When audiences enter the Daryl Roth Theatre in New York, they are corralled cattlelike into a holding area before entering the performance space. Show posters like highway signs indicate the direction of the evening with the tease "Learn to Fly." And that is exactly what Argentinean theatrical troupe De La Guarda sets out to do--teach audiences to transcend theatrical conventions in Villa Villa, a 70-minute spectacle that is part theatre, part dance piece, part rave.
Met by the stark white light of a 6" fresnel, the crowd stands mosh-pit-style awaiting the unexpected, in a theatre space that used to be a bank building (there are no seats to hide in). Trippy ambient sounds set the mood as the light goes out and silhouettes appear behind a ceiling drop made of industrial-grade paper.
Forms of men and women bathed in colored light dangle, crawl, contort, and fly in spurts overhead. Effects turn kaleidoscopic as green neon spheres roll across the ceiling drop, followed by multicolored balloons, confetti, little toy airplanes, frogs, and fish. The mood mutates quickly when swirling blue smoke creates an underwater ballet of sorts. In the finale of the opening sequence, a quick blackout that transforms the ceiling into a nighttime constellation of Day-Glo colors earns an "ahhh!" from the audience. This sets the stage (or ceiling, as the case may be) for performers to break through the paper one by one until the entire ceiling is ripped away, so the cast can do what the posters promise--fly.
The illusion-makers behind De La Guarda include original members of the troupe--creators/directors Pichon Baldinu and Diqui James, lighting designer Charles Trigueros, and costume designer Cecilia Alassia, with a collective set and sound design by members of the group. In 1995, they took their name, which roughly translates to "guardian angel," and started to experiment in front of live audiences at the Buenos Aires club Prix d'Ami. From this came the seeds of Villa Villa (pronounced VEE-sha VEE-sha), meaning "by the seat of your pants," a motto familiar to the economically challenged group, which set out on the international festival circuit to earn money and further develop ideas. After a groundswell of popularity, the show was brought Off Broadway by a group of savvy New York producers last June.
Now that the original cast and crew has returned to Buenos Aires, it is up to the international replacement company and all-American crew to execute the illusions. On the lighting side, production electrician Kristina Clark, who has run two shows every night since October, says, "It's fun because of the energy of the show, but it was hard because I had to learn the show, the submasters, and the cues, and there weren't really any cue sheets. And then I had to learn it in Spanish. It took me two weeks. Luckily Frankie Ocasio, a production manager who is from Puerto Rico, translated for us before he left the show because my Spanish isn't that great."
Clark says the show is pretty straightforward. "There are no gizmos, moving lights, or colors scrollers," she says, crediting Four Star Lighting as the supplier. "It's ETC Source Fours, Altman fresnels, PAR cans, and Lee gels."
Other equipment includes MDG Max 3000 fog generators, a City Theatrical SS6000 dry ice fogger, and Thomas and Tomcat truss. Scenic elements are supplied by Centerline Studios, and sound equipment by Ins & Outs, Inc. Clark says that while the lighting equipment may be conventional, the choreography of the lighting can get as improvisational as the show itself, which she runs on submasters. "No one is calling the show," she says. "I love doing it because it is so live."
For the opening, four followspot operators cast shadows on the ceiling drop using handheld PAR-64s with in-line switches. The underwater effect is created with blue lighting and dry ice from City Theatrical's SS6000 instead of fog so that it lays low to the paper. The audience-pleasing nighttime constellation is created as simply as most other effects, by cracking open "glow sticks you get at Halloween" and squirting them over the paper, Clark says.
Once the ceiling drops and the performers are free to fly, the lighting is unleashed in a chase pattern of vibrant colors, followed by the manic ascent and descent of two women scrambling across a wall in flashes of light from Diversitronics Luma 3000 Power Strobes. Then haze and mist envelopes the audience, portents of a storm which hits as the entire ensemble flies in a huddled mass over the audience. "That's my favorite part," says Clark. "I was told to make a cloud with the fan and the [MDG] fogger. Then there are four 2k fresnels, one in each corner, that come across. The mist is from a high-pressure sprayer and the PARs are handheld."
Post-storm, performers in various states of dishevelment wander through the audience, encouraging the crowd to dance. And, in the group's signature sequence, they pick up audience members who are willing to fly.
Clark says the magic of the lighting is its simplicity. "I think it's amazing that at times there may only be one light on and it looks so beautiful," she says. "There's not one gobo in the show. We have human gobos"--who lift unsuspecting audiences to the rafters with their high-voltage energy.