The traditional theatre often required the audience to suspend their disbelief and fill in the blanks. For example, if the character onstage is driving a car, you likely can’t expect the production company to bring an actual car to the stage and have the actor drive it around. No. What’s likely to happen is they’ll sit in a chair and hold a prop wheel and mime driving a car.

Those on the stage often have to rely on certain tricks to bring the story to life, like harnesses and stagehands dressed in dark colours moving props around while the audience pretended not to see them. However, technology has ushered in a new era for theatre, one that’s breathing new life into old tales and creating effects that dazzle theatre enthusiasts and casual audiences alike. 

Projection design: What is it?

Project design involves, among other things, installing a projector on the ceiling to project backdrops and special effects onto a screen behind the actors. It’s a very choreographed routine that involves the actors, music, all working together to create a stunning and more immersive experience for the viewers. Bringing the example of the actor driving a car – with the help of projection design, a moving backdrop can be projected behind the character, cementing the illusion that they are in transit.

Mainstream theatre and projection design

Broadway shows like Harry Potter and the Cursed Child and Frozen are famous for embracing this technology, opening the door for future productions. Stories that previously couldn’t be brought to the stage due to budget or labour limitations are now possible thanks to the potential of projection design. For example, stories set in many different locations are often barred in the theatre because of how difficult it would be to prepare the props and change the set design throughout the show, but with the power of projections, even a single scene can take place across a changing landscape without interrupting the flow of the play.

Projection design and smaller theatre companies

Often, smaller theatre companies are severely limited in their storytelling because some productions may be considered too laborious to be worth it. However, with projection design, smaller theatre companies are provided more options for what stories they want to do.

Projection design can also increase a troupe’s profit because physical props and set pieces are expensive and are costly to transport when they are touring. For a play that relies heavily on projections, all that’s needed are the video files, the technical equipment, and the technicians. This is not to say that projection design is cheap, but it is more convenient logistics-wise.

When done right, projection design results in a magical experience for the viewer that can’t be replicated by TV or cinema. Playwrights and production companies are constantly looking to innovate the genre, and projections are just one of the many ways they’ve done it in recent years. It’s exciting to see how far they can push the limits of storytelling with these modern tools.