“A New Kind of Fallout” at Opera Theater of Pittsburgh

Readers who have taken the time to google my web bio on the CMU Drama website will know that I have, for several years, taken a particular interest in finding, researching, and promoting theater and performance that deals with ecological issues. So I was particularly pleased when I learned that playwright Tammy Ryan had been commissioned by Opera Theater of Pittsburgh to write an eco-opera about the work and impact of Rachel Carson and her groundbreaking 1962 book, Silent Spring. Ryan’s collaboration with composer Gilda Lyons, A New Kind of Fallout, premiered this past week, under the direction of Opera Theater’s artistic director Jonathan Eaton. And it is (for me, at least) a new kind of opera, one that makes forceful connections between the ecological (non)decisions made by policymakers, corporate interests, and indifferent consumers a half century ago (which we now condemn with hindsight) and those we are collectively making in the present moment. The opera tells the story of an ordinary middle class woman, Alice Front, at two stages in her life. Older Alice (Daphne Alderson) is in a hospital bed, dying of cancer. As she considers the poison coursing through her body that’s meant to save her, she flashes back fifty years, to a time when she first became aware of the toxic side effects of chemicals meant to make life “better.” We then see Young Alice (Lara Lynn Cottrill), in 1962, pregnant with her first child. She has been galvanized by Rachel Carson’s serialized writing in The New Yorker about the ecological and human health dangers posed by the widespread use of DDT as a pesticide, and wants to do something to stop it. Her husband, Jack (Christopher Scott), is an advertising executive at Better Life Chemicals, a company that manufactures the “miracle compound” Carson pinpointed as a poison to fish and birds. His job is to sell the public on the safety of this compound to humans – a job made complicated by Alice’s growing conviction that what is being sprayed on her home and yard will have the same harmful effects on the child growing inside of her as it does on baby chicks who “die in their shells.” When Alice is caught outdoors by surprise during aerial spraying of pesticide, she decides to take the company to court. She loses, but in the process her husband joins her side, and in the end, as the Older Alice succumbs to cancer, Young Alice prepares to bring their baby into the world.

l to r: Lara Lynn Cottrill and Christopher Scott

l to r: Lara Lynn Cottrill and Christopher Scott. Opera Theater SummerFest photo by Patti Brahim.

Ryan uses this family-conflict plot to showcase Carson’s insight into the interconnectedness of all life on earth and to remind us that the battles Carson fought have by no means ended: they have merely shifted ground. After reading Carson’s warning that “man is a part of nature, and his war against nature is inevitably a war against himself,” Young Alice sees clearly that whatever we do to the earth, we do to ourselves, and she makes the kinds of connections that those of us who are living here, in Pittsburgh, on interconnected waterways downstream from potentially poisonous hydraulic fracking sites, ought to be making too. “If it’s happening there, what’s happening here?” she sings, adding, later, “we’re all involved, whether we like it or not.” The jingles dreamed up by her husband and his pals to market their “miracle compound” share a sunny, blinding-to-the-consequences doublespeak with those Range Resources billboards we see all over town, particularly with regards to their emphasis on the economic benefits their “product” promises to bring to the community. By highlighting how utterly misleading and disingenuous those rhetorical strategies were fifty years ago, the opera urges a skepticism toward contemporary corporate claims to acting in the public’s best interest. The production of the opera had a few odd quirks – notably, for a work that has biological processes as a central theme, Young Alice has one of the most unnatural pregnancies in history, progressing from having-just-discovered-she-is-pregnant to about-to-pop in a matter of days (at least, according to the supertitles). And if you did not take time to read the program, it was difficult to figure out the function of three figures representing The Earth, Science, and The Word (played by Fé Avouglan, Emily Jensen, and Victoria Fox). Small issues aside, Eaton made a number of production choices that gave added potency to the libretto. In particular, Chuck Beard’s projection design – which featured, in key moments, archival images depicting ads marketing DDT as well as photos demonstrating people blithely allowing themselves and their children to be fogged with it – underscored how easily we can be lulled into a false sense of safety. Confronted with such images, I wondered what my future grandchildren will think in fifty years when they see “historical” photos of those huge tanker trucks carrying contaminated fracking water off to be “disposed of” – will they think, as I did, “how could they not have suspected they were poisoning themselves?” (It would, however, have been great had Beard been given a larger canvas to work with, given the role these images played in the storytelling). Cottrill gave a bravura performance as Young Alice – she has a powerful soprano voice that rose to heights of shiver-inducing passion. Alderson’s gorgeous alto made a beautiful counterpoint, especially in duets with Cottrill. The remainder of the ensemble was equally excellent, especially Avouglan, Jensen, and Fox as the three choral figures, Scott as the husband, and Desiree Soteres as the wife of one of Scott’s colleagues. As an admitted non-expert, I found Gilda Lyons’ score compelling and moving, and I took great pleasure in the variety of musical styles and motifs she mobilized for the storytelling; I will have to leave it to writers with more expertise in music to provide a more nuanced assessment.

