The (td)squared team loves getting on the road and going to the biggest conferences, seminars, and locations in theatre tech. Here, we report on what we find…
1. My first attempt at oil painting on the second day in Ireland. We went to a beach close to our houses.
2. A wider shot of the town we were living outside of, Dingle- County Kerry.
3. A “Boat Graveyard” that we spent 2 days painting at about 3 miles away from town.
4. One of the monuments on the outside of the main park in Dublin
5. The Blasket Islands, 2 hours outside of Dingle.
In May of 2012, I had the great experience of living in Ireland for 6 weeks while taking art classes through SUNY Cortland. I spent most of my time in the sleepy sea town of Dingle, County Kerry- which is located in the most Western tip of Ireland. The locals say that they are so far west that the next closest pub is in Boston. There were 12 of us from the SUNY system of school, most of them from the middle of the state- Cortland, Binghamton, and Ithaca.
Being in another country was an adventure in of itself, but the addition of being able to learn how to oil paint was a whole different level of challenge and excitement. I had a small base of knowledge in art form my high school years, and in my own personal pursuits outside of school, but no formal training whatsoever. This was my first hurdle in Ireland. My roommate, Amanda, and I were the only students coming in without being in the middle of an art program. The assistant professor, a prominent experiential oil painter, Jaime, was more or less assigned to baby sit her and I through the process, and I am very grateful that he had the patient nature and kindness to help us. We started the program working on basic drawing skills, value scales and the like (very much like what we do in Visual Imagination here at UB!) and then we were allowed to start to oil paint. Amanda and I had to take a few extra days to learn the basic techniques of the medium, but pretty soon we were out with the rest of the students painting the landscapes. We went from basic value scale pallets to full color in about 3 weeks of work. Looking back, I wish that we had the whole summer to work up to color, just like we get a full semester in VI to get from basic principles and elements to working in colors. Also- the main professor was a huge proponent of the landscape painting, so that is the only thing we were really allowed to do.
In hindsight, I learned a lot about design and art through this trip. Many things, like how to actually paint and draw a bit better, I expected to take away from all of it. Some things that I didn’t expect to learn. Like the value of open-mindedness and how to take constructive criticism. And how to not let yourself get absorbed in what you are creating, and to take the time to really allow yourself to experience the world around you.One thing that workng soley on art for over a month really showed me was that I need to have a variety of ways that I express myself creativly. I found myself getting stuck and frsutrated very easily when I was painiting the same thing over and over again. That is what I love so much about theatre, and all art, is that you can focus on one thing as your intended “life’s work” but you can also have your hand and creative idea in any and every part of a project.
I will be posting a full photo blog after this one to show everyone the land and the art that I experienced in Ireland. I can’t wait to go back!
Along my journey I have seen many different forms of theatre, as well as many different forms of visual art. Yet the differences between the two begin to fade when you encounter performance art, and avant guarde theatre, let alone spontaneous public work. So is there really any difference? When you get down to the roots of it, not really.
Art is creative expression. Theatre is a performed narrative. These are the nut-shell definitions. But these definitions intertwine, and create a grey area. The line between visual art and theatre is painfully thin. In many ways theatre is a form of art. It is creative expression. On the flip side, art also maintains theatricality in production and presentation.
Society is comfortable with classifying things in order to better understand them. Often times visual art is classified as that which is in a gallery, or museum, and theatre is classified as that which is on a stage. However it is not that simple.
Looking back at the Prague exhibition floor, I remember all the national exhibits, and how they were displaying “theatre”. In reality what they were displaying were photographs, model sculptures, textiles, and various other artifacts. All of these pictures and items were taken out of the context of their story to be presented at the national exhibits, and in this way they became visual art.
Theatre as a whole is a narrative in motion, yet the pieces and parts that make up this narrative are works of art.
This concept is reinforced by the fact that scenic models and costume renderings were on display at the Prague National Modern Art Museum, as works of art.
The concept of the stage also has many pit falls. What is a stage? Is it a frame through which we see a picture? A platform? A venue with an audience? In this regard museums are stages for visual art.
You can take a work of art, and develop it into a narrative, a montage, or a dialogue – in this sense it develops a theatricality about it, which can be classified as theatre.
The narrative does not have to be in motion, it can be in how the audience reacts to it. This is best exemplified in John Cage’s 4’33″, where a musician enters the stage and performs the piece for precisely 4minutes and 33 seconds. While no actual notes are played it is the sounds of the audience that creates the piece. Similarly the reactions to visual art maintain this same sense of theatricality. The narrative and movement are not as obvious as they are in theatre, however a dialogue exists either way.
