Who: Darrel Maloney, projection designer for Babylon Line
Stopped: Outside the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater at Lincoln Center
How did you get into projection design for the theatre?
Darrel Maloney: I studied set and lighting design at NYU, and did that for a little bit. [After a few years] I left the theatre and started a company doing post-production, editing, and animation. I had been doing commercials and film work for about 13 years when [set designer] Christine Jones, whom I went to graduate school with, called me and said: ‘Hey I’m doing this theatre piece, and I think you’d be good at doing [the video and projection design].’ I told her I wasn’t really interested in going back into theatre… [When she told me the show was American Idiot] I thought: ‘That’s actually really interesting.’ I loved the album, and that’s what got me back into theatre doing projections. Basically I took my background in set and lighting design, along with my next 13 years in high-end media design, and combined it all together.
What was it about working on American Idiot that got you hooked on theatre again?
DM: At that point I knew how to do the commercial work, I knew how to make things pretty, and how to sell toilet paper. But doing something like American Idiot, every image onstage had to have meaning and feelings attached to it. I was able to take that background of image manipulation and also infuse it with emotions and draw that from audiences. I found that really interesting.
When does the projection designer become attached to a project?
DM: A lot of the time you’re the last person hired, but I’ve worked on a few shows where they’ve known from the beginning that they wanted projections. It’s a budgetary thing—projections can be added. Babylon Line is a good example, as projections were added later on to support the storytelling.
How has your process changed since working on American Idiot?
DM: When I was working on American Idiot, I went to see a Green Day concert before we went into tech, and I realized I had more cues in my opening number than they had in their entire show. I realized that the scope of what I’d planned was really big. My assistant told me: “If you’d been doing projection design all these years, you would have never tried to do all of this.” I’d never done it before, so I just went into it with all these ideas and made it happen. Sometimes the more you know, the more you restrict yourself. That’s one thing I’ve tried to keep up with; I try to let the idea drive me. If I let the technology or the budget drive the idea then it’s not really the idea anymore.
Do you only work in theatre now, or do you still do the commercial design work?
DM: I pretty much exclusively do theatre now. Even my commercial projects are projection-related—I worked on Allegiance on Broadway, and [ended up] doing the opening and closing credits for the film release. I also did some effects work for the film, which is what I used to do.
What kind of projects are you drawn to?
DM: Some people get pigeonholed, but I like doing a range of projects and have been able to do a whole series of things. I just did Kingdom Come at Roundabout Theatre Company, and at the same time I’m doing the Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion musical [at Fifth Avenue Theatre in Seattle]. I love both equally.
When you left the theatre originally, did you feel like you were leaving for good?
DM: I did. I left in a bit of a huff. Theatre is a hard business and a hard life; there’s a lot of struggle to make it happen in the beginning. I reached a certain point where I decided I wanted to make a lot of money, which is what I went and did. But then I realized I still wasn’t happy because none of it meant anything to me. There was no emotional connection to any of those projects, they were just a way to make money. [Now] I try to keep the balance between the things that are really artistically fulfilling and projects that help pay for everything. It’s much easier when you can have that balance.
Maloney’s theatre credits also include On Your Feet!, A Night with Janis Joplin, Everyday Rapture, The Illusionists, Found, Checkers, Tappin’ Thru Life, Pretty Filthy, Kung Fu, Golden Child, The Village Bike, The Submission, Bikeman, Kansas City Choir Boy, and Stop the Virgens. For more information visit DarrelMaloney.com.