I designed Ryan Landry’s “M” for the Huntington Theatre Company at the Wimberly Theatre in 2013
Ryan Landry’s “M” was an amazing show to work on as a projection designer. The script had moments that called for original footage of the movie that the show is based around, but other than those moments, the director, Caitlin Lowans, largely gave me free reign to enhance the show however I could. It was also a great experience collaborating with Jon Savage, the scenic designer, on creating a set that was an effective projection surface while creating the world of the play.
In the script, the character of M was only supposed to be seen in shadow early on in the show, which presented us with an interesting design challenge. The original plan was to have lighting take care of creating the shadows, but we found that not only did we not have enough space to effectively cast the shadows, it was very difficult to get them as precise as we needed them to be. One of the things I enjoy about projection design, especially coming from a lighting design background, is the ability to precisely control light, and this was an opportunity to do just that. I was able to create the illusion of a shadow with projection, and it was easily cued with the actor so that it felt like they were directly interacting.
Another challenge that was solved with projections, as well as sound and a little ingenuity from the scenic department was when a flaming arrow was supposed to fly across the stage and embed itself in the set containing a note for the actor onstage. I created the flaming arrow that passed right over the actor’s head, which was enhanced by a jarring sound, and scenic had an arrow flip up from the set to create the physical arrow that the actor could interact with. It always got a laugh.
There were many more moments in the show that I was able to enhance what was happening onstage. There was an musical number which happened and ended with a big musical button, which I added fireworks to. At another point there was an angry mob that gathers onstage, and I had all of the windows which were painted on the scenery light up in sequence, like people were turning on their lights to see what the noise was. I then animated people that appeared in the windows, and got angry along with the characters onstage. Later in the show there was a chase which ended with a character throwing papers into the air. I used projected papers to enhance the effect and make it feel as though the papers engulfed the whole stage, where in the chaos, M got away.
Near the end of the show the character of M is put on trial for his murders, and the script calls for a large mirror to be flown in so that the audience is aware of themselves in the scene with M. Instead of a giant mirror, I was able to use an infrared camera aimed at the audience from the stage, which fed through the projections system and was projected onstage. This was both an interesting visual effect, and effectively accomplished what the script asked for. It was interesting to see how the audience reacted to the fact that they were being projected with the characters onstage.
In the final moment of the show M accepts his fate and goes with one of the children to a fantasy candy land, which I worked with the scenic designer to create. He then approaches a house which is similar to the witch’s house in Hansel and Gretel, the doors open and he enters an oven and is engulfed with flames, which then spread to the full stage. During that moment the candy all melted and fell away. The fire I created was not completely realistic, it had a hard diamond pattern which was more evocative of an illustration than of actual filmed fire.
Overall, I was very happy with the way the design for Ryan Landry’s “M” enhanced the play and stood on its own as a strong design element.