There is no form of art that breaks the lines of classification as abruptly as public art. True, art is in the name yet it is neither on a stage nor in a frame. The term public art classifies all works of art found outside an established museum, gallery, or theatre. You find it on the streets, in schools, hospitals, parks, abandoned buildings, etc.
Often times public art is commissioned by the government, however today we see a lot of public art that is installed spontaneously by the artist or artists involved. Some may call this graffiti, street theatre, performance art, renegade artists, protests, even advertisements are a form of public art.
Public art responds to a public, either to inform, disturb, critique, or simply to get one to THINK.
No matter how you look at it public art is produced by the public, for the public. It is a direct relation to the population that lives there, usually incorporating site specificity to enhance how rooted this work is to the locale and people that live there.
What I mentioned earlier about John Cage’s 4’33″, is essential to understanding how public art thrives or dies in a society. The way public art responds to an environment impacts the people living there – and the response of that public to the artwork is as important as the artwork itself.
My public theatre piece that was part of Six Acts blends all lines of classification. It was a spectacle, a moving artwork responding to the Fransican Garden. Similarly the public art I saw in both Berlin and Konstanz served to enrich the lives of the people that live there, while giving them a hint of the history the city was founded upon.
Public art, good or bad, shapes a society. It defines locations, such as the Eiffel Tower, Statue of Liberty, and in smaller venues such as the Astronomical Clock of Prague, churches have been using public art for years to maintain an identity with saints and angels, the Berlin Wall, and in Konstanz we have our fountains.
Visual art and theatre also come from society, they are created and performed for a society. To enrich lives and open eyes.
While society tries to differentiate visual art and theatre by their context, public art finds its context in society thus creating the synthesis of all art forms – creative communication – straight to the public, whether they want to be impacted by it or not.
Aside from the conference I also visited various museums, galleries, and locations of public art, not only in Prague, but also in Berlin and Konstanz, Germany.
In comparing the visual and public art on display in these select cities of Europe, to those in the United States, there is one large difference I found incredibly exciting. The acknowledgement of process in architectural and theatrical designs.
At the Prague National Museum of Modern Art I discovered that there were plaster models of architecture on display – along with the sketches of the buildings. I found the recognition of architecture as modern art incredibly interesting. The museums I have visited in the States may recognize architecture as an art form, but not to this caliber. The Museum in Prague not only recognized architecture as an art, but the models and sketches that lead to the final product as an art.
On top of architecture there were also costume renderings and numerous model boxes depicting scenic designs. This display of theatrical designs as artwork enthralled me. I found that the term “modern art” encompassed much more than paintings and sculpture in Prague.
I also went into the Alphonse Mucha Museum in Prague as well as the Museum of Decorative Arts. Mucha is one of my all time favorite artists. His line work and depiction of the human form has inspired me for many of my own pieces of art work. The Museum of Decorative Arts did not allow photography, however the large array of clothing, clocks, glasswork, books, and furniture on display made me understand the concept of art as an all encompassing term for fine art.
While I was in Berlin, I unfortunately unable to go in the Guggenheim, as it was in a period of change-over in exhibits. However I was able to view a lot of different forms of public art, from graffiti, public murals, and sculptures. The graffiti served to enliven the area, and bringing a form of culture and visual interest to the area. Had the neighborhoods I walked been void of graffiti they would have been baren, another strip of tad buildings with small stores trying to survive under them. Many store fronts even had spray painted murals to attract passerby into their businesses. The public art served as a reflection of the people that lived in the city, an outlet for creative expression.
In Konstanz I found the same thing, that public art served as an extension of culture for the people that lived in Konstanz. Many sculptures illustrating the colorful and quirky life of a shore line city. The galleries in Konstanz reflected the similar quirky life of a small town.
The visual art present in Central Europe not only extends to the elements of theatrical and architectural design, but also reflects the people that live in those areas.
My personal project will take the form of an installation piece, incorporating puppets, or traveling puppet company.
As I was going through all the exhibits I found myself drawn to all the puppets and puppet imagery. The abstraction of the human form lends itself so well to theatre, one is able to create a character from scratch – without regards to an actors own body.
I am interested in bringing the viewers into a new world, totally immersed in the aesthetic and visual content to this new world. In here they will encounter the puppets, or inhabitants of this world.
This style of theatre and visual art occurred numerous times in the National Exhibition. I loved how the installations surrounding small works of art lent itself to creating a stronger dialogue between the artists and the viewers. The art was no longer behind a frame, or on a stage, instead you entered the world, you were there able to touch, smell, feel, and sometimes even taste the various elements of this created world. When inside these active installations you felt a part of the piece. You were no longer a viewer, but an active participant.
