Victoria Sagady prefers to remain in the background. Literally. As a projection designer, she creates the backdrop and establishes tone without drawing attention to it. But with Sagady’s work on Broadway’s The Great Society at the Vivian Beaumont, she might have to settle for some talk.
Robert Schenkkan’s sequel to his 2014 Tony-winning All The Way picks up as President Lyndon B. Johnson runs a campaign to build his Great Society, and follows his term through the trials of Vietnam. Sagady’s projection design could easily be all archival footage but instead rarely uses video.
“While we’re telling a very true story, we’re not a documentary in that sense,” says Sagady. Rather, in collaboration with scenic designer David Korins and lighting designer David Weiner, Sagady wields static images to conjure the realm of LBJ—from literal settings to the mood of the American public.
A countdown for “Days Until the Election” and then a tally of the “Dead in Vietnam” cast hope or despair. Photos from riots around the country flicker in the framed walls of Johnson’s office. Eight versions of the Oval Office convey the state of the presidency. “All the images in the Oval Office get to more and more extreme angles, and the windows get more tilted as things get more hectic,” Sagady says. “The beauty is that the Oval Office can change tone.”
A border of 1960s television screens underscores the national timbre. “That’s what the normal people are seeing,” says Sagady of the onscreen visuals. “It’s the violence on the news, the press conferences, the lies, things that are out of control. We’re living in LBJ’s little world, but there’s this whole other world outside of it looking in, and those TVs become a great window for expanding that view.”
As Johnson’s presidency strains and devolves, so, too, does his world; the projections spill out of their contained frames and the images begin to splinter.
“We’re going to really disassemble the visual world around LBJ,” says Sagady. “His world has to crumble. He can’t be safe. He can’t be contained and happy. He has to be ripped apart for him to reach the moment that he actually reached in real life. He has to lose it all.” And Sagady’s work will be enough to make you lose yourself in his story.