PQ15 – #7

I bet you thought I was done posting about PQ15 — I know I did! But then, lo and behold, I received an email from CMU alum (and top notch dramaturg, I may add…now based in NYC) Rachel Abrams, with descriptions of all sorts of stuff I missed (it’s a huge event, you’d need to be four people to do everything on the program!!)

So hear, without further ado, are photos and blurbs from Rachel:

“The first official day of PQ featured a talk titled, ‘Space-shifter: Jerzy Gurawski and the Architecture of Theatrical Space.’ Scholar Dariusz Kosiński gave a lecture on how Gurawski used both theatre design and architecture to redefine the performer/audience member relationship. Towards the end of the session, the PQ organizers tried to Skype with Gurawski himself so that he could talk about his work. Alas, after a few hopeful moments of connection, the technology sputtered and crashed, and we resorted to an audience Q&A with Kosiński to end.”

PQ Talk, “Space-shifter: Jerzy Gurawski and the Architecture of Theatrical Space” featuring Dariusz Kosiński. Photo: Rachel Abrams

PQ Talk, “Space-shifter: Jerzy Gurawski and the Architecture of Theatrical Space”. Photo: Rachel Abrams

I may or may not have mentioned in my first PQ post that the Gold Medal PQ 2015 for Provoking a Dialogue went to Mia David, curator of the exhibition of Serbia: Power(less) – Response(ability) and the curatorial team of the students’ exhibition of Serbia: Process, or What DOES Matter to Me. Rachel attended this exhibit on the second day of PQ, and writes: “Over the course of ten days, new Serbian artists were invited daily to create live installations/performance art, or to create their still art in public, while being monitored by surveillance cameras feeding into screens in the next room. In a PQ talk titled, ‘Stages of Utopia,’ one of the Serbian curators (whose name does not appear on the original program) highlighted the tension here between surveillance built to protect citizens and the discomfort of losing one’s own privacy.”

From Day 2 of the Serbian national exhibit, “Power(less)—Response(ability).”  Photo: Rachel Abrams

From Day 2 of the Serbian national exhibit, “Power(less)—Response(ability).” Photo: Rachel Abrams

Remember how I mentioned the “Makers” exhibit in the Bethlehem Gallery – where students put on food performances? I saw only two of these. Here’s another, “Recipe for the Heart of a Dog,” which Rachel attended:

"Recipe for the Heart of a Dog" Photo: Rachel Abrams

“Recipe for the Heart of a Dog” Photo: Rachel Abrams

She writes: “A performance group from Cyprus created a non-linear experience in which, according to the PQ programme, ‘Food is prepared as experimental surgery and served as a medical discovery.’ I was particularly compelled by images of a young woman undergoing a sort of ‘food plastic surgery,’ where cast members in lab coats stuffed her limbs with bread and colored her with a cranberry paste, before the patient rose again as a ‘bread Frankenstein.’ For me, the performance evoked commentary on women’s complex relationship between food and our bodies (for example, saying ‘That extra piece of bread is gonna stick to my thighs,’ and then considering which cultures may consider that ‘extra stuffing’ to be beautiful and desirable). Then the performers transitioned into preparing a party with food as ‘medicine’…which in many cases actually meant food spiked with vodka served to the audience.” Here are a couple more photos:

"Recipe for the Heart of a Dog" Photo: Rachel Abrams

“Recipe for the Heart of a Dog” Photo: Rachel Abrams

"Recipe for the Heart of a Dog" Photo: Rachel Abrams

“Recipe for the Heart of a Dog” Photo: Rachel Abrams

“Brazil’s exhibition featured a giant sculpture of dodecahedrons resembling a tree with silver globes as its fruit. Each globe offered a window into a different Brazilian designer’s work.”

Brazil national exhibit. Photo: Rachel Abrams

Brazil national exhibit. Photo: Rachel Abrams

“Australia’s exhibition had a series of projects featured in books on studio tables, and the book descriptions corresponded with a film presentation of the work. The project featured in this image focused on Aboriginal displacement and their descendants’ struggles with homelessness.”

Australia national exhibit. Photo: Rachel Abrams

Australia national exhibit. Photo: Rachel Abrams

CMU alum Erik Lawson and CMU professor Joe Pino, respectively, presenting their designs at the PQ Sound Kitchen:

CMU Alum Erik Lawson at PQ Sound Kitchen. Photo: Rachel Abrams.

CMU Alum Erik Lawson at PQ Sound Kitchen. Photo: Rachel Abrams.

CMU Professor Joe Pino at PQ Sound Kitchen. Photo: Rachel Abrams

CMU Professor Joe Pino at PQ Sound Kitchen. Photo: Rachel Abrams

“Erik’s piece, a delightful three-movement duet between synthesizer and harp, used statistical evidence of climate change (average temperature, ice cap coverage, etc.) over the last few decades from multiple cities to dictate the pace and tone of the music. Even with such dire undertones emitting from this data, the piece does not merely bemoan the state of our planet or cite direct blame for its destruction. Instead, Erik’s choice to feature a soothing harp, complemented by just a soft synth line and kept pure with a fairly simple instrumentation, makes the listener long for Earth’s beauty when a foreboding synth line takes over, warning us that we could lose this beauty forever. Joe’s inspiration for his piece came from a novel (unfortunately I missed the title!) in which the protagonist’s mind wanders as he bottle-feeds his infant. This piece evoked fragmented and muffled memories of murky voices and events, and the surreal yet familiar soundscape created, as Susan Tsu referred to it, a ‘lucid dream.'”