This type of interactive, environmental theatre is what I am really interested in now, and I very much hope puppetry will come into my next project as an added element.
Here’s a documentary on my Six Acts Project, made by the media team at Scenofest 2011.
The never ending question – What do I put in my portfolio?
At the Prague Quadrennial they exhibited various student and professional portfolios, and I took the time to go through them.
Originally I wanted to look through every single one, to figure out what a portfolio was and how I wanted to exhibit myself on paper, but as I started to go through them – it only took three portfolios to tell me everything I needed to know.
Here’s some advice from what I saw.
1. There are no rules, you don’t even have to listen to what I say. Make a portfolio that contains the information YOU value, not what you think other people want to see.
2. No matter what you do, label EVERYTHING, make it consistent and include your NAME.
3. Don’t use crazy colors in your backgrounds – you don’t want to take away from the photos and images that are your work.
4. Be neat and organized – have other people look at your portfolio when you think you’re complete and ask them if the order makes sense, good professors are worth their weight in gold when it comes to this.
5. Don’t have a portfolio that is massive – no one wants to lug that around or take the effort to wrestle with the pages, try and keep the size manageable, but not so small that it diminishes the power of your photos.
Now here comes the true advice – or more or less what I saw and wish to correct in the portfolio world forever.
What did I see in those first three portfolios? Well I saw pretty pictures and nothing more. I saw image after image, nicely cropped, labeled, mounted, and placed in order. All it showed me was that the designer it belonged to would make an excellent photo documentarian.
To be honest I was rather disappointed. THESE are professional portfolios? Picture albums? I probably flipped through at least 13 more portfolios before concluding that what I felt was missing from these portfolios was exactly what I had to put in mine. I saw maybe two portfolios that actually seemed complete to me. But as I said the majority of them were picture albums of production photos –nothing more. There were no renderings, no research images, no process, just product, and it bored me to tears.
I had approached the table eager, and ready to take hundreds of pictures, and quickly realized that there was only a handful of things on that table worth taking a picture of.
I see production photos and all I see is a pretty picture, worthless without the process that went behind it. How do I learn about our designs without taking into account the process behind them? Quite honestly I can’t. I want to see a beginning in order to appreciate an end.
In conclusion that is what I am going to do when I put together my portfolio this summer. I will include snippets of process work, research images, sketches, illustrating how my ideas evolved and became what is inside those production photos. Information that helps the photos mean something to their viewer, and makes me stand out from the sea of photo albums.
Don’t misunderstand me – do NOT make a scrap book. Do NOT make a collaged mess of information that no one can digest. But for every 8×10 production photo have at least 2 smaller images that back them up or inform the viewer where they came from, so they begin to understand you.
As I mentioned in my previous post, I have just returned to Buffalo from the Prague Quadrennial. Aside from my Six Acts performance, there was also the International Exhibition of Scenography which I attended once my performance was complete.
The exhibition consists of two sections, the student section, and the professional section. Each section then has multiple exhibits classified by country.
The exhibiton resided on the entire main floor of Pragues Veletrizni Palac – an art museum in Prague, as well as portions of 3 other floors.
To be honest, I found it extremely overwhelming. There was so much to see and do all at once, and I was bombarded with so much visual imagery it made my head spin. I began to take pictures of literally everything I found interesting so that I could look at them later to actually digest all the information. I had to go through the exhibition in 2 hour chunks. If I was there for more than 2 hours I began to enter a daze in which I could no longer process any of the visual information in front of me.
On the first day I went straight to the student exhibits, since I had a participation activity planned for me at the USA Student exhibit. At the USA exhibit I was paired up with a girl named Megan from Carnegie Mellon. Megan and I were given a short poem by Langston Hughes, and were told to create. We ended up making a “dream book” an object mentioned in the poem that captured our attention. This collaborative process was also enjoyable. This time there was text and given circumstances to take into account.
After that I was able to go through about 15 more student exhibits before I reached my max for the day.
The next day I was able to finish going through the rest of the student exhibits on another floor, as well as begin going through all the professional exhibits.
The entire exhibition floor varied from one extreme to another. There were no set guidelines for a country to present and I don’t think I would have wanted it any other way. However this great discrepancy in presentation styles definitely through my nearly-fried brain through a loop.
Aside from sharing all my pictures with you I really can’t go through every single exhibit and describe what each country is doing in the realm of scenography and what that means to me. To be honest I’m not even sure yet. It’s been over a week since I was in the exhibition floor and I’m still trying to comb out my thoughts.
