Pig Iron Theatre Company to Premiere A PERIOD OF ANIMATE EXISTENCE at Philadelphia Fringe
Pig Iron Theatre Company, the internationally acclaimed, Philadelphia-based organization, has announced that the world premiere of its ambitious, timely production A Period of Animate Existence will take place September 22-24 at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania in the 2017 Fringe Festival, co-presented by FringeArts and Annenberg Center Live.
Co-conceived and co-created by composer Troy Herion, Tony Award-winning designer Mimi Lien and director Dan Rothenberg, A Period of Animate Existence fuses theater, music and design, and the perspectives of children, elders and machines, to contemplate the future in a time of dire ecological predictions and rapid technological change.
A company including actors, three generations of choirs (The Crossing and members of the Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale, Philadelphia Girls Choir and Philomusica) and a chamber orchestra (Contemporaneous) will perform A Period of Animate Existence September 22 & 23 at 8pm, September 23 & 24 at 2pm, and September 24 at 7pm, at the Annenberg Center's Zellerbach Theatre (3680 Walnut Street, Philadelphia). Tickets are $39-49 ($15 for students and those under the age of 25) and can be purchased at fringearts.com.
With A Period of Animate Existence, Herion, Lien and Rothenberg aim to offer a context in which audiences can meditate on our relationship to our biosphere without debating policy or even using the words "climate change"-words that, for many, foreclose, rather than facilitate, consciousness and conversation. The artists hope to address climate change without reducing it to a tug-of-war between two opposites-young vs. old, fatalism vs. call-to-arms-in order to bring the emotional terrain of our current moment to the surface. The challenge, Rothenberg explains, has been "to create a piece that brings into focus rhythms and emotions that we feel particularly suited to address: how generations interact and communicate; how we imagine the trajectory of life in this particular moment; how children stand in for hope, defiance, responsibility and even a ruthless vital energy that seeks to expand into the universe."
To create A Period of Animate Existence, Herion, Lien and Rothenberg have assembled a team of accomplished theater and music artists. The production, directed by Rothenberg, features music composed by Herion; set design by Lien; text by playwrights Kate Tarker and Will Eno, and Pig Iron; lighting by Tyler Micoleau; costumes by Loren Shaw; sound design by Nick Kourtides; video design by Kate Freer and David Tennent; choreography by Beth Gill; and dramaturgy by Melissa Krodman and Bethany Wiggin. Meiyin Wang is Creative Producer, and Nell Bang-Jensen is Assistant Director.
A Period of Animate Existence echoes the character and pacing of a 19th-century symphony, while drawing from multiple art forms and genres. The work, lasting approximately 100 minutes, consists of five staged movements-each its own musical and theatrical world. Between each movement are short, minimalist encounters between children, elders and musicians. Like a symphony, the movements are unrelated narratively, yet they complement each other sequentially in mood, tempo and texture, producing a cumulative effect. They include:
- Movement 1, Con Moto Maestoso: An orchestra performs an evocative primordial prelude while scenic forms move through light and projections.
- Movement 2, Andante Cantabile: The stage overflows with dozens of people. Together in groups large and small, they sing candidly about planetary cycles, sex, reproduction, death and inheritance.
- Movement 3, Scherzando: A single halal cart with a scrolling LED screen gradually gains consciousness and ponders its role in the universe.
- Movement 4, Recitative: A group of children and elders speak directly to the audience about the future. Songs and parade floats alternate with a child's investigation into the nature of time.
- Movement 5, Danza di Rocce: A visualization of Henri Bergson's "élan vital," the force that separates the living from the non-living. The award-winning choir The Crossing sings while wrestlers perform a ballet of preparation and struggle.
A Period of Animate Existence is part concert, part theater production, in the vein of Robert Wilson & Philip Glass' seminal Einstein on the Beach, Lee Breuer's concert-play The Gospel at Colonus, and the more recent work of Heiner Goebbels. While the production is an interdisciplinary deep dive for all of its co-creators, each of them brings to the collaboration an artistry inspired by the concept of "synesthesia." Herion, who has studied how physical action creates "sounds" in the mind, creates "visual music" compositions: remarkably tuneful works of music and film scored in tight counterpoint. He takes inspiration from early 20th Century visual music pioneers such as Oskar Schlemmer, who made the Triadic Ballet. Lien, the MacArthur "Genius" Award-winning set designer of landmark works including Taylor Mac's A 24-Decade History of Popular Music and Branden Jacobs-Jenkins' An Octoroon, speaks about space in musical terms. At Pig Iron, Rothenberg trains actors to work rhythmically and musically and has created music-theater collaborations with rock outfits like Dr. Dog in the past.
