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Goodman Theatre Projection Designer Brings Hi-Tech Visuals to Stage

Goodman Theatre Projection Designer Brings Hi-Tech Visuals to Stage
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DNAinfo/Jackie Kostek

DOWNTOWN — Mike Tutaj might never grace the stage of the Goodman Theatre, but his work is everywhere — projecting onto the set and flashing on screens.

As the projection designer for the downtown theater’s latest production, "Ask Aunt Susan," running now through June 22, Tutaj is responsible for creating and assembling the video, text and graphics that are displayed on stage during the show.

“It’s a lot of texture and amplification,” said Tutaj, who has been working as a projection designer in Chicago for more than a decade.

In "Ask Aunt Susan," a young man who’s labeled an “aimless hipster” finds an identity as an online advice columnist. The column takes off while “Aunt Susan” sees his life spiral out of control.

Throughout the play, Tutaj said his projections — mostly punchy scene titles and other text shown on LCD screens — are used to help shape and move the story forward.

“There are these moments of direct address where ‘Aunt Susan’ talks to the audience,” Tutaj said, “With projections, we have the ability to heighten what he’s saying,”

“The projections are sort of an entry into his mind,” said Henry Wishcamper, the director of "Ask Aunt Susan."

Wishcamper said there are certain pieces of information (mainly text) that playwright Seth Bockley wanted in the play that would be hard to create without projections.

“Mike’s work is really central to this production,” Wishcamper said.

For "Ask Aunt Susan," Tutaj designed a projection system involving eight LCD screens and two projectors that are programmed across two computers.

“We just have to know the technology and try to take advantage of it the best we can,” Tutaj said.

Knowing the technology and adapting to it is nothing new to Tutaj, who began as a projection designer before designing projections was even a thing. Before computer-programmed projections became accessible to theaters outside of Broadway, Tutaj burned DVDs of his videos and used DVD playback systems and projectors during shows.

“Once computer-controlled systems became a little more affordable, that changed everything,” he said.

He said there’s still a vast range of what technology is affordable for Broadway productions compared with regional theaters and small storefront theaters, but great design is no longer out of reach.

“The technology has gotten accessible to where smaller theaters can do really spectacular designs with limited resources,” Tutaj said.

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