What I can tell you is what I noticed, and that is the fact that visual art and theatre are one in the same. Theatre just has an added element of motion, which makes all the difference.
Many exhibitions were installations, or interactive spaces that allowed the viewer to explore and create. Some were pictures, some had model boxes, many were a collage of a plethora of artifacts and designs, very few had live performances, many had electronic display boards that moved to a new image every 3 to 5 seconds, and most were trying to express what scenography meant to them.
When trying to digest all this content, you begin to realize how important the presentation of the content truly is. I would come to exhibits and be somewhat jaded by the presentation format, and thus be less inclined to stay at the exhibit to view the content – no matter how marvelous or magical it may be. I realized this early on, probably after the first 5 exhibits I went into. Presentation was everything.
A good presentation would make mediocre designs look amazing, and the opposite was true as well.
I found it shocking how few really incorporated live performance into their display. While it is understandable that one cannot afford to bring entire acting troupes from one’s home country to display a taste of “national theatre” it is still surprising since everything became a piece of visual art rather than a piece of moving narrative, or theatre. I would go into exhibits and treat it as an installation with a collage of visual art inside. Even the few bursts of live performance that was on display at the exhibition could be considered performance art. Some countries seemed to be exhibiting art rather than theatre – as there were only posed photographs on display – sometimes not even involved in theatre.
Don’t get me wrong. I thoroughly enjoyed the exhibition floor, I don’t really care if theatre is presented as visual art or not, to be honest I don’t think there should be such a distinct mental divide between the two. I think they are the same.
The only difference being the way they’re presented.
Greetings UB, I have just arrived back from Europe with more information that I could possibly digest in the two weeks I was there, so I’ll do my best to break it down here.
The purpose of my trip was to attend the Prague Quadrennial, the International Competitive Exhibition of Scenography, as well as participate in Six Acts, a collaboration of international students to produce a site specific performance within the City or Prague.
For my Six Acts project I was working with a group of 20 students under the direction of Pavel Štourač, the director of Divadlo Continuo – a Czech based theatre troupe. Our performance took place in the Franciscan Garden of Prague, on June 18th, and the first day we met was June 14th.
On the morning of June 14th I was filled with excitement to meet my group mates, and discover the narrative of our performance. I was immediately surprised by how many people were part of our performance, 20 students, 1 director, and two assistant directors, and we all came from different places, Belgium, Serbia, Lithuania, Hong Kong, Portugal, United Kingdoms, Russia, United States, Canada, Germany, Poland, Czech Republic, and the Netherlands.
Now putting together a show in 5 days is difficult no matter how you look at it, putting together a show in 5 days where there are over 20 people imputing their ideas and creations is even more difficult. There were 20 student scenographers, sitting in the garden, all with their own idea of how the performance could unfold, and Pavel listened to all of them.
After we took in the performance site we moved to DAMU, Prague’s Academy of Performing Arts, where we had our own rehearsal hall that we turned into our workshop – and it was filled with paper.
Everything we made for the performance was to be made out of paper, using bamboo for support when needed. Now don’t get me wrong – there were over 20 different types of paper, each with their own unique qualities, and we were able to make beautiful creations.
After relocating to our workshop, we immediately began creating from the various ideas we shared in groups of 4 or 5. After about one to two hours of working with the material and creating something we could reconvene for critique, where the group members would perform the gesture associated with that character or extension of the body. During the critique Pavel would work with the students to have them push their creation in a way that was not expected, or intended. He would work with movement and timing, and gesture, each time discovering something new about the creation and expanding the possibilities that object could have on the performance.
For the next few days we worked like this. Everyone would express and create different ideas that related to the garden, Pavel would pick a handful to be created and we would critique. We were not writing a narrative, there was not a group of people labeled performers, nor a group labeled costume designers, lighting designers, etc. We were all working together, as a group to stimulate new ideas and possibilities, and working with paper.
When the performance came nearer Pavel took time to narrow down which creations he wanted to see again, and what he hoped to use in the performance. Following this we had a session in which we each had to create a puppet. This specificity was interesting to me, as previously we were all working on a different type of prop.
Making paper puppets became one of the most influential critiques of the whole week. We had paper bags, turned into faces before our eyes, and became animated as soon as they came into contact with the human body. It was just the magical moment we needed to move our production forward.
