Sunday, July 9, 2017

Adventures in Taipei - Day 2

My day started out with a workshop. I then intended to see a couple of performances but only ended up at one before the awards were handed out at World Stage Design that evening...

Workshop: The Whale Inside the Shell - Kinetic Scenography and its Symbolic Applications

I was lucky to be able to grab a last minute seat in this workshop with Francesco Fassone, the artist behind the previous day's performance Shape. There seemed to be two ideas at play here - one, the concept of using one form that could change shape (in the way that the cloth did in Shape) to represent different scenes during a performance; and two, the idea that objects used in scenography could be archetypes that would work on a subconscious level for the audience. I was far more interested in the first than the second, and while I can see a connection between the two I'm not sure that connection was made entirely clear, or at least it wasn't for me.  The challenge of finding an object that can change its form repeatedly and represent multiple places onstage is exciting and far more difficult than I think. And not something that easily fits into a show that one might already be slated to design - say, The Cherry Orchard. But my attendance at WSD this year has had me thinking about what kinds of projects I can start on my own in the next couple of years and this workshop gave me food for thought there.

Flimmerskotom - Gregor Glogowski, Benjamin Hoesch, Alisa M. Hecke

This was described as "a performance based on the machines, objects, and devices of the theatre space itself." And it started off beautifully, with what looked like a mountain of PARs and halogen lights flickering on and off. The feeling, to me, was one of being in a swamp at night, watching fireflies or other insects and animals wake up. The haze and the lights pointed directly at the audience masked the "performer" doing any of the moving of the fixtures, and so they really did feel alive...however, once a person visibly entered the space, this spell was broken. It changed the vocabulary so drastically, and something that was beautiful and alive no longer seemed that way. I absolutely loved everything about it until that point. But if the goal is to anthropomorphize these machines, don't let us see the operators ever. I get excited about design-driven performance and the chance to see lights actually perform - "act" - as characters seemed irresistible, but was ultimately disappointing when the puppeteers showed us just how not alive they really were.

Awards Ceremony

I stayed through the awards ceremony that night - most of the winners were from Asia and Taiwan in particular, which isn't surprising. This conference's attendance can be largely determined by its location because not only is travel there expensive but transporting models and other display elements can be expensive too. It was a really amazing experience to be around this much stellar design work and bleeding-edge performance work. Now I just have to get the cats to help me make some of my own.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Adventures in Taipei - Day 1

I'm in Taipei for World Stage Design 2017 this week soaking up inspiration from some of the best scenographers, designers, and artists in the world, people who really conceive of space and performance in unique ways. Monday I arrived after a very long flight and wasn't up for much of anything but crashing, but Tuesday I made it over to TNUA, Taipei National University of the Arts, and walked through the gallery of professional designers selected for the conference (my work wasn't selected this year but damn, seeing these artists' work inspires me...and makes me sad I didn't make more of an effort to get to Seoul in 2009 when my work WAS selected...next time).

I started taking pictures of all the models, and then of the displays that I found the most interesting, partially for myself but also to show my students how work could be presented and show them the painstakingly crafted detail work on the models. My instagram feed is filling up with some of the more interesting designs. World Stage Design has a lot of work from designers working on the edges of performance and design, and the work they are submitting isn't always (or is rarely) traditional proscenium stage work. There's a lot of stuff here, such as David Shearing's The Weather Machine design, that simply aren't what I've seen before. That's the stuff I'm most interested in, and I'm hoping it will inspire me in my own work especially in the new theatre at Macalester.

I also saw three performances yesterday...

Blank Run - The Theatre Practice

Of all the pieces I wanted to see, this was at the top of my list. A lot of the work here might fall under a general category of What Happens When Design Is The Driving Force of a Performance, and this was a prime example. The preset for the show has these three structures on the stage, which look like vertical frames made of pipes - maybe water pipes, but in different right angles, like something you'd see out of a Super Mario Bros. game. They were mounted on a horizontal frame with castors, so they could be wheeled around individually, and each had its own projector mounted on that horizontal frame. With the frames "open," basically flats with no covering, the projectors shot straight through them and onto the performer that was standing on the other side. However, as the piece went on, she began to hang clothing on them - rows of white camisoles - and suddenly a projection surface was assembled. When she moved the structures around, the image moved WITH them, because the projector was attached to them. It was incredibly simple, nothing high tech, and it blew my mind. Finding simple analog solutions that I can go home and build right now usually does that for me.

The space, projections, and especially sound design all really "controlled" or directed the piece and controlled the performer as well. She was locked into a struggle inside herself, and obviously torturing herself mentally with thoughts of...something. The sound design was jarring and disturbing, and scared the crap out of the entire audience when it started just because we weren't expecting the volume. Alternating back and forth between that jarring, violent sound and the actions it prompted in her physicality, and a more lulling sound, the performer tries to piece fragments together - white camisoles, a green apple, washing. 

I couldn't stay for the talkback after because I wanted to head over to the next piece. I'd be interested in finding out what was spoken during the piece - there were only a couple of spoken lines, and a few Chinese characters, but no subtitles were provided. It didn't matter, I'm just wondering if it would have changed the meaning or impact at all.
Blank Run - The Theatre Practice

Shape-Performance for Ropes, Cloth and Pulleys - Francesco Fassone

This was a quick, playful performance that was probably a lot more complex than it appeared. I kept looking at the ropes and wondering how often they tangled. I remembered the FOREST that Katie Pearl and I built in 2010 with the rising water, a very simple pulley system that VERY frequently had issues. I assume this was far more complex. 

Basically the "performer" in this piece was a piece of parachute cloth with attached ropes. Stagehands on the upper gallery of the theatre pulled on the different ropes to control the cloth, animating it. And it honestly moved like an animal, to the didgeridoo music in the background. It was a ton of fun watching a bunch of grown ups giggling and playing with this giant creature. And then, in the end, we watched as it died.
Shape - Performance for Ropes, Cloth and Pulleys (Francesco Fassone)

Seagulls - Volcano Theatre Company

By the time I made it to this one I was pretty tired, and didn't even think about the Russian Theatre factor. The design/structure was interesting - they had basically built an entire enclosed space for this show, plywood walls and floors, truss, lighting. The performers were all suspended in climbing gear on the truss. And a drop on the US wall masked something, and I assumed it was the pool, which I knew was a part of the show (I was right). 

There were interesting moments. I really enjoyed the lighting. But fatigue and...Russian...it's a tough combination for me. Also there isn't much in the way of good coffee here. This show will be at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival and I may give it a second chance

Seagulls - Volcano Theatre Company

To be continued!

The good life.

Recently I asked my first year students the following question: At this time, what constitutes the "good life" for you? What per...