Thursday, January 30, 2014

Unconventional Collaborations.

Next week I head to New Hampshire to kick "Sila" into gear.  The light plot was turned in this week and There Will Be Revisions in the coming days.  The projection design is coming together and has had me exploring things - like animation - that I hadn't expected to be doing a year ago.  It's amazing and exhausting and a reminder of why I do love taking on things that I know will challenge me.

The projection design also gave me an opportunity I had not expected - the chance to collaborate with my nine year old niece.  I love it when a project lends itself to collaborations with unexpected or unconventional people.  This isn't the first time I've asked a child to help out with something - we did that for the projection design in "Transformations" back in 2008, involving a good friend's daughter doing large-scale finger painting.  There is a moment in "Sila" involving a child's drawing.  After a couple of attempts at creating this myself I realized that I wasn't going to be able to capture what makes a child's drawing so unique and awesome no matter how long I kept at it - so, I did what my husband refers to as "using child labor" and called my sister.  I spoke with my niece on the phone, explained what I was doing and what needed to be in the drawing, and twenty minutes later I had a photo of a sketch appear in a text message.  I'm not sure I've ever received drawings so quickly from a professional!

There are elements to this that my non-child brain never would have thought to do - the circles around the stars, the marker strokes in the sky.  My job has been to take this picture and animate it.  My niece made this easy.  Sometimes you need to borrow someone else entirely in order to find motivation to create.

Ever since I got involved with the ActLab at UT Austin back when it was still in full-time operation, I've wanted to work with non-theater artists to create theater.  Having worked in theater and gone through a graduate program in theater, my brain was ready for something much more open and uncertain and risky.  Theater can frequently get very structured.  There's generally a workflow/process that is similar for all shows, even if the details differ.  The ActLab offered a chance to just Create Something, and to do so surrounded by people from every corner of the university community.  I came out of my first ActLab experience with new ideas for creation, collaborations, and definitions of "art" and "performance."  

One thing that has been circling around in my brain for awhile now is the desire to work with people in STEM fields to create art.  Through endless tumblr-ing I came across "Pulsum Plant," a project by artist Leslie Garcia that attempts to use technology to translate the way plants communicate into sound.  And the crazy thoughts begin - could this find its way somehow into opera?  Today I was listening to an old episode of Radiolab, "Musical Language," and was fascinated by a segment with a neurolinguist that talked about the possibility of a universal language in music and sound that is recognized even by newborn babies - the idea that mothers communicate using the same intonations regardless of the words being used when praising or comforting, and as babies we recognize the meanings of those intonations.  Could this be used to create music that goes beyond creating emotions in listeners but actually communicates with the brain directly to produce a specific effect or feeling?  There's something in questions like this that invigorates me and gets me to work.

(And as an aside, this sounds so very similar to the use of language, specifically Sumerian, to program the human brain, in Neal Stephenson's "Snow Crash," a concept that has fascinated and terrified me ever since I read it.)

After "Sila," my next lighting design is a dance concert in the spring, and between the two I'm hoping to start work on a new original project with a new unconventional collaborator.  I'm still trying to figure out how that's going to work and am not ready to talk about it yet, but I'm excited.  And now, back to animating my niece's beautiful drawing.

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