“Sharon’s Grave” at PICT Classic Theatre

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Note: this is a post about a preview performance.

The beating heart of John B. Keane’s play Sharon’s Grave is a mythical story of his own devising. Told to us by the mentally challenged Neelus Conlee (Alec Silberblatt), it explains how a deep hole in a seacliff in southwestern Ireland came to be known as “Sharon’s grave.” The story goes something like this: in ancient times, the beautiful and beloved Sharon was lured to and toppled into the hole by her jealous handmaid, the ugly, deformed Siofra. But at the last moment, Sharon grabbed hold of Siofra and dragged her along to her death. Ever since, their cries and screams can be heard emanating from the hole – by Neelus, at any rate – and legend says that their cries that will only be silenced when they are each delivered a lover – a handsome and devoted one for Sharon, and an ugly evil one for Siofra.

Keane’s play interweaves that legend with two other stories that are more readily connected to everyday reality, but have enough in common with Neelus’s fairy tale to deserve a mythical-poetic treatment. On one hand there is the quietly budding romance between a traveling thatcher, Peadar Minogue (Byron Anthony) and Neelus’s sister Trassie (Karen Baum). On the other, there is the family feud between Trassie and her congenitally misshapen, exceedingly self-centered cousin Dinzie (James FitzGerald). Dinzie is waiting for Trassie’s father Donal to die so that he can take over their farm, believing that possession of a landholding will help him snare the wife he so desperately desires. When Donal does die, Dinzie machinates to have Neelus declared dangerous so that he can be sent away to an institution, as a way of forcing Trassie out of her home. But, as it turns out, the only danger Neelus poses is to Dinzie himself, and Keane’s interwoven fairy tale ends precisely as Neelus always so fervently believed it would.

l to r: James FitzGerald and Karen Baum

l to r: James FitzGerald and Karen Baum

The play is beautifully written, with a poetry in the language that allows it to take flight and make large and transcendent conflicts out of the characters’ relatively small individual struggles. But the tonal register of Aoife Spillane-Hinks’s direction is uneven; it doesn’t feel as if all of the characters are inhabiting the same theatrical world. FitzGerald gives an intense and shudder-inducing performance as the emotionally unhinged Dinzie, but his fairy-tale villain feels a bit oversized against the more subdued performances of Baum and Anthony as the shy lovers. And their relative realism makes some of the events of the play hard to swallow, particularly in the second act, when Trassie seems to have forgotten that her cousin is out to have her brother committed and agrees to have him examined by the eccentric quack healer (Martin Giles) that Dinzie has sent. I might have found this believable in a fairy-tale world, but in the fairly realistic realm inhabited by Trassie and Peadar the scene defied my attempts to suspend disbelief. As the play moved toward its (rather predictable) resolution, I found myself wishing that Hinks had allowed the beating heart of the title’s tale to circulate more of a mythical-magical element into every aspect of the production.

“Sherlock’s Last Case” at Kinetic Theatre Company

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I’ll admit, dearest readers, that I was a bit worried during the first twenty minutes or so of Sherlock’s Last Case. Not so much because the title made me anxious for Sherlock Holmes’s fate (although that is an anxiety you are expected to entertain as part of the play), but more because the play starts out looking like the kind of creaky drawing-room whodunit that’s generally a wee bit too lite for my tastes. But the play – written by Charles Marowitz in the late eighties – is all about misdirection, and director Andrew Paul follows Marowitz’s lead by regularly pulling the rug out from under his audience’s expectations. By somewhere in the middle of the first act, it’s clear that we’re in the midst of a play that refuses to take itself too seriously, deriving as much fun from mocking its own genre as it does from its plot turns.