And then there is the “OBJECTS” exhibit: “The Objects exhibit featured props and other items that designers associate with their productions or stories from their theatrical landscapes. The exhibit itself was fairly simple: a table filled with the objects, unlabeled, and behind them a black booth with a looped film of the designers tell the stories of the objects. Some of my favorite stories included: a prop poodle with a bloody detachable head that came to symbolize the director’s ex-boyfriend, a mask made of hammock material as a commentary on homelessness in Mexico, an authentic wooden weapon from New Zealand used as a prop, a flying pig that a designer features in her sets as a memorial to a director who died of cancer (who told all his friends and family, ‘I will beat cancer when pigs fly,’ and found his house filled with flying pig figurines), a Queen Elizabeth crown that saved the opera signer wearing it from a piece of scenery that fell during a performance, a rhino mask with tiny eye holes responsible for many actor injuries, an authentic Mexican grinding set used onstage, and a key from a women’s penitentiary in Chicago that went missing during a performance in a prison (which a designer found someone slipped into her bag months later).

"Objects" exhibit. Photos: Rachel Abrams

“Objects” exhibit. Photos: Rachel Abrams

IMG_0632 IMG_0631 IMG_0629 IMG_0628

I have two videos from PQ that I’m going to try to upload in the next post, one from Rachel, and one that I forgot I had on my phone.  Stay tuned to see if the technology demons are on my side!

PQ15 – #6

The theme of this year’s PQ – “Shared Space – Music Weather Politics” – gave me hope that there might be a really strong engagement with climate change and sustainability among the theater artists presenting their work. I know there’s a difference between the weather and climate, I guess I’d just hoped that the thematic focus would pull exhibitors toward a consideration of how theater can take on the bigger question of the human relationship to the nonhuman, which is both an ecological question and a political one.

I was, I’m sorry to report, largely disappointed in that hope. There were only a handful of exhibits that used scenography to grapple with ecological issues – Poland’s “Post-Apocalypsis” was one; as was Ireland’s “Activating Affective Atmospheres,” which used “a range of technologies to synthesize sensory experiences of weather … co-created by participatory audiences… to probe the inter relationships of weather, technology, atmosphere and people.” The Philippine exhibit powerfully drew attention to the local effects of global climate change: their sculptural representation of a small boat made of bamboo highlighted the nation’s resilience in the response to recent ecological catastrophes.

DSC_0678

In addition, many of the designs projected in the UK Exhibit “Make/Believe” seem to have been for productions that were eco-centric (for example, Tanja Beer’s concept and set design for “The Living Stage,” and Myriddin Wannell’s production design for “The Passion”).

But for the most part, I looked in vain for a good deal of evidence that the world’s theater designers and scenographers were making any kind of collective commitment to more sustainable production practices – if they are, they were not advertising it very loudly in these exhibitions.

A welcome exception was an outdoor exhibit that it would have been easy to miss. In a courtyard near the Naprstek Museum was a sort of gazebo made from repurposed wooden theater seats that showcased theaters from around the world that are “recycling” space & materials and aiming for a greater sustainability in their practice:

Recycled Theatre exhibit. Photo: M. Perdriel

Recycled Theatre exhibit. Photo: M. Perdriel

Recycled Theater "gazebo". Photo: M. Perdriel

Recycled Theater “gazebo”. Photo: M. Perdriel

Recycled Theater, detail. Photo: M. Perdriel

Recycled Theater, detail. Photo: M. Perdriel

Recycled Theater, detail. Photo: M. Perdriel (notice a familiar logo?)

Recycled Theater, detail. Photo: M. Perdriel (notice a familiar logo?)

Recycled Theater, detail. Photo: M. Perdriel

Recycled Theater, detail. Photo: M. Perdriel

I am, frankly, baffled not only by the otherwise seeming lack of a real engagement on the part of the world’s scenographers with the need to find more sustainable and eco-friendly ways to make theater, but also by the near-absence at PQ15 of theatrical stories that grapple with climate change, ecological sustainability, and the socio-political effects that ecological catastrophes have had and will continue to have on human communities. I’m gonna get on my soapbox here: It’s 2015. When are the world’s theater artists going to wake up to their responsibility to be part of the solution?

Do you want to know more about how to make sustainable theater, or more about ecodrama, ecodramaturgy, and performance and ecology? Here is a very short list of good places to start (and I apologize for the brazen self-promotion in one of the links below):

The Center for Sustainable Practice in the Arts

The Broadway Green Alliance

The Ashden Directory Archive & Landing Stages ebook

Readings in Performance and Ecology. (Ed. Wendy Arons & Theresa J. May)

Greening Up Our Houses: a Guide to More Ecologically Sound Theater. (Larry Fried & Theresa J. May)

Research Theatre, Climate Change, and the Ecocide Project: The Ecocide Theatre Casebook (Una Chaudhuri & Shonni Enelow)

PQ15 – #5

Continuing with my whirlwind written tour of PQ15, I’ll move on to some of the highlights from the installations in the “Section of Countries and Regions.” As my colleague Susan Tsu advised me before the PQ began, in many ways the student work presented was more compelling than the “professional” work. This may be because so many of the national curators have chosen (or have been constrained) to exhibit a collection of what they considered the best or most innovative design work done in their region or country’s theatres over the last four years, which meant that many of these exhibits display a whole bunch of model boxes and design sketches and photo slide shows on ipads without much context. Such exhibits, while by no means uninteresting, become very hard to differentiate from each other after the dozenth of the type. No matter how artfully such collections are arranged, there is often an overwhelming amount of visual information to take in, and I’ve found it difficult to focus on the individual elements (particularly when those elements were displayed on mini ipad screens, as seemed to be the trend!) This may be why I’ve been so taken with installations like the border performances put on by the students from the UK and Utrecht, or the scenographic exercises presented by the Belgian, Latvian, and Hungarian student sections – the unified vision helps me to focus more closely on their creativity and craft and on the use of design as a storytelling device. Nevertheless, in addition to the award winners I wrote about in my first PQ post, there is a lot of amazing design work on display in the “Countries and Regions” sections!

