GOING FOR GOLD
UH-Dominated Theatre Design Team Represents U.S. in World-Renowned International Competition
Faculty and alumni from the University of Houston School of Theatre and Dance are going for gold in Prague. The Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space (PQ) is a big deal. Huge. It's often described as the Olympics or Oscar Awards for performance designers. Much like the Olympics, this international event is held every four years and competitors vie for PQ's version of a gold medal — the prestigious Golden Triga.
Curators for the United States selected groupSIXdesign as the design team for the U.S. National Exhibit 2019 for the Prague Quadrennial, which is June 6-16 in the capital of the Czech Republic. The team was initially assembled by Paige A. Willson, UH instructional associate professor of costume design and technology, and includes scenic, costume, lighting, projection and sound designers. In additional to Willson, four members of the team are from the UH theater and dance program:
- Ellen Doyle Mizener, is co-lead designer and recent UH MFA graduate
- Clint Allen, UH MFA, is lighting and projection designer
- Mark Krouskop, draughtsperson, earned both of his degrees at UH, a B.A. in theatre and MFA in theatre design
- Aaron Krohn is design team assistant and 2019 UH MFA graduate student in lighting design
- Other members include Erich Keil, Tulsa Opera’s resident designer and director of production, and sound design assistant Josh Brown, a graduate student at Columbia.
The team submitted a design to the U.S. curators called “Concordance”— which means agreement among elements. The exhibit was one of 13 designs submitted in the nationally competitive bid to design the U.S. entry.
Keeping with this year’s PQ theme “Porous Borders,” “Concordance” embraces the rich, cultural and artistic diversity of the United States. Willson and Mizener apportioned a map of the United States into north, south, east and west. The shapes of each region were scaled down and flipped to create information kiosks fashioned into plexiglass and metal sculptures that represent water, air, earth and fire.
“Air and water break down natural barriers like art breaks down closed minds,” Willson explained. “Art and ideas move indiscriminately; a porous border.”
Each kiosk has a large interactive monitor. Thumbnails launch testimonial videos, photographs and stories from designers across the nation who are also representing the U.S. in other portions the PQ global showcase, such as theater architecture and costume design.
In the center of the exhibit stands a 16-foot tall cylindrical column wrapped with quotations from American designers and the following words:
imagination, transformation, memory, wisdom, intuition, experience.
These words represent the Golden Triga, the statue that goes to the competition’s best exposition, and reflect the cyclical phases of creative process. The words also create the soundscape heard while in the exhibit—as they are spoken in numerous different languages representing the multicultural fabric of our nation and then manipulated to make a music-like environment.
“We wanted to highlight that we are a nation made up of collective stories of diversity,” said Willson. “It comes back to what we do at our core, which is storytelling– whether it’s the written or spoken word.”
Bringing ‘Concordance’ to Life
Much like the Olympics, the road to the PQ is a steep climb and involves the top talents of artists in different “sports.” The event covers everything from costume, stage, lighting, sound design and theatre architecture for dance, opera, drama, site-specific, multimedia performances and performance art. Years are spent in preparation for the PQ. While curators with the Prague Quadrennial chose Willson, Mizner and their team to design the exhibit, another team of undergraduate students and faculty in the Department of Theatre and Dance at the University at Buffalo were chosen to build it. They spent more than a year working with Willson and Mizener to engineer and fabricate the exhibit space.
The first Prague Quadrennial took place in 1967. In the years since it has become a meeting point for hundreds of artists from around the world who not only compete but also participate in performances, workshops and lectures. Kevin Rigdon, John and Rebecca Moores professor of scenic and lighting design at UH, is the artistic director for the PQ and also serves as vice president for international activities for the United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT).
“By exhibiting thousands of designs from dozens of countries and by bringing together designers, directors, students as well as the general public, the PQ provides an unprecedented exchange of ideas that goes beyond the narrow confines of theatrical design and style,” Rigdon said.
“Concordance” was recently displayed at the USITT Conference and Stage Expo in Kentucky. For the past several weeks the exhibit has been traveling in a shipping container across the Atlantic Ocean on a maiden voyage to its world premiere in Prague.
And for the talented team of UH alumni representing their country, seeing two years worth of work showcased on the world stage is a priceless experience.
“Sometimes it feels like it’s not real, like it’s a dream, but seeing it come together has been very exciting,” said Willson.