Paul and company have gone to great lengths (including some sleight-of-hand in the program) to keep Marowitz’s plot twists a surprise, so I won’t spoil any of it for readers who have not yet seen the production. Suffice it to say that Holmes’s “last case” gives a prominent role to Dr. Watson, played here with virtuosity by Simon Bradbury. The casting of David Whalen in the role of Sherlock Holmes lends this production an added frisson of intertextual metacommentary for Pittsburgh theater insiders (who will recall that Whalen previously played Holmes in two productions with PICT in the very same venue). Rounding out the cast are Weston Blakesley as a befuddled cockney Inspector LeStrade, Susie McGregor-Laine as Holmes’s Scottish housekeeper, and Joanna Strapp as the mysterious visitor who sets the machinery of the plot in motion.

Johnmichael Bohach’s scene design helps set the self-referential tone of the play with oversized framed newspaper headlines that comically highlight the ridiculously convoluted cases Holmes has already solved (and provide satiric context for the ridiculously convoluted manner in which he ends up, er, overcoming the challenges of the case at hand). Like the production itself, Kim Brown’s Victorian costumes start off somewhere in the realm of historical realism and get gradually campier as the play itself does. Topping off the fun are Steve Tolin’s ingenious special effects, involving, at various points, massively foaming potions, exploding skeletons, and projectiles of fake blood.

Looking forward to…

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It’s been a while since I posted about theater – that’s cuz there hasn’t been all that much happening in town (at least, not much that I’ve been invited to!) Gypsy is opening this weekend at CLO, but, alas, I will miss it because of travel. As I look at my calendar I see several other things coming up – if you’re reading this, and in Pittsburgh this summer, put them on your calendar, too!

Next weekend, PICT Classic Theatre is opening Sharon’s Grave, by Irish playwright John B. Keane. It’s a play I’m not familiar with, but the publicity materials promise “a great Irish yarn about love, legends, and the land.” It will run July 16 – August 1.

Also next weekend – and next weekend only! – a new company called Lamplighter Productions will be bringing to the Maker Theater on Ellsworth in Shadyside their original, collaboratively created work How to be a GoodPerson(TM), a “radically inclusive” theater piece that explores the question of how to distinguish the genuine and important from the artificial and trivial in a world filled with information “noise.” This theater company has adopted the ethos of radical hospitality innovated by Mixed Blood Theatre of Minneapolis: tickets to this production are free of charge, but reservations are necessary. I should add, in the spirit of full disclosure, that two of the collaborators on this production are current students at the CMU School of Drama (Jordan Sucher & Vanessa Frank). They are mounting short runs here in Pittsburgh & in New York this summer.

Also coming up: Front Porth Theatrical’s Light in the Piazza, opening the weekend of August 21, and Quantum Theatre’s baroque opera interpretation of The Winter’s Taleproduced in collaboration with Chatham Baroque and Attack Theatre and opening September 21.

Is there something else I ought to have on my calendar this summer? Let me know…I’m streaming way too many movies on Netflix lately!!

PQ15 – #8

And there’s more!

I had forgotten that I had, on my phone, video of one of the more playful exhibits. The Russian exhibition, entitled “Meyerhold’s Dream,” lured the visitor in with a striking intervention into the hallway outside. Check this out:

Inside, an enormous man – Meyerhold – sleeping & breathing (& “dreaming”) – it’s his back that has burst through the wall:

This exhibit won the Gold Medal for Best PQ15 Publication – the book that accompanied this exhibit used a comic strip approach to deal with foundational ideas about scenography in a humorous and playful way. Unfortunately, I haven’t found any online images of this book, which was very clever and engaging.

I also wanted to share some photos of the CMU student performance of an original work, “Enfantine,” which told the story of childhood trauma in a mythical-poetic way, with puppets & masks carefully transported from Pittsburgh to Prague! The creative team behind this performance included Zoe Clayton, Olivia Hern, Rachel Abrams, Danielle Kling-Joseph, Abby Botnick, Anna Rosati, Rebecca Liu, and Keith Kelly.

UPDATE: Here’s a link to video of that performance:

And here are some selected images (all photos by Susan Tsu):

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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

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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.

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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

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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

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USA Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

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USA Student Exhibition. Photo: M. Perdriel

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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.

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UK Exhibit “Make/Believe”

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UK Exhibit “Make/Believe”

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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.

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

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

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

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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):

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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.

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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…

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

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

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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

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