(Note: I’m linking in the following to the PQ websites for individual countries because I didn’t always get great photos of all of these.]

The USA professional exhibit, “Vortex of Our Dreams,” presents an illuminated tornado gathering up scenographic and sound work from a number of really fabulous productions – and we Tartans were pretty tickled to note the large number of alums whose work was on display, including Bryce Cutler for the site-specific, ecologically sustainable, “upcycled” scenic design for In the Basement Theater Company’s The Lady in Red – which featured a number of CMU alumni both on and off stage – and sound designer Erik T. Lawson for his work on Victor Frange Presents GAS, which was an original collaboration by several CMU alumni, including Sarah Kron, Dan O’Neil, Patrick Rizzotti, Bryce Cutler, and Bart Cortright (follow the links for images from those two parts of the exhibit). I found this exhibit quite snazzy, but visually overwhelming – the forest is cool, but it is hard to focus on the individual trees, so to speak. The exhibit does invite the visitor in to interact – there’s a stairway to climb, and spools of wire to allow you to add your own twist to the wiry chaos.

USA Exhibit. Photos: M. Perdriel

USA Exhibit. Photos: M. Perdriel

IMG_0078_2 IMG_0077_2 IMG_0066_2 IMG_0081_2

The USA student exhibit, “Transcend: the Designer as Creator,” is a set of bright red lockers with displays of student projects inside. I was underwhelmed by this curatorial concept and presentation; in fact, you get a better sense of the quality of these students’ work from the USITT website than from the exhibition on display.

USA Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

USA Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

IMG_0274_2

USA Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

IMG_0275_2

USA Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

IMG_0276_2

USA Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

One of the most effective installations is the United Kingdom’s “Make/Believe,” which projects designs and scenes of individual work on all four walls of their exhibition space – a strategy that allows the visitor to be immersed in each work (there’s seating, too, which is welcome after a long day on your feet!) This installation received a Special Award for the complexity and richness of its selection. In the evenings, you can get a mini-immersive “Solotoria” theater experience: you put on headphones and put your head inside a curtained box that has been outfitted like a grand theater, and watch a miniature ballet, magic show, opera, or comedy sketch. They only last a couple of minutes, but are worth waiting for.

UK2

UK Exhibit “Make/Believe”

UK1

UK Exhibit “Make/Believe”

solotoria

Solotoria (this is from a different exhibit – image taken from the Solotoria website, http://www.solotoria.com)

Solotoria - Opera

Solotoria (image taken from the Solotoria website, http://www.solotoria.com)

The Catalan exhibit, “Catalan Ways,” is also really striking. On a turntable is a sculpture of a naked figure crawling and reaching out; projected video transforms this sculpture in surprising ways, from a ghost-like apparition to a skeleton to a figure in flames. I wasn’t able to get a clear photo but here are some images from the PQ website (follow the link above for more).

DE MUNT / LA MONNAIE                    LE GRAND MACABRE   I.Eerens,F.Bourne

DE MUNT / LA MONNAIE
LE GRAND MACABRE
I.Eerens,F.Bourne

DE MUNT / LA MONNAIE                    LE GRAND MACABRE W.v.Mechelen, C.Merritt

DE MUNT / LA MONNAIE
LE GRAND MACABRE
W.v.Mechelen, C.Merritt

Another exhibition that has a lot of spectacular appeal is the Hungarian exhibition, “Donor for Prometheus,” which presents the myth of Prometheus and asks visitors to donate their livers to help him out (!). Each evening they bring out a live bird of prey that flies down onto their hanging Prometheus figure and eats a bit of its “liver”; the sculpture is then used to melt metal, which is poured onto text stamped in the sand below, and the cast text is lifted out and mounted around the installation. By end of today the full phrase will be spelled out around the installation; when I visited, it was still backwards and in Latin so I wasn’t able to make out what it said.

Hungary -

Hungary – “Donor for Prometheus” Photo: M. Perdriel

IMG_0035_2

Hungary – “Donor for Prometheus” Photo: M. Perdriel

IMG_0105_2

Hungary – “Donor for Prometheus” Photo: M. Perdriel

IMG_0120_2

Hungary – “Donor for Prometheus” Photo: M. Perdriel

The Canadian team took a novel approach to presenting individual design work; their installation, “Shared [private] space,” is a set of old-fashioned outhouses with interactive installations inside that immerse you in the design world of each production. You have to wait, much as you might for a port-a-potty, for the person before you to be “done,” which creates an interesting audience/exhibit dynamic. As with the UK exhibit, this presentation strategy gives more focus to each individual design; it also allows for some interesting surprises when you open the door (one outhouse has a live performer inside!)

Canadian Exhibit,

Canadian Exhibit, “Shared [private] space” Photo: M. Perdriel

The view 'down the hole' of one of the Canadian outhouses. Photo: M. Perdriel

The view ‘down the hole’ of one of the Canadian outhouses. Photo: M. Perdriel

Canadian Exhibit - detail. Photo: M. Perdriel

Canadian Exhibit – detail. Photo: M. Perdriel

Canadian Exhibit - detail. Photo: M. Perdriel

Canadian Exhibit – detail. Photo: M. Perdriel

Spain’s exhibit, titled “Muérete,” invites the visitor to imagine, and embrace, her own mortality. Here, a picture may indeed be worth a thousand words (that’s projected video of maggots crawling all over me; visible to me in a mirror on the ceiling):

IMG_0291_2

The Danish contingent has brought a project that is aimed at getting people to see the world from another perspective. Called “Through Different Eyes,” the exhibition invites visitors to transform themselves – using theatrical makeup, wigs, and costumes – into a person of another race, religion, nationality, ethnicity, and/or gender. Participants are encouraged to walk around in public (go shopping, etc) for a couple of hours and experience what it is like to inhabit someone else’s perspective; they then receive a before and after photo as a souvenir. The producing organization, “Global Stories,” has used this project as a diversity awareness tool at a number of festivals and exhibitions as well as at schools and corporations. I didn’t have a chance to participate (the line was loooong) but, like the Estonia project, this seems an excellent example of how people are using the tools of theater to effect real world change.

