2015 Best Projection Design Nominee: Bryce Cutler for Fiddlehead Theatre Company's "Jesus Christ Superstar"

Before we announce our 2015 ArtsImpulse Award Winners, we are proud to present our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series.

NOTE: If you were nominated for a 2015 ArtsImpulse Theatre Award, and you would like to participate in our 2015 ArtsImpulse Nominee Interview Series, please email us at brian@artsimpulse.com.

Bryce Cutler was one of the designers who brought the static Jesus Christ Superstar into high definition at the historic Strand Theatre. Working under Director Stacey Stephen's insightful design and collaborating with the work of Mac Young, Cutler re-imagined the space and mood for the musical, infusing the production with newsreels, headlines, tweets, and more.  The projection design helped more than perhaps any other visual element to firmly cement the audience in the world of a modern-day Jesus Christ. 

In his Interview, Bryce describes his work, the challenges for projection design, his inspiration, and his upcoming projects!

Photo Credit: Tegan McDuffie

Photo Credit: Tegan McDuffie

Hi, Bryce, and thank you so much for joining us.  Can you please introduce yourself to our readers?

I am a projection and scenic designer based out of New York City.  Selected projection designs include: The Danish Widow, written and directed by John Patrick Shanley; and the world premieres of The Velvet Oratorio and Antigone. I am a founder of the political theater collective Third Space, and a graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, and my design for The Lady In Red was chosen for international exhibition at the Prague Quadrennial this past year.

I was pleasantly surprised when I saw Fiddlehead Theatre Company’s production of Jesus Christ Superstar, given its unique adaptation.  How much were you involved in creating this concept?

The concept of the media was built into the idea for the show from the beginning.  I just happened to have joined the team a little later after the set had been designed.  A lot of the process was about taking all these ideas and contemporary mediums that we ingest content thru and finding out how those ideas fit into the story we wanted to tell visually.

What role did your projections play in the overall concept?  Tell us about some of the noteworthy moments where your projections helped tell the story.

Mac Young created a fantastic design for projections and, together, I think we were really able to use the projections to allow the show to travel. The projections acted as architecture as well as a space to showcase the larger world around Jesus.  One of my favorite moments was when Jesus is gathering followers and becomes a leader, and we see contemporary magazine covers, news clippings, Buzzfeed says this, and The NY Times says that.  It made [the production] feel very real and contemporary. 

What are some challenges of projection design?  What is rewarding about a good projection design?

Projections come with a variety of challenges and a lot of them lie in the technology.  Half the time, it’s just getting the equipment to connect and speak the same language.  For this production, heat was one of our biggest challenges because the projectors get so hot.  We must have had 3 or 4 fans blowing on projector thru ought the show hopping it wouldn’t “conk” out. 

A good projection design effortless jumps between media and the action onstage.  When it’s done right and done subtly it can take the show to a whole new level you didn’t think was possible. 

What or who inspires you?  What do you think makes something or someone inspiring?

I’m really inspired by artists who push our expectations like Katrin Brack, Marius von Mayenburg, and Donyale Werle.  Whether it’s design or theater or art, I find people who take risk in their work to be truly inspiring.  That risk can take many forms, but I have tremendous respect for people who stand up against the establishment and put everything on the line to explore alternative ideas from the norm.   

How do you think that religion, politics, and pop culture speak to each other in today’s society?

I think it’s a lot of noise.  A sort of endless loop that constantly feeds on itself.  It’s partially why projection design can get so complicated because we have all these mediums to ingest content thru but how those appear on the stage and in what form becomes the challenge. 

Projections helped narrate the story in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's modern interpretation of  Jesus Christ Superstar  (Photo Credit: Bryce Cutler).

Projections helped narrate the story in Fiddlehead Theatre Company's modern interpretation of Jesus Christ Superstar (Photo Credit: Bryce Cutler).

Do you have a favorite color?  Why?

Neon Orange because it never stops blinding you. 

If you could have any super power, what would it be and why?  What would you do with it?

I would want to see the future because it would not only be useful but it would help me cut out time-wasting activities. 

What was one of the most demanding projects that you have ever designed?  What was it so demanding?

The design for Spring Awakening was one of the most demanding.  The project took place over a year, and we were trying to reimagine a musical that is pretty iconic and recent—so we knew we needed to be different.  We approached it from a place of dance and focused on a space that could accommodate that.  Then, little by little, we began to design a show that became much more expressionistic then and really quite beautiful. 

Do you have any upcoming projects?

I’m designing the set and projections for Orpheus Unsung at the Guthrie Theater, a new play by Dael Orlandersmith; a production of Ragtime; and Third Space is in residency at Abrons Arts Center this spring. 

Do you have anything else to share with our ArtsImpulse readers?

Check out my website at: www.brycecutler.com, and thanks for reading!