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Tony Award-nominated designer joins ASU as professor of practice


Sven Ortel pictured standing on a street lined with buildings.

Sven Ortel, a pioneer in the field of projection design, recently joined ASU as a professor of practice in immersive/entertainment design with joint appointments in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the new MIX Center in downtown Mesa. Photo courtesy Sven Ortel

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March 01, 2023

Sven Ortel, professor of practice at Arizona State University, is designing two Broadway shows while completing his first semester teaching at ASU.

Ortel, a pioneer in the field of projection design, recently joined ASU as a professor of practice in immersive/entertainment design with joint appointments in the School of Music, Dance and Theatre, the School of Arts, Media and Engineering and the Media and Immersive eXperience (MIX) Center.

"We are thrilled to have attracted Sven Ortel to the ASU Herberger Institute,” said Heather Landes, director of the School of Music, Dance and Theatre. “Ortel brings a breadth of industry experience, artistry and immersive design knowledge to our school and we can’t wait to see the positive impact he will have on our media design curricula and students.”

Ortel did the projection design for “Parade” at New York City Center, and he recently finished designing the Broadway transfer of the show to Jacobs Theatre. He said he is excited about this new opportunity to teach at ASU.

“There are a lot of universities that talk about interdisciplinary work, about leadership development and about diversity, equity and inclusion, but I haven't seen a place that actually does it to the extent that ASU does,” Ortel said. “The Herberger Institute in particular has a mission to educate future thought leaders that help us as a society to be better and take better care of each other and the resources that we have. This is the only place where I want to teach.”

Ortel works internationally and nationally creating projections and imagery for theater, opera, dance, musicals and more. His work was recognized with a Tony Award nomination in 2012 for Disney’s “Newsies” and in 2014 with a Drama Desk nomination for “A Midsummer Night’s Dream.” He's worked at the National Theatre, London's West End, Broadway, European opera houses, Las Vegas and regional theaters.

“I'm really interested in applying the skills that we learn in the performing arts, working with and working across disciplines to tell stories to live audiences,” Ortel said.

Ortel said working with the creative team of “Parade” was “humbling, exhilarating and incredible.”

Early next summer, he will be working on the Britney Spears musical “Once Upon a One More Time” opening in May in New York.

“It’s of course large scale and entertaining, but it also deals with important issues like female empowerment and toxic masculinity,” he said.

When asked how he balances teaching and designing, Ortel credited the help of his wife. 

“I don't do it all by myself,” he said. “My wife and I are a great team, so together we figure it all out.”

Ortel said his work in projection design focuses on contributing something no other discipline can to the audience's experience. 

“I come from a lighting background, and I discovered somewhat by accident how imagery can be successfully woven into a visual storytelling environment,” Ortel said. “It's an art to use technology in such a way that you don't pay attention to it and to leave out enough information so you can fill in the rest with your imagination.”

The set and performance of the play "Parade"

The acclaimed, sold-out New York City Center production of "Parade." Photo courtesy Sven Ortel

This semester, Ortel will be teaching at both the ASU Tempe campus and at the new MIX Center in downtown Mesa. His courses include Emerging Media Colloquium, Advanced Media Design and Lighting, and Sound and Media.

At the School of Arts, Media and Engineering, Sven is bringing new tools and ideas around motion capture and the presence of bodies in 3D environments, teaching an undergraduate class on motion capture as well as planning to co-teach a graduate course on Movement and Computing with Tejaswi Gowda in the fall.

Ortel said teaching across the different areas allows him unique collaborative opportunities, which in turn provides better opportunities for his students.

“You have students from a wide variety of disciplines with different frames of reference, and we will all be in conversation about how to solve design challenges,” he said. “I've always been interested in using digital tools to become a better storyteller myself, and that's what I teach: How can technology that is emerging be useful to us and engage people more successfully?”

Ortel said there are many facets of design and media that are still underexplored, and he hopes students will come to his classes with an open mind and a willingness to try new things.

“I’m a curious person who is interested in helping them understand what it means to be creative and to create storytelling with intention,” he said. “I’m really interested in opening up a process where the students feel empowered to realize those experiences and tell the stories they’re interested in."

Ortel said one of the things that excites him about teaching is that theater design students develop extremely marketable skills while in college.

“Students who graduate from media design programs are incredibly successful in all types of areas that require critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration and working with deadlines, and I can't think of an area where that is not required,” Ortel said. “Then you add the fact that we inherently teach people how to be empathetic human beings.”

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