Founded in 1995 as an interdisciplinary ensemble, Pig Iron Theatre Company is dedicated to the creation of new and exuberant performance works that defy easy categorization.
Over the course of 20 years, Pig Iron has created over two dozen original works and has toured to festivals and theatres in England, Scotland, Poland, Lithuania, Brazil, Ireland, Italy, Romania and Germany. The body of Pig Iron's work is eclectic and daring. Individual works have been inspired by history and biography (Poet In New York, 1997, and Anodyne, 2001), rock music (Swamp is On, with Dr. Dog, 2015, and James Joyce is Dead and so is Paris: The Lucia Joyce Cabaret, 2003), American kitsch culture (Cafeteria, 1997, and Welcome to Yuba City, 2009), serendipity (Dig or Fly, 1996, and The Snow Queen, 1999), and scientific research (Pay Up, 2005/2013, and Chekhov Lizardbrain, 2009). In 2001, Pig Iron collaborated with legendary theatre director Joseph Chaikin (1935-2003) to create an exploration of sleep, dreams and consciousness (Shut Eye).
In 2005, Pig Iron won an OBIE Award for Hell Meets Henry Halfway, an adaptation of Polish writer Witold Gombrowicz's novel Possessed. In 2008, Pig Iron won a second OBIE for James Sugg's performance in Chekhov Lizardbrain. Pig Iron's staging of Shakespeare's Twelfth Night was nominated for ten Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theatre, and won four. Individual pieces are often developed in residency at other theatres and universities. The company made Philadelphia its permanent home in 1997. Visit www.pigiron.org for more.
About the Co-Creators:
Troy Herion is a composer and filmmaker whose works unite contemporary music with visual arts through film, theater, dance, and concert music. His versatile compositions range from classical and avant-garde orchestral music to intricate and melodic electronic scores. For the last decade he has collaborated extensively with filmmakers, choreographers, and theater companies. Recent film scores include award-winning films The Dog, Mountain Fire Personnel, and You Can Go premiering at Toronto, SXSW, MoMA, and Tribeca Film Festival. Herion composes and directs visual-music films, such as Baroque Suite and New York: A City Symphony, whichwere featured on MTV and in The New York Times, and performed with orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
Mimi Lien is a designer of sets/environments for theater, dance, and opera. Arriving at set design from a background in architecture, her work often focuses on the interaction between audience/environment and object/performer. She won the 2017 Tony Award for Best Scenic Design of a Musical for her work on Natasha, Pierre & The Great Comet of 1812. She was recently named a 2015 MacArthur Fellow, and is the first set designer ever to achieve this distinction. Her stage designs have been exhibited in the Prague Quadrennial in 2011 and 2015, and her sculptures were featured in the exhibition Landscapes of Quarantine, at the Storefront for Art and Architecture. Her been seen at such venues as Lincoln Center Theater, Signature Theatre, The Public Theater, The Joyce Theater, Goodman Theatre, Soho Rep and internationally.
Dan Rothenberg is a Philadelphia-based director and creator of experimental performance. A founding member and co-artistic director of the Pig Iron Theatre Company, Dan has directed almost all of Pig Iron's original performance works, including Poet In New York, Gentleman Volunteers, Love Unpunished, Isabella, The Lucia Joyce Cabaret, and the OBIE Award-winning productions Chekhov Lizardbrain and Hell Meets Henry Halfway. Pig Iron has been nominated for over 40 Barrymore Awards for Excellence in Theater in Philadelphia and received 4 Barrymore Awards in Original Music, Music Direction, Costume Design, and Outstanding Choreography for their 2011 production of Twelfth Night.