“Through Different Eyes”, photo from PQ website (before & after photos of participants)

PQ15 ends today. I’ll post more tomorrow, but the final image I want to leave you with today is this beautiful three-dimensional mandala from the Mongolian exhibit, designed by Ariunbold Sundui.

Mongolian exhibit. Photo: M. Perdriel

Mongolian exhibit. Photo: M. Perdriel

Mongolian exhibit, detail. Photo: M. Perdriel

Mongolian exhibit, detail. Photo: M. Perdriel

PQ15 – #4

Okay, I lied yesterday…I didn’t manage a second post. But better late than never…

Near the Lapidarium, in the same square, is the Gallery at Bethlehem Chapel, where the Makers performances take place. This space has been beautifully outfitted as a kitchen prep and food performance space; in between the food performances, they’re also serving coffee and snacks. I’m interested in food performance – well, who isn’t? – but in particular I have an interest in the use of food performance as a means of getting at ecological/environmental concerns. Some of the “Makers” performances seemed aimed at addressing such concerns. One that I managed to catch, “Food at War,” was put together by Italian students, and pitted an advocate of “slow food” against an advocate of “fast food.” The performance itself was a testament to “slowness” – it lasted over four hours. Here are some photos of the “Makers” space.

IMG_0250_2 IMG_0251_2 IMG_0252_2

Food at War. Photo: Bruno Micovilovich

Food at War. Photo: Bruno Micovilovich

At the Kafka House – about a 5 minute walk away from the Lapidarium at the Bethlehem Chapel, on the edge of Prague’s Old Jewish Quarter – are the remainder of the student exhibitions – three floors’ worth! Again, some highlights, as writing about all of them would be impossible (and again, in no particular order…):

Italy – “TranSite”  The Italian students’ installation transports the visitor under the sea, where so many migrants have perished in recent months. The scenographic arrangement of nets and detritus, with a large inflatable raft above, invites you to imagine yourself in the place of a migrant whose flight to a better life has ended tragically. This photo doesn’t adequately capture how powerful this exhibit is.

Italian Student installation. Photo: M. Perdriel.

Italian Student installation. Photo: M. Perdriel.

Sweden – “Costume in Change”  These whimsical and inventive costumes by second year students from the Stockholm Academy of Dramatic Art are ingenious and kind of magical.

Swedish Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

Swedish Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

Swedish Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

Swedish Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

Swedish Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

Swedish Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

Swedish Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

Swedish Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

Swedish Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

Swedish Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

Russia – “Do you want to speak bad English with us about Art?”  I don’t have a picture of this installation because it’s not about presenting finished work. Instead, Russian students have transported their studio to Prague, installed it in a room on the second floor of Kafka’s House, and are inviting visitors to sit and work with them – in other words, their process is on display. They won a Special Award for Best Shared Process in a Student Exhibition for this installation.

Kubinia  This whimsical exhibition by students from the University of Utrecht invites the visitor to find out whether or not they are “Korrekt” enough to be allowed into the nation of Kubinia. Photos were not “korrekt,” so I have no images to share, but I’m pleased to share that I was “korrekt”!

Belgium – “The Take Off”

The Belgian student exhibition is a “library” of books that have been transformed by students into exquisite scenographic storytelling devices. These students display an impressive range of approaches to the task of transforming a book into an object that tells stories in another way. I was thoroughly captivated by this installation, as you can tell from the number of photos I have to share of it.

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Belgian student exhibition. Photo: W. Arons

Hungary – “The Collector’s Room”  My kids voted this their favorite; like the Belgian and the Latvian exhibitions, this installation grows out of a design assignment. It’s an ingenious one. Each student imagines into being a person who is obsessed with collecting something. The student must then describe their collector’s personality, imagine how they dress and behave, and build a small model of their collector’s room with its collection. The exhibition itself is conceived as the room of a collector whose passion is to collect these collections. The little rooms designed by the students were intricately detailed and intriguing, and the stories that accompanied them demonstrated how well this exercise worked as an invitation to create a small, fully realized theatrical world. This exhibit was less “slick” than many others; a sign on the wall made note that the Hungarian students are on their own when it comes to procuring resources for their projects.

This guy, for example, collects washing machines…

IMG_0267_2 IMG_0268_2 IMG_0269_2

And this person collects pictures of strangers, and has had to build bespoke cabinetry and stairways to display all of the images…

IMG_0270_2

This is the space of a collector of clocks and timepieces…

IMG_0271_2

Hungary student detail

And this gentleman collects violins.IMG_0272_2There was also a creepy dentist who liked to collect teeth. I didn’t get a good shot of that one.

Tomorrow is the last day of PQ15. But I’ve got quite a bit more to cover, so I’ll be posting for the next couple of days at least. Stay tuned for more highlights…

PQ15 – #3

I’ll be posting more about student work at PQ15 later today. But for now, a quick post with a “report from the field” from Dani Kling-Joseph, who was able to catch some events that I missed.

