollinating performers, actors, architecture, and narrative. By the time I ultimately returned to Theater, I had a lot more tools and flexiblity as a designer to perform with my projections almost as fluidly as an actor. Or at least posing that as an ideal was somehow attainable from what I now knew.

Projections by Jared Mezzocchi: Entrance, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz (Woolly Mammoth Theater, 2012)

 How did you come to work on this project?

 Woolly Mammoth theater approached me last spring to take a look at the script. I had heard of Chad Deity and of Kristopher Diaz through colleagues of mine and was really intrigued by the text. I found, while it incorporated media into the story, there was an even deeper connection to the characters and their daily interaction with media. What Wrestling meant to Mace had EVERYTHING to do with media and entertainment. So I had some really inspiring conversations with the director, John Vreeke, and laid out some initial departure points and storyboards for him and the rest of the design team. Then we took off running with rehearsals.

Projections by Jared Mezzocchi: Entrance, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz (Woolly Mammoth Theater, 2012)

Projections by Jared Mezzocchi: Entrance, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz (Woolly Mammoth Theater, 2012)

What inspired the vision for the projections-set?

 Well, I thought that Mace wanted to become the image of what he saw on the television as a kid. To me, that was his dream and his initial reason why he chose to go down a career in wrestling. So visually, that meant he wanted to be in a Close-Up on live national television. Technically, we were capable of this with our live camera roaming around the wrestling ring and projection hitting the large walls on three sides of the stage. If this was the goal, I had to establish that from the get-go by showing the audience we were capable of such spectacle, which I did through a non-live shot of Mace’s back as he walked the backstage hallway of the wrestling arena. As the music swells with chords and cheers, and the image moves in slo-mo…we suddenly snap off the images and spotlight the live actor. He is small, he is alone, he begins. The rest of the play carries out as we watch Mace gain a partner, gain support, and ultimately gets his chance to shine. Through this journey we see all the combinations of live-feed projections, animations, call-backs from past events…we see how this multimedia toolbox can play. But never do we see Mace in close up through the live feed camera until the very end. Unfortunately for Mace, his achievement of finally getting himself across the backwall was only carried out as he was being powerbombed by the “bad guy”. His dream was achieved by compromising everything.

 What are your influences?

 My influences are all over the place. I love Michel Gondry. I love Wes Anderson. I love William Eggleston and William Kentridge. Charlie Chaplin, P.T. Anderson, Frederico Fellini….Oh boy do I love 8 1/2. I’m also very influenced by my father’s death. Not so much the grieving and the surrounding factors of a death in the family, but more along the lines of the moment I heard of it. There was something about that black and white moment that makes me obsessed with finding it through my multimedia tools. I think that’s what I love in all of my artistic idols…Whether they are searching for that same meaning or not, they dabble in the same sorts of psychological content of trying to balance between a form that exists in a nostalgic past and the funny realization that we are in the now and can only augment the memory of the past to make sense of where the hell we are going.

Projections by Jared Mezzocchi: Saluting the flag, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz (Woolly Mammoth Theater, 2012)

Projections by Jared Mezzocchi: Saluting the flag, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz (Woolly Mammoth Theater, 2012)

What was your process in creating the work?

 I started with a playlist. I always do that. It’s important for me to put on earplugs and view the world through a certain mood. In this case, it was hip-hop, epic, arena. The first album “Now That’s What I Call Music” had a lot of presence on this.

I then went through the script and started sketching out only the moments that were really clear to me. Just on napkins, in no order. Then I created a storyboard with a sort of math equation that I was following along with…to make sure my visual arc was making sense. Making sure I don’t break my rules. (I love restrictions and being frustrated by not being able to break them unless I can create a better law of existence for my projections). Then in rehearsal I’d start playing with my live camera feed (I had the operator in rehearsal at all times) and I’d also start creating a lot of placeholders. When we’d run it, I’d imagine the full scale of it all and deem whether it was worth it or not.

Woolly Mammoth scheduled a whole extra week before tech rehearsals began for me to have a filming week. We filmed all the actors and I had a really fun night where we filmed a lot of confetti/glitter/money drops. I edited as fast as I could to begin getting footage up in the space to see how it resonated with the rest of the scenic design and the actors. It was REALLY important to me to get out of my computer as quickly as possible. I don’t care how good things look on my screen, they will never be what they are in real space and in real time. As I threw images and sequences into the space, I’d note the responses from everyone. John Vreeke’s most of all. I’d gauge what he was responding to and note that for future edits of scenes yet to be tackled.