About the Collaborators:
Nell Bang-Jensen (Assistant Director)is a Philadelphia-based theater maker and Associate Artistic Director of Pig Iron. She has created four full-scale, original works, in addition to directing and producing for many of Philadelphia's major theater institutions, including the Wilma and the Painted Bride. Bang-Jensen is a Thomas J. Watson Fellow (2011-2012), Frank 5 Fellow for the Aydelotte Foundation (2017), and a current participant in TCG's Leadership U: One-on-One program, a national fellowship intended to develop individuals TCG believes are the core and future of American theatre.
Contemporaneous (Performer)is an ensemble of 21 musicians whose mission is to bring to life the music of now. Based in New York City and active throughout the United States, Contemporaneous has premiered more than 70 works, many of them large-scale pieces by emerging composers. Through its commissions and readiness to play challenging music, the ensemble encourages composers to take risks and defy constraints. Contemporaneous' debut album, Stream of Stars - Music of Dylan Mattingly (Innova Recordings), has been featured on radio programs around the world, including WNYC's "New Sounds" and WRTI's "Now is the Time."
The Crossing (Performer) is a professional choir dedicated to expanding the contemporary choral music experience through commissions, collaborations, community and performances that are characterized by a distinctive unity of sound and spirit. They are dedicated to new music, commissioning works regularly, and have performed over 40 world premieres. The Crossing has been hailed as "superb" (The New York Times), "ardently angelic" (Los Angeles Times and "something of a miracle" (The Philadelphia Inquirer). Formed by a group of friends in 2005, the ensemble has since grown exponentially and "has made a name for itself in recent years as a champion of new music" (The New York Times).
Will Eno (Librettist) is a playwright produced all over the world. His play Thom Pain (based on nothing) wasa finalist for the Pulitzer Prize in Drama. The Realistic Joneses appeared on Broadway in 2014, received a Drama Desk Special Award and was named best American play of 2014 by The Guardian. He is a Helen Merrill Playwriting Fellow and a recipient of the Guggenheim Fellowship.
Katherine Freer (Associate Video Designer) is a multimedia designer working in theater, installation and film. She combines her background in narrative film, documentary, animation and computer science to generate work that is not only aesthetically beautiful, but pushes conventional boundaries. Frequent collaborators include Liz Lerman, Ping Chong, Tim Bond, Kamilah Forbes, Stein | Holum Projects, Talvin Wilks and Tamilla Woodard. Freer is a Helen Hayes nominee and an Innovative Theater Award nominee. She is a founding member of Imaginary Media.
Beth Gill (Choreographer) is a choreographer who has been making contemporary dance and performance in New York City since 2005. Gill's works include Untitled (2006), Eleanor & Eleanor (2007), what it looks like, what if feels like (2008) and Electric Midwife (2011). Gill has been commissioned by New York Live Arts, The Chocolate Factory, The Kitchen and Dance Theater Workshop. She has received a Doris Duke Performing Artist Award (2015), was a 2013-2015 New York City Center Choreography Fellow, and was a 2015-2016 Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Extended Life artist-in-residence.
Nick Kourtides (Sound Designer) designs for musical theatre and creates sound environments for devised ensemble works and site-specific performances. Previously Pig Iron productions include Cankerblossom, Isabella, Chekhov Lizardbrain and Mission to Mercury. With Rainpan43, his work includes The Object Lesson, Elephant Room and Flesh and Blood & Fish and Fowl. He was awarded a Barrymore in 2006 and a Bessie Award in 2015.
Melissa Krodman (Dramaturg) is a current company member of Pig Iron who recently appeared in Gentlemen Volunteers and Swamp Is on. She works frequently with other artists and ensembles, including Kelly Bond, No Face Performance Group and Team Sunshine Performance Corporation. Her work has been presented in Philadelphia, New York City, Washington, DC, Atlanta and New Orleans, as well as in Berlin, Germany; Ljubljana, Slovenia; and Karlstaad, Sweden. Krodman is a 2016 Theatre Communications Group On the Road grant recipient, a 2017 Independence Foundation Fellow and a graduate of The Pig Iron School's inaugural certificate class of 2013.