The first was a street performance on June 21 by students from Spain’s RESAD entitled “Borrón y cuenta vieja (Let Bygones Be by-nows).”

"Borrón y cuenta vieja" RESAD 6/21/15, Jungmann Square Prague. Photo: Dani Kling-Joseph

“Borrón y cuenta vieja” RESAD 6/21/15, Jungmann Square Prague. Photo: Dani Kling-Joseph

Dani – who, unlike myself, speaks Spanish! – writes that this was “a performance by Spanish students about the collective glossing-over of the atrocities committed by Franco and his officers during and after his reign. The woman in black talked about how her boyfriend was tortured during Franco’s reign on a certain island and now on that island there is nothing to indicate it housed a concentration camp.”

She also sent a photo of a PLATaFORMA performance by students from Catalonia. PLATaFORMA has been designed as “a small scale modular performance space for experimenting with … the relationship between objects, lighting, sounds, performers, and the audience.”

Catalonia: PLATaFORMA performance. Photo: Dani Kling-Joseph

Catalonia: PLATaFORMA performance. Photo: Dani Kling-Joseph

Dani writes that “during the piece they manipulated a piece of glass with strings attached to motors and also used tiny lights and tiny projections. Their idea with the project is to tell a story using only objects. They didn’t quite succeed for me but it’s still an interesting idea!”

She also had a chance to attend a session hosted by Chance magazine on photojournalism in theater, and afterward speak with LMDA’s Martha Steketee.

LMDA's Martha Steketee at the Chance magazine session on photojournalism in theater, PQ15. Photo: Dani Kling-Joseph

LMDA’s Martha Steketee at the Chance magazine session on photojournalism in theater, PQ15. Photo: Dani Kling-Joseph

PQ15 – #2

Today’s post will focus on student work at PQ15. There is student work from 50 countries on exhibit (!); in addition, there are numerous student performances, both on the street and in various exhibition spaces. I’m not going to write about fifty exhibitions here – just some select highlights.

At a space called the “Lapidarium” in the basement of the Bethlehem Chapel the work of students from sixteen countries is on display. Among my favorites of this group are (in no particular order):

Israel – “Seal – In the Moment”

Scenography students from Israel have designed an installation comprised of large glass pickling jars containing metaphoric crystallizations of the intersection of personal history with national history and identity. Each jar holds a little story – for example, one, entitled “The broken-promise land,” contains what looks like a bottle of spoiled milk, a reference to Israel’s claim to be the the Land of Milk and Honey. Another, with a broken jar spilling sand into another jar, pays homage to the many years the artist’s ancestors spent saving to build a home in Israel. I found this exhibit particularly haunting and poignant.

Israel Student Section. Photo: M. Perdriel.

Israel Student Section. Photo: M. Perdriel.

“The broken-promise land” [Israel Student Section]. Photo: M. Perdriel

Photo: M. Perdriel

Photo: M. Perdriel

Republic of Korea – “Weather Box/ Weather: Carry the Problem”

Design students from Korea put together an exhibit that resembles a set of suitcases or crates spilling open with scenography. Another part of the installation is interactive: it has visitors turn a knob on one of those toy-dispensing machines, which dispenses a plastic bubble with a weather symbol on it. You then open a drawer and take out a little string-wrapped box with a matching symbol; inside you find a quote and a little toy or candy. The rest of the exhibition features examples of student scenography that confront the visitor with the caprice of weather and the problems caused by climate change – model boxes with titles like “Downpour” and “Our space is becoming desolate”.

Republic of Korea Student Section. Photo: M. Perdriel.

Republic of Korea Student Section. Photo: M. Perdriel.

Detail, Republic of Korea Student Section. Photo: M. Perdriel.

Detail, Republic of Korea Student Section. Photo: M. Perdriel.

Detail, Republic of Korea Student Section. Photo: W. Arons.

Detail, Republic of Korea Student Section. Photo: W. Arons.

New Zealand – “The seed. Weather.”

This, too, is an interactive installation – visitors are invited to help weave a cloth and add silver beads to it. The act of weaving becomes a chance to engage in conversation and learn of New Zealand’s indigenous arts.

New Zealand Student Section -

New Zealand Student Section – “Seed Project”. Photo M. Perdriel

Slovenia – “Silent Storm”

Slovenia’s students designed an interactive multimedia installation consisting of a maze of large steel panels that allow visitors to recreate the sound of a storm. Entering the space and touching or pounding the panels not only provokes the sound of thunder and lightning (like old-fashioned thunder sheets), it also triggers video of a roiling storm. One of the more thought-provoking ecological aspects of this exhibit is the fact that – like climate change – once the visitor sets things in motion, he or she has no control over the chaotic results.

Slovenia Student Section -

Slovenia Student Section – “Silent Storm.” Photo: M. Perdriel

United Kingdom – “The View From Here”

I think this is my favorite of the installations at the Lapidarium. This is a partnership project between a number of design schools in the UK. Rather than showcasing individual work, these students chose to create a small immersive theater experience. Entering the exhibit, the visitor stands in line at a “Border Patrol” station lined with signs of prohibition: NO tea. NO political activism. NO aliens. NO mother nature. Etc.

UK Student Section:

UK Student Section: “The View From Here” Entry Corridor. Photo: M. Perdriel

UK Student Section:

UK Student Section: “The View From Here” Entry Corridor. Photo: M. Perdriel

UK Student Section:

UK Student Section: “The View From Here” Entry Corridor. Photo: M. Perdriel

After removing shoes and receiving a stamped visa, the visitor enters the space proper, where expectations are completely upended. Instead of the forbidding totalitarian space the entryway sets you up to expect, you are greeted by friendly, chatty, brightly costumed young women (one named “Chuck”) who invite you to sit on the floor, draw with markers, share stories about yourself, and leave a little token behind. I loved the way this installation subverted expectations and shifted the narrative of immigration from an ideology of self-centered exclusion to one of generous inclusion.

