USITT, the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, is preparing three exhibits to represent American theatre design for the tenth Prague Quadrennial (PQ) being held in the Czech Republic in June 2007. The PQ, held every four years, features thousands of theatre designs from over 50 countries and serves as a gathering place for theatre artists from around the world.
The daunting task of representing visual and sound design in the US over the last four years was the biggest challenge for the USITT PQ USA 2007 National Exhibit team of curators. From over 400 submissions, just over 100 scenic, lighting, costume, and sound designs were selected to present the concept of “New Voices, New Visions: Out of the Box.” The curators identified the work of theatre artists who have redefined the art and pushed it to its limits, through unique visions and impeccable techniques.
“New” could be defined as form or content, creative technology, or contemporary issues in recent scripts. The new voices come from those designers of any age with the courage and imagination to break away from traditional practice to create work that surprises, delights, and may even disturb. The new visions come from those who are taking risks, looking to the future, and making imaginative and exciting choices to create a vibrant American theatre that expresses humanity and touches lives in ever more meaningful ways. The designs represent the cross-section of possibilities in the US from award-winning and internationally renowned designers, to new talents, and recent graduates.
In designing the USITT PQ USA 2007 National Exhibit, Nic Ularu and Madeleine Sobota have created a fresh, dynamic, and open configuration that reflects and embodies both the theme and the innovative work selected. The shape of the exhibit itself is a metaphor—not content with formal and straight lines, the walls burst out at angles, the entrance towers push into vertical space, the installation of costumes explodes like a mushroom cloud—it is now “Out of the Box!” The entrance features a movie of design images projected on a huge angled screen that is the lid of the box. Inside, interactive video and sound stations provide the viewer with greater access to images and words that tell the story of each design.
Building on the theme of the National Exhibit, the Student Exhibit theme is “New Voices, New Visions, New Vocabularies.” “New” at times means non-traditional while at others it means a unique voice or a new way of doing an old play. Teachers must dream a future they will never see while training their students, and those programs in which daring teachers inspire their students to take risks will stand out in this exhibition.
Risk and experimentation are not all, however. Students must deeply examine their social, political, moral, and spiritual views along with their artistic aesthetic while honing the communicative techniques of the designer. The exhibit will include a gallery of cubicles representing each of the participating schools, a wall of collaged design material showing the diversity of design programs across the country, and a display of three-dimensional artifacts. To encourage student participation, the exhibit will also contain a performance space. The intent of the performance pieces is that they be design-driven rather than actor/director driven.
A third exhibit, Architecture, will feature 17 new theatres under the theme of “Performance Spaces For a New Generation: Training facilities for the performing arts in the US.” The number of training facilities located at schools in this country is one of the aspects that distinguishes American theatre architecture in the world arena. In continuing the themes of focusing on the new (now and in the future) in the other two exhibits, the examples of architecture will include university and college facilities, theatres, schools, and performing arts centers that include specific training programs.
All three exhibits will be available for display in the US September 2007 to December 2008.
Alexandra Bonds and Bruce Brockman are Co-Commissioners of the USITT PQ USA 2007 efforts. USITT, the association of design, production, and technology professionals in the performing arts and entertainment industry, is providing organizational structure and the majority of financial resources. Support for the construction, assembly, and installation of this exhibit is provided by the Krannert Center for the Performing Arts and the Department of Theatre of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
For more information about USITT, its sponsored tour to Eastern Europe in conjunction with PQ, or how to participate in PQ, visit www.usitt.org.