Tyler Micoleau (Lighting Designer) is a lighting designer whose past collaborations with Pig Iron include Twelfth Night, Isabella and Love Unpunished. In the last 20 years he has designed lighting for over 400 live productions, including plays, dance, opera, multi-media performance and puppetry. In the Philadelphia area Micoleau's work has also been seen at the Kimmel Center PIFA, People's Light, Wilma Theater, Curtis Opera and the Philadelphia Theatre Company, and has garnered him four Barrymore nominations. He is also the recipient of two OBIE Awards. He lives in Brooklyn.
Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale (Performer) provides the finest musical education for young men in the Philadelphia area. Known and celebrated throughout the world, PBCC delivers a one-of-a-kind performance experience. Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale develops a varied repertoire every year. This repertoire is the basis for all performances of the Choir in a season, including the annual tour. It is a combination of classical, traditional, popular and patriotic songs, focusing on American composers. The Choir sings at many private and community functions throughout the year. The season typically includes The Nutcracker with the Pennsylvania Ballet, concerts with the Philly Pops, an annual holiday concert, an annual spring concert and other various performances throughout the year.
Philadelphia Girls Choir (Performer) takes a holistic approach to choral music. PGC relates singing, musicianship and choral performance to the broader human experience through art, drama, history and cultural diversity. Concerto, the most advanced choir, helps perform in the Pennsylvania Ballet's critically acclaimed Nutcracker. Each year, the repertoire has a core idea that relates to experiences the girls will have throughout the year. They visit museums, attend performances, and perform in locations that are tied to the core repertoire. They touch on topics ranging from the Revolution to unique musical instruments such as Benjamin Franklin's Glass Armonica.
Now led by Artistic Director Gayle Wieand, Philomusica Chorale (Performer) was formed in 1979 by Dr. Mardia Melroy. From the beginning, the Chorale's purpose has been to present to the public all types of choral music from all periods of music history. Through its singers, instrumentalists and audiences, the Chorale draws together people of diverse backgrounds from communities all over the Delaware Valley. In collaboration with other local arts organizations, recent concerts have incorporated dance, theater, Taiko drumming, classical and jazz instrumentalists, and Reckless Amateurs, a rock band.
Loren Shaw (Costume Designer) is a costume designer based in Brooklyn, New York. She is one of the founding members and resident costume designer for Exit, Pursued by a Bear, a socially immersive New York Theater collective, and primarily works regionally and Off-Broadway. She co-hosts a costume video series called Habiliments, which will be released later this year. In both 2013 and 2014, she was nominated for the Drama Desk's Outstanding Costume Design Award.
Kate Tarker (Librettist) is a Brooklyn-based playwright. Her plays include THUNDERBODIES (nominee, 2017 L. Arnold Weissberger Award), An Almanac for Farmers and Lovers in Mexico (2015 Kilroys List) and Laura and the Sea (2016 Kilroys List; finalist, 2016 L. Arnold Weissberger Award; finalist, 2016 Princess Grace Award).
Dave Tennent (Video Designer) creates interactive video installations, light-based sculpture and projections designs for theater. He takes a particular joy in taking machines apart. His recent interactive projects include a mirror that remembers a face (HGU Hotels), a laser show in a car (Infiniti) and three interactive Christmas windows on 5th Avenue (Hermes). Recent Off-Broadway and downtown projections credits include Red Wednesday (BRICK), People Doing Math Live! (Under The Radar, Incoming Series) and Our Trojan War (BAM Fisher). A Period of Animate Existence is his first collaboration with Pig Iron.
Meiyin Wang (Creative Producer) is a producer, curator and director of live performance based in California. She is currently the Director of La Jolla Playhouse's Without Walls Festival. Previously, she was the Co-Director of the Under the Radar Festival at The Public Theater and the curator of the Park Avenue Armory's artist residency series. Wang was born and raised in Singapore.
Bethany Wiggin (Dramaturg) is a member of the core faculty in German at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Founding Director of the Penn Program in the Environmental Humanities, now in its third year, an initiative of the Dean's Office of the School of Arts and Sciences and the Green Campus Partnership. She received her B.A. from Swarthmore College and her Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota. Her interests lie in the intersections between the early modern period and contemporary theoretical concerns, including global and transnational literature, translation and multilingualism, and the environmental humanities.
Photo Credit: Maria Baranova