UK Student Section

UK Student Section “The View From Here” – Interior. That’s Chuck in the center. Photo: M. Perdriel

Monaco – “Pavillon Bosio”

This installation has video of collaborative work between the Monte Carlo Ballet & the Monaco Scenography School. The photos below don’t really do this wonderful dance/scenography collaboration justice – it’s impossible to take a good photo of a video. I don’t usually have the patience to stand and watch a video, but these were absolutely captivating – the kind of dance I love.

IMG_0210_2 IMG_0212_2 IMG_0213_2 IMG_0217_2

More on student work at the Kafka House in my next post…Stay tuned!

PQ15 – #1

The next several posts will be devoted to this year’s Prague Quadrennial (PQ15).

What is the PQ, you may ask? According to the website,

The Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space is the largest scenography event in the world that explores a wide range of scenographic practices – from stage design and costume design to lighting design, sound design and new scenographic practices such as site-specific, applied scenography, urban performance, costume as performance, and much more.”

The event this year brought together over 5,000 theater professionals from 60 countries around the world to showcase examples of design, share performances and installations, present and attend workshops and lectures, and network in what is arguably one of Europe’s most beautiful cities. And thanks to generous support from the CMU School of Drama, the CMU Berkmann faculty research fund, the CMU GUSH and SURG grant programs, and a wildly successful crowdfunding campaign, around fifty of us from the Carnegie Mellon University community (including faculty, students, alumnae, and family members) were able to go, too.

CMU@PQ. Photo: M. Perdriel

CMU@PQ. Photo: M. Perdriel

That’s many of us at the opening ceremony on June 17.

The PQ is absolutely overwhelmingly huge – this year, the event is taking place all over the city of Prague, with installations in fourteen different spaces, and performances and events taking place in an additional twenty-four spaces – and it’s literally impossible for one person to take in the whole thing. So I’ll be assisted in the next few days by Rachel Abrams, a recent grad of the CMU dramaturgy program, and Dani Kling-Joseph, a current student.

This was my first time at the PQ, and I didn’t really know what to expect before going. So for those of my dear readers who have also never been, here’s a brief rundown. Things to see and do at the PQ fall into several categories. There are exhibitions and installations, which are put together by each of the countries and either showcase designs from the past four years or present a unified scenographic concept or theme. There are similar exhibitions or installations put together by students from each country. These exhibitions each occupy a room or space in one of many buildings around the city, and you move from space to space (or, in some cases, through several exhibitions in one large room) looking at – and in many cases, interacting with – the various scenographic elements on display. These might include model boxes of designs, or mannequins with costumes, or objects crafted in response to a theatrical prompt, or innovative sound producing mechanisms, or videos, or lighting design, or an interactive moment with a live performer or a scenic element…or any combination of these. In addition to the exhibitions, there are also a number of performances, both on the street (by what the PQ called “Tribes”) and in various studio and theatre spaces sprinkled throughout the city. One space in the PQ has been designated a “Makers” space, for performances involving food (I attended a fun one on slow vs. fast food that ended with the distribution of bread smeared with pesto – yum!). There is a whole section devoted to “Objects.” In addition, the ten-day event includes several workshops (I did not attend any of these) and lectures.

So, where to begin? The breaking news from yesterday was the announcement of the awards, so why not start there?

The winner of the big prize, the prestigious PQ15 Golden Triga for Best Exposition, went to the Estonian project “Unified Estonia.” This exhibition also received the Gold Medal PQ 2015 for Innovative Approach to Performance Design. These two awards to Estonia, IMHO, are well deserved – if you’ve ever wondered whether or not theater can have real-world effects, Estonia’s Theater NO99 has your answer.

"Unified Estonia" exhibition. Photo: Brano Pazitka.

“Unified Estonia” exhibition. Photo: Martina Novozamska

“Unified Estonia” was a project dreamed up by directors Tiit Ojasoo and Ene-Liis Semper in which they started out trying to make theater out of politics and ended up forming a new political party. The company interviewed political operatives in Estonia to learn how best to manipulate information and win votes in a political election, and then used those techniques to form a new (fake) party, “Unified Estonia.” The performance project – which took place over forty-four days – culminated in a spectacular party convention that, to the theater’s surprise, led to the official registration of their party and eventually garnered the party 25 seats in the Estonian parliament (the actor/parliamentarian who described the project confessed to me that they didn’t actually have 25 people in the theater company to take those seats – they had to recruit additional parliamentarians from the theater’s administrative staff). Their theatrical exposé of the political system was both brilliantly incisive and breathtakingly cynical – at their exhibition, which was fitted out like a slick campaign headquarters, they distributed copies of a little brochure entitled “How to Take Power” that contained, among other gems, the advice to “Be a Man.” The exhibition also showcased the documentary of the project, Ashes and Money, as well as a series of short, blackly comical instructional videos from their “election school” – all of which is freely available online (follow the links).

"Unified Estonia" from the Unified Estonia website (www.eestieest.ee)

“Unified Estonia” from the Unified Estonia website (www.eestieest.ee)

The Gold Medal PQ 2015 for the Best Exhibition Design went to the Belgian national exposition, MovingLab.be. The Belgian exhibit was stunning – miniature models of scenes, in white, traveled on an all-white conveyer belt which stopped at intervals for a display of light, media, and sound that transformed the set design into a small multimedia performance. Photos here will do better justice than words:

"Movinglab.be" Photo: M. Perdriel

“Movinglab.be” Photo: M. Perdriel

Belgium2

Photo: Martina Novozamska

The Gold Medal PQ 2015 for Curatorial Concept of an Exhibition went to the Netherlands, which made use of scenic design as a tool for understanding the city: members of the Netherlands contingent engaged in various performative interventions in the city and then sent the results back to the exhibition space, where the data was categorized, printed, and mapped onto a grid representing the city.

