Spike Lee hires UCSC alum as designer for Mike Tyson solo Broadway show

Spike Lee and Mike Tyson
Mike Tyson (left) and Spike Lee
UC Santa Cruz alumnus Erik Pearson
UC Santa Cruz alumnus Erik Pearson
Erik Pearson—a 2001 graduate of UC Santa Cruz with a degree in Film and Digital Media—has been chosen by acclaimed film director Spike Lee for a highly unusual project.

Pearson will design the media for Mike Tyson: Undisputed Truth, a one-man show that opens on Broadway for a two-week run on July 31, at the Longacre Theater in New York City.

In the show, Tyson shares the behind-the-scenes story of his life, accompanied by projected video and photographs that help tell his private story.

Peason’s task is to assemble, edit, and project archival materials from a variety of sources--including new material shot by Lee and his team.

Pearson noted that the main reason he took the job was the opportunity to work with Spike and Mike.

“Spike is a master of his craft, with great clarity of vision who is always very specific about what he wants,” said Pearson.

“And Mike has demonstrated intense focus and discipline in the rehearsal room--it's all been very exciting to be a part of,” he added.
The project has already yielded some memorable experiences for Pearson.

“I spent last Saturday afternoon on a roof in Brooklyn with Spike and his director of photography, shooting Super 8 film of Mike and his pigeons,” said Pearson.

“As you may know from his show on Animal Planet, Mike has always had a great love of pigeons since he was a child growing up in Brooklyn. He still keeps multiple flocks.”

“In spite of the 100+degree temperature, it was a magical afternoon watching Mike signaling to his pigeons flying overhead with a giant flag as Spike called out direction,” Pearson added.

The UCSC alum was recommended for the job by his mentor, Wendall Harrington, who Pearson said is widely considered to be the “godmother of theatrical projection design” in the U.S.
He sought her out while he was completing his directing MFA at Yale School of Drama, and has worked with her regularly since 2009. She helped get him in touch with the producers of the Tyson show.

“I interviewed with Spike, talked with him about the show and showed him my reel, and also met with the producers of the show,” said Pearson. “Shortly after, I was offered the job.”

Peason said the most challenging part of the project is the schedule and tight deadlines.

“We have a lot of material to find in a very short amount of time,” said Pearson.

“The fun part begins when we are in the theater with Mike, artfully assembling everything with a computer to be projected in the theater.”

Pearson said that he got his start as a projection designer as a student at UC Santa Cruz--first on a small student projection of Strindberg's A Dream Play and then with Theater Arts professor Danny Scheie in his controversial The Most Fabulous Story Ever Told by Paul Rudnick.

He noted that he has been involved in the theater “since my parents enrolled me in a Parks and Rec theater class in Santa Cruz when I was 5 years old," continuing at Branciforte Junior High, and later at Santa Cruz High.

At UC Santa Cruz, he majored in film production with a minor in Theater Arts.
“I stumbled into theatrical projection design when I realized that there was a demand for my unique combination of skills,” Pearson said. 

He went on to design shows for Scheie at UCSC’s Shakespeare Santa Cruz and throughout the greater Bay Area.

He also taught projection design as a guest lecturer at UCSC for three years, and continued to design professionally until going to grad school for directing.

Pearson now directs professionally off-Broadway in New York and regionally.