NEW YORK, NY
“Stifters Dinge” is a performance piece, equal parts a musical and theatrical performance piece, an art installation and environmental space. Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts “New Visions” series presented this piece at the Park Avenue Armory, an historic building that includes a vast shed with a vaulted trussed roof now used as a dynamic alternative arts space.
German composer Heiner Goebbels composed and directed the work and first presented it at the Theatre Vidy-Lausanne in Switzerland. It is a composition for five pianos with no performers, a play with no actors, a live performance without performers.
The setting consists of three movable walls of pianos and other props. There are three pools of water and four retractable projection screens that are used as video projection surfaces for reflected and overlapping visual effects. The pianos are played through computerized player-piano mechanisms and by robotic arms that play glissandos and pluck strings. Other sounds are produced live and electronically processed; they are created by pushing air through pipes, scraping stones, moving sheets of metal, and moving air. A few vocal tracks are pre-recorded. Stage fog is used to give visual form to lighting effects and add an air of mystery.
The scenery, musical instruments, sound producing devices, pools, water storage tanks, video projectors, screens, speakers, and lighting are gathered into a tightly grouped visual ensemble organized on a rectangular plan. The inner workings of the musical and scenic control devices, and the projectors, speakers, props and sound makers are exposed to view comprising a richly detailed and changing visual and sonic tableau.
Our assignment was to create a temporary theater for this piece and its audience inside the Armory’s shed. The setting is tiny, 18 feet wide by 52 feet long with a top trim of 20 feet. The shed is vast, 192 feet wide by 288 feet long with the high point of the roof 98 feet above the floor. Audience seating needed to be no wider than the set and no higher than 10 feet above the floor in order for viewers to experience the intended visual effects.
Our approach was to make a performance space within the Armory shed containing the seating and stage that would mediate between the small scale setting and the much larger shed floor and vaulted ceiling. An intimate theater space was created using a rectangular framework of simple, unadorned truss elements through which the shed could be seen. That framework was 51 feet wide by 124 feet long by 30 feet high. A scenery grid was suspended at 20 feet above the deck hanging below a 30 foot high truss structure with column towers rising to 34 feet, the stepped tower effect a visual reference to the Armory’s exterior silhouette of crenellated fortress construction.
Once inside the Armory’s shed, the audience approached the mysterious metal structure oozing fog and glowing with light. A monumental staircase, 40 feet long with four flights of elegantly proportioned steppings, led to the high point of the seating bank shrouded in flat drapery panels. Once inside the seat bank, audiences had a panoramic view of the stage setting and of the shed surrounding the theater. Seating platforms were arranged with extended legroom and extra-wide chairs for comfort. Aisle lighting and exit lighting delineated steps and egress paths while maintaining low-level illumination in keeping with the show’s requirements. Up lights gently washed the shed’s trussed roof.
At the end of the performance, audiences were invited onstage to look closely at the setting, the instruments, and the stage effects. Being very close to the intricately orchestrated but simple production elements comprising this music/theater/art piece evokes fascination about the technical execution and realization of the power of the artist’s imagination to create an engaging meditative piece that is as rich in timeless meaning as it is specific in its detailed experience of sound, image, rhythm, time and space.