Photo: M. Perdriel

Photo: M. Perdriel

Photo: Brano Pazitka

Photo: Martina Novozamska

The Gold Medal PQ 2015 for Performance Design was awarded to Chinese artist Gao Guangjian for his design for the performance of Throughout the Empire All Hearts Turned to Him; and the Honorary PQ 2015 Award for Performance Design went to Liu Xinglin.

Photo: Brano Pazitka

Photo: Martina Novozamska

The Gold Medal PQ 2015 for Sound Design went to the Polish exhibition for its project Post-Apocalypsis. This was one of the few exhibitions at PQ15 that focused specifically on ecological issues – the exhibition space featured logs suspended in space in the room, and ipads in one corner allowed the viewer to change the soundscape to hear real time weather from areas of the world that have suffered major ecological catastrophes (i.e., Chernobyl). Pressing your forehead to speakers attached to the logs added an eerie layer of human voice to the soundscape.

"Post-Apocalypsis" (Polish exhibition). Photo: Martina Novozamska

“Post-Apocalypsis” (Polish exhibition). Photo: Martina Novozamska

Finland also received two very well-deserved awards – the Finnish national section won the Gold Medal PQ 2015 for the Use of Media in Scenography for an exhibit called “Weather Station” that highlighted the role of sound as a scenographic agent. Their exhibition space featured two sound installations: “The Sound of Music (in a Box),” which presented the sounds recorded by a gramophone left outdoors for a year, and “Melting Point,” which used hydrophones to record the “music” as blocks of ice melted into a shallow pool below.

"Melting Point." Photo: Brano Pazitka

“Melting Point.” Photo: Martina Novozamska

"Melting Point." Photo: M. Perdriel.

“Melting Point.” Photo: M. Perdriel.

The Gold Medal PQ 2015 for the Best Exposition in the Student Section also went to Finland, for a space bisected by an enormous sheet of rubber that visitors could press against from either side (and encounter the unknown “other” by touch and pressure).

Finland Student Section. Photo: Brano Pazitka

Finland Student Section. Photo: Brano Pazitka

Among the student work presented, one of my favorite exhibitions was from Latvia. Student work there responded to a prompt to execute a “small task” – for example, to distill into an image “The Sea” or “Hamlet’s Chair” or “A Draft”. The results of these scenographic exercises were theatrical and stunning, and I was really pleased to hear that this exhibition won the Promising Student Talent Award. I’ll close this post with a few photos of their work:

"Draft."

“Draft.”

"The Sea"

“The Sea”

I think this one was called "Theater". Photo: Brano Pazitka.

I think this one was called “Theater”. Photo: Brano Pazitka.

More on the student exhibitions at PQ15 tomorrow!

“Buyer & Cellar” at the Pittsburgh Public Theater

Tags

As the show opens, the actor Tom Lenk tells us that writer Jonathan Tolins was inspired to write Buyer & Cellar after coming across a bit of somewhat bizarre information in Barbra Streisand’s coffee table book about the design of her Malibu mansion: apparently, in order to store all of her extra stuff, Barbra has devised a sort of museum exhibition-like street of shops in the basement of her home. This, he tells us, is true (and he runs around the theater showing us the book to prove it). What then spins out from that nugget of truth, in the blink of an eye, is a delightful extended comic fantasy: Lenk instantly metamorphoses into Alex More, an aspiring actor who serendipitously stumbles into the job of sole salesman in Barbra’s private basement mall. The story he tells us is a (certain type of) gay man’s dream come true, as Alex gradually gets to know his only “customer” while selling her fabulous stuff back to her.

Tom Lenk (as Barbra) in BUYER & CELLAR

Tom Lenk (as Barbra) in BUYER & CELLAR

The setup is loopy, but not overly so – after all, celebrities are known to be idosyncratic, and why would Barbra build a shopping mall in her basement if she weren’t interested in play-shopping there? – and it provides Tolins with an opportunity to comically range over a wide swath of territory, including the humiliations in store for anyone trying to break into Hollywood, the gay male reverence for cultural icons like Barbra and Judy, and the vast gulf separating celebrity-aristocrats from the rest of us mere mortals. Lenk plays all of the characters, and manages the neat trick of being simultaneously generous and withering in his portrait of each. His Barbra – despite his disclaimer that he doesn’t do imitations – is recognizably very Barbra, from the Brooklyn accent and odd vocal closure to the rather uncanny way he manages to somehow narrow the gap between his eyes. But the best character in the bunch is unquestionably Alex’s hyperverbal Jewish boyfriend Barry, who lets loose his hilariously bitchy encyclopedic knowledge of all things Barbra in a series of bravura rapid-fire monologues that, on more than one occasion, evoked a hearty round of applause. It’s Barry, too, who points out the ways Barbra has come to encapsulate the strivings and revenge fantasies of outsiders of all stripes, which goes a long way to explain why the Barrys of the world would form her deepest fan base.