Once we started running through the fully teched piece we started to see what sort of swipes we could make with cuts and how we could better embed the visuals into the storytelling that was ultimately led by Mace, not projections. It’s important that projections never pull from the storytellers.

 How did the piece evolve?  What were the challenges? What were the surprises? How did the audience respond?

 The really hard challenge is in the translation from rehearsal to tech. I find it really hard to talk about what “we are going to do” and I need to throw images into the mix long before tech, for fear that I am on a different page than the director. Let’s be honest, no one REALLY knows what us projectionists are talking about until it’s ACTUALLY in the space. However, “placeholder” images are their own can of worms, as you then need to explain what they are looking at and what that really means for the actual image I will use. 90% of all my images were generated in the week of filming.

Truth be told, I hadn’t won over the entire performance team. And that daunting moment you turn the ACTUAL projectors on in the ACTUAL space, there are ACTUAL responses at a very immediate pace. I hadn’t prepared my first images as well as I had hoped and when they went up, there was a sudden swipe at a lot of the opening. And at a certain point, I think the most important aspect of a designer is to take those cuts and say (a) “should I fight for them to be put back because they are integral to the storytelling?” and (b) “If they are cut, how do I adapt the rest of my projections so that it feels like nothing was cut and this tells the story the best way we can?” In the end, we went with B and I actually think it was for the better. We made adjustments to the second scene and beyond and, consequently, I think we made a clearer show. One that was simple to grasp and yet very bold in it’s sequencing. I found the audience really took to it and was able to understand the moments of projections as a means to how the main character, Mace, felt. That, to me, is the best success: when audiences use my design to better talk about their feelings towards the storytellers’ point of view.

Projections by Jared Mezzocchi: Fight scene, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz (Woolly Mammoth Theater, 2012)

Projections by Jared Mezzocchi: Fight scene, The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz (Woolly Mammoth Theater, 2012)

Where do you see contemporary performance at and where do you see it going? What do you think the next generation is looking for in a performance?

Hm. Tricky question. I actually am in a dilemma right now between two very different battles. On one hand, I don’t think the theatrical process is built to embrace the new processes that projection design require. I don’t think theatrical artists (directors in particular) are equipped with enough knowledge of the capabilities of projection design to make apt judgments as to how to use this equipment. And I think to define a new process, we–– as projection designers ––need to sacrifice a little extra time and energy to better educate the theatre profession. This is dangerous at times, and, in most cases, exhausting. But, I really don’t think we can view projection design in the same way that lights and scenic desing can happen outside of the space and then get brought in for a few days of tech. Projection Designers need to build their palette in a flexible way to be able to paint the set with images. They need to use their software to paint architecture. Where the design ends and the technician takes over is a blurry one, how to present images that aren’t meant for a square computer screen is a blurry one as well.

On the other hand, I also think projection designers aren’t necessarily equipping themselves for the theatrical process. Often times I hear of designers not showing anything until it’s perfect and in the can. More often than not, I hear projection designers talking about “what they will do” in design meetings and how they avoid presenting an adequate representation of what best elicits the kind of mood and look they are going for. I’m speaking a bit out of line, I suppose, and more towards a large mass of projection designers that are either lazy or just not experienced enough. I have been both at times. I think we all have.  And so we are at a cross roads that demands this new design community to up the ante with their preparations as well as the process itself to allow for a better implementation.

I think what was most successful about Chad Deity at Woolly was I happened to find a really effective way to present my ideas to John Vreeke (who worked in television and film and so understood the notion of storyboards). I also felt extremely supported by the production staff when they added an extra week for filming and editing to the process. It sort of solved both of the aforementioned problems, but in such a specific way that made sense for Chad Deity. Maybe what I’m saying is really that there should be informed conversation from the beginning of every process that asks what sort of special time and implementation is needed from the projection design world and for both parties to be honest, clear, and supportive in order to make this particular show work.

What are your plans for the future?

 I looking to start a design company that spends its year designing shows and events in ways that redefine space. I just designed an event at The World Bank in Washington DC that used that architecture as surface and found it really satisfying to achieve outside of just theater. This design company will also be my means of creating original theatrical work throughout the year that we write and create. A sort of hybrid between event design and theatrical design, because I think this tool can inform itself by constantly being used in ways and environments that no one thought possible. That’s my Santos Party House days seeping out, I suppose.

Projections by Jared Mezzocchi: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz (Woolly Mammoth Theater, 2012)

Projections by Jared Mezzocchi: The Elaborate Entrance of Chad Deity by Kristoffer Diaz (Woolly Mammoth Theater, 2012)

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