On the day it was time to move back to the garden, we had a movement lesson. We cleaned the floor clear of all the paper debris that had been accumulating over the past few days, and began walking around barefoot. It started as an exercise in which we were to increase our awareness of others in movement, and try not to collide. Then we had to feel with our bodies, as we walked backwards, where there was movement behind us – in order to avoid colliding. Soon the exercise evolved into a type of game, where we began to group together, choosing to follow another, or mimic someone in the room, and then change course. This movement lesson primed us all for the performance that was to come. Making us aware of our body movement, and thus how our body would move differently in character.
Back in the garden, we quickly began to make all the characters and puppets that Pavel wanted to use in the performance. We all worked together to get each one completed. Starting out mostly in groups based on which “scenes” we were in, and as the day went on, becoming a single unit, with everyone helping those in need as soon as another problem was solved.
The scene I chose to focus my energy on was one that stemmed from the idea of a woman in a hat, whose hat then melted as she entered a fountain and would be covered in water. While this scene did not necessitate any difficult structures, or a large number of pieces, it posed a posed a problem with rehearsal. No matter how many hats I made each one would disintegrate in a different way. If I were to go back in time and start my construction process over again, I would have made at least 5 hats to rehearse with, as it was our time crunch only allowed me to make two.
My character’s through-line developed as my designs developed. Starting with an elaborate paper hat, and then a white dress, which soon developed to have a longer and longer train. Before I knew it, my character was becoming a lone bride, one who was left in the garden. She turns to the nearby fountain to rid herself of the bridal costume, and the memory of her love. Walking away into the night (our performance started at 9pm).
The performance developed into a series of vignettes, a choreographed site specific performance that traveled throughout the garden. Besides my water bride, there were monks, puppet heads, books, flowers, machines, birds, and embryos, all made out of paper. It proved to be a magical night, one that I will never forget.
It was the first true collaborative process I was involved in, where everyone had a part in every step of the process, from the beginning to end, and it was also the first time I had worked with so many scenographers, all from different backgrounds bringing their ideas to the table. I was shocked at how over twenty different minds came together so perfectly to create something as beautiful as what happened in the garden that night.
Audience members were brought into a another world of paper creatures, and moved through the space from scene to scene, discovering something new each time.
Today was the day. I was finally going to be attending my session on wireless dimming. While this session was in the evening I had no time to waste. So I spent my morning exploring the Expo some more. During my exploration I discovered two different sources for wireless dimming products other than RC4 wireless dimming.
The first was the SHoW DMX product from City Theatrical a
nd the second was the W-DMX product from Wireless Solution Sweden AB. While this was very interesting and cool to see what else is out there, as I said before these products were made for much bigger uses than what I needed them for as well as these are much more expensive than the RC4.
When I attended my session I found that the dimming and technology he was planning to talk about that was more specified to motion control rather than for dimming lights. Due to the fact the audience was fairly small he actually asked us what we wanted to learn about and the crowd wanted to know about dimming lights which saved my life.
The most important thing he talked about during his presentation was about batteries which was very interesting to me and very important to know about for wireless dimming.
- Lead Acid Batteries
o Do not go below 10 ½ volts of power
§ When recharged the battery will have a
lower life span.
§ If run down to dead it will only recharge to 80 percent of it’s original power. Each time it is used till dead it will only recharge to 80 percent of the outstanding power.
§ Wireless dimmer companies allow the batteries to be drained completely rather than having them shut off at the right voltage because if they were shut off the batteries may not complete its use in the show.
o It likes to be used very little, but be charged a lot.
§ It is necessary to be very diligent at checking batteries making sure they are charged well and correctly.
§ If not taken care of it will become costly to replace numerous batteries.
§ For cost effectiveness UB Department of Theatre and Dance should invest in a versatile battery charger.
- NiCad and Nickel Metal Hydride batteries
o Memory effect
§ It is said that some batteries have an effect that if the battery is only used a little bit before being attached to a charger consistently, the battery will remember how its used and soon if you try to use the battery it will start dying a lot earlier than it should.
§ The solution to the memory effect is to use these batteries until they are completely dead so you are able to keep the full use.
The last thing I did on Friday was attend Cirque Du Soleil’s new touring show “Totem”. It was my first Cirque show and it was completely amazing. The automation was fantastic and the lighting was amazing especially with its combined and complemented looks with the projections. While on the tech side of the show I was truly amazed but for me never seeing anything like this in real life the performance is what ble
w me away and completely absorbed me.
One thing I did not miss on the tech side of the show was when wireless dimming was used in a way I didn’t think was possible. During the show there is a moment where this man is juggling these balls that are lighting up and changing colors. At first I thought that maybe the LED’s in the balls are preprogrammed to change as they do but after speaking with the people at the Cirque Du Soleil booth at the Stage Expo, they said that the balls are actually being controlled with wireless dimming.