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Kate Ducey: Projection and Lighting Designer

Stage Directions • Early CareerFebruary 2021 • February 3, 2021

Kate Ducey is a Projection and Lighting Designer based in Brooklyn, NY. She has an MFA in Integrated Media from the University of Texas at Austin where she studied with Sven Ortel. She is also a founder/creative partner in Remarkable Squirrel Productions: www.remarkablesquirrel.com. See more of her work at www.kateducey.com. 

Is there something specific in terms of approach to the work that you learned from Sven which you will take through your career?
I think the dramaturgical approach to design that Sven has, and that he teaches, I found really intriguing. Going back to the text and figuring out what is necessary to the storytelling. Trying to strip it down to the essentials and seeing where projection design can be a way to build on that. Sven is very interested in the fact that projection design is adding text to the stage, using imagery as texts. He has shown me that we, as projection designers, don’t want to put something on the stage that the audience can get from the actors and from all of the rest of the story. It’s about helping to create that larger world.

Talk a bit about your work on The Pill at La Mama.
The Pill was really interesting. It was a new work by Marla Mase and it was very much about her daughter’s struggle with her eating disorder and how that affected their family. So it was autobiographical and very personal for her. The thing that I enjoyed about that process was that the scenic design was very minimal—just a blank stage with five interwoven panels that weren’t projected on all the time—mainly it was a blank space in which people told their story. The purpose of projection in the show was to give a really intimate look at particular moments. There’s a part that we shot the daughter character’s hands cutting her food into really tiny pieces and then projected that so you see these really blown up tiny pieces of food larger than life, larger than her, and you feel how her relationship to food had taken over her entire world.

Is there an aspect of media design that you’re interested in exploring in theater as you go forward in your career?
I want to keep exploring how I can I continue to serve the story. I am interested in seeing how we can create things that are even more participatory than what we can do in a theater sometimes or at least what we tend to do in a theater. I find participatory theater really interesting. When you’re inviting the audience to participate in a meaningful way, it’s really different every night and there’s a huge element of excitement there as a designer. You can design it the way that you think people are going to participate but then every night you learn more and more about how your design affects people, in a way that you don’t get to when they’re just watching and not participating. So I would like to do more participatory theater.

How are you navigating your career with the pandemic going on?
I, along with two other UT graduates, Lacey Erb and Patrick Lord, have started a digital production studio called Remarkable Squirrel Productions. We are working on projects creating digital storytelling. Currently we are working on What I Do, which is an interview series by The Kennedy Center’s Theatre for Young Audiences speaking with designers. That’s been really fun. Helping tell those stories of the people behind productions that audiences don’t often really think about; think about the way in which these people’s work has helped create the storytelling worlds. I’m also personally, and with Remarkable Squirrel, doing a series with a theater from Austin, Theatre en Bloc. That is World Of Wee a musical video series for very, very young audiences—babies zero to 18 months. It’s participatory theater theories to engage babies and their brains create neural pathways. It’s not just entertainment, there’s a lot of neuroscience behind it. It’s a really different style of storytelling. There’s no plot and it doesn’t have to be super realistic so there’s been a lot of freedom to that. 

Is there a piece of advice you got at the beginning of your career that you still find applicable today?
Something my Dad always used to say. ‘The three keys to success are availability, affability, and ability, in that order’. The availability piece, I always thought was well yeah, if you’re not available of course you won’t get that job, but I now realize it’s also about your emotional availability. Especially in theater it is about your availability physically and emotionally being in the room, communicating throughout the entire process, so that your collaborators feel like you’re a person that they can come to when there’s any kind of issue and your response will be, ‘Yes, let’s solve that.’ Not, ‘No, I can’t do that.’ It’s about being a good collaborator. And obviously affability, because if you are that person who is pleasant to be around and feels emotionally available you will continue to get work. Even if maybe, in terms of ability, you’re not as talented as somebody else but if they are a terrible collaborator they won’t get the work. I I hope I can bring all three things; I try to on each project. 

The Pill – A Family Memoir at La MaMa in NYC (photo: Lisi Stoessel/Kate Ducey)

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