Buyer & Cellar also prompts some more serious reflection, particularly in its depiction of the loneliness that can come with enormous success and the awkward inability to form real human connection that besets those who attain celebrity status. But sombre reflection is really not what this show aims to provoke; Tolins is going for the funny bone here, aiming one comic zinger after another and rarely missing his mark. Some of those zingers depend on cultural knowledge that straight men or people under 40 or those who prefer books to movies may not possess (there’s a glossary in the program that may be helpful on that front), but, fortunately for those of us who aren’t fully “in” on those references, many of the best comedic moments of the evening are the opposite of in-jokes (dare I call them “out-jokes”?): as in one that has to do with puzzlement over why anyone wouldn’t like Jews (I shan’t spoil it further, but when you see the show you’ll know what I’m talking about). Tolins has a genius for the well-turned comic line, and Lenk’s background in stand-up comedy stands him in excellent stead as he brings this weird and quirky fantasy nimbly to life.

“Braddock Saints Tour” – a Bricolage and Real/Time Interventions Co-Production

Tags

,

The Braddock Saints Tour is another ambitious, thought-provoking immersive theater experience from the folks at Bricolage, this time in collaboration with a company relatively new to Pittsburgh, Real/Time Interventions. As with last year’s Ojo, the Saints Tour involves a journey, but where Ojo took participants into the experience of the blind, this one involves an exploration of the past and present of a community that once saw much better days and hopes to see them again in the future.

The journey through Braddock is led by a Tour Guide (Bria Walker), whose task it is to help us discern the signs and traces (and, at times, to point out the surprising emergence) of “saints” in Braddock, during this year’s “season of saints.” Her winsome stories blend fact and fiction in mischievous ways, drawing attention to landmarks along the route whose significance resides wholly in the imagination. To a great extent, this is the point and power of the journey – like one of those transparency overlays that historians or archeologists use to demonstrate the before and after of a given plot of land or city block, the stories that the Tour Guide weaves along the way layer a magical realist past onto the present and provoke a fresh-eyed look at an area of the city most of us only perceive as blight. Members of the local community play a prominent role in the tour’s storytelling, both as artists for many of the installations that serve to mark the saints’ presence, and as performers. For example, at one point in the tour, participants are welcomed into the Gardweeno, a local community garden, by the extraordinarily charismatic TaeAjah Cannon, a local high school student; at another, they are heralded and then led on parade by jazz trumpeter Sanford-Mark Barnes and his son Nathan. Some stops along the way celebrate the strength and resilience of members of the community and pay homage to people that members of the Braddock Youth Project have identified as “saints”; other stops reflect more somberly on tragic aspects of Braddock’s past. The journey ends with a communal meal in a cozy courtyard, where participants are invited to share stories and memories of Braddock (and where I learned, for example, that within my own lifetime Braddock had not only been a thriving community but a go-to destination for shopping and entertainment. And that the local nuns had quite the stockpile of booze in their cloister).

The potency of such immersive theater experiences stems from the very personal and subjective experience they provide – more than conventional theater, the immersive theatrical journey is one from which you emerge changed in molecular ways. This also makes the experience difficult to write about – I find myself at a loss for concrete language to describe its effects. It’s certainly a journey to which you must give yourself over and suspend, for a spell, your disbelief and skepticism. If you do, you may find, as I did, that it lingers, like a flavor or a smell, long after the journey is done, wafting its way into the crevices of your consciousness in strange and unexpected ways.

“Detroit” at 12 Peers Theater

Tags

Set not in Detroit itself, but in one of those cookie-cutter model-home communities that once housed vibrant family-friendly communities on the outskirts of cities like it, Lisa D’Amour’s Detroit opens as Mary (Alyssa Herron), a paralegal, and her husband Ben (Brett Sullivan Santry), a recently laid-off loan officer, host a barbecue dinner for their new neighbors, Sharon (Sara Fisher) and Kenny (John Feightner). Mary and Ben are solidly “normal” strivers toward the American Dream: they’ve got the recognizable accoutrements and trappings of proper consumerist life – discount patio set, aspirational taste in food, a mortgage on one of those starter homes with some deferred maintenance issues – along with all the nervous anxiety and bickering that comes with the stress of Ben’s layoff. Sharon and Kenny, on the other hand, exist on the margins of that dream. Just released from rehab for major substance abuse, they’ve moved into Kenny’s deceased aunt’s house and are trying to reboot their lives as sober citizens. Their physical, emotional, and psychological incursion into Ben and Mary’s carefully contained lives not only reveals the fissures and cracks in Ben and Mary’s relationship, but also pokes through the threadbare patches in the fabric of early twenty-first century American society.

I’m being deliberately cagey in describing what happens in the play because it has a number of plot twists it would be unfair to give away. Suffice it to say that Ben and Mary’s relatively blinkered experience of life has them at a disadvantage: they can’t even begin to compass the way Sharon and Kenny – who describe themselves as “white trash” – encounter and cope with the world. The two couples inhabit completely different universes: Ben and Mary are holding desperately onto the piece of the pie they’ve managed to slice off, whereas Sharon and Kenny have nothing at all, which means they have nothing to lose. Their abandon, their lack of heed and their impulsive hedonism are scary – but also seductive and, as it turns out, radically subversive.

The 12 Peers ensemble is good at capturing the mayhem of many of the script’s moments, showing how even small stressors can set off manic responses. But they have more difficulty capturing its dangerous edginess. Fisher and Feightner’s Sharon and Kenny seem too affable and middle class; it’s hard to see in them people who have lived most of their lives on the fringes and in a criminal and drug underworld. As Mary, Herron is suitably tightly wound, but it’s Santry who stands out in the cast as the anxious, self-defeating Ben. James Jamison’s set evocatively conjures the small backyards of the kind of starter home my own grandparents purchased in the fifties (just outside of Detroit, no less!), making the final scene a poignant one for those of us who have seen how such neighborhoods have changed over the decades. But the production design could have used better planning for its multiple scene changes, all of which involved overly lengthy blackouts to allow for a clumsy shifting of props and scenery.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 243 other followers