By Randy Gener[1]

Every four years since 1967, curatorial design teams from around the world mount national exhibitions in the city center of Prague. This quadrennial process has been taking place since the advent of PQ, more formally known as the Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space in the Czech Republic.

PQ is a competitive world arts event, the largest performance design event in the world; it is often described as the Olympics or World Fair for performance designers. In recent times, PQ has served as a meeting point for a variety of performance design disciplines and genres including costume, stage, lighting, sound design, and theatre architecture for dance, opera, drama, site-specific, multi-media performances, and performance art.

The United States Institute for Theatre Technology (USITT), which sponsors and realizes the U.S. national exhibition, recently organized a juried competition to select the designers who will create the U.S. entry to the 2015 PQ. The four-member team of jurors, who will also serve as curators for the actual exhibit, were Marketa Fantová, and internationally-acclaimed designers Tony Walton, Carrie Robbins, and Kevin Rigdon.

Of the 11 groups that submitted designers for the competition, the jurors selected Wingspace Theatrical Design, whose submission recalled a modernistic performance arena space.

Marketa Fantova, USITT’s Vice President of International Activities and the Artistic director of the U.S. entry to PQ 2015, said, “We were impressed with Wingspace’s mission and commitment to the collaborative process and art of theatrical design. The idea of an ‘ephemeral studio’ of artists with backgrounds in scenic, lighting, costume, sound and media design as well as directors, writers and thinkers is an exciting and fresh approach. We look forward to seeing how this model contributes to the development of the national exhibit.”

In short, whatever will be designed by Wingspace for the 2015 PQ will not be a pavilion. Neither will it be a traditional exposition. It will be “an environment that goes beyond an exhibition” or “a transformative performance experience” or “an immersive art space” or “an architectural and sculptural space with curated performance” that could be an artwork in its own right. It will also have to incorporate the theme of PQ 2015: “Sharedspace: Music, Weather, Politics.”

USITT/USA exhibit for the 2015 Prague Quadrennial
USITT/USA exhibit for the 2015 Prague Quadrennial

Designing any national space for PQ is a long-term investment that takes four years, so it is too soon to say what Wingspace will actually create for Prague. Moreover, it is antithetical to this collective of 22 people to single out one or two members. So in lieu of a traditional interview, what follows is neither a statement nor a manifesto but a shared portfolio/commentary spurred by my inquiries to three Wingspace members, Caite Hevner, Dylan McCullough and Lee Savage, who will act as project leaders for the USITT’s upcoming artistic space in Prague.

RANDY GENER: Wingspace will work closely with artistic director Marketa Fantova and the U.S. exhibit curators to take the design from concept to realization. Tell me more about Wingspace. Can you share what your winning proposal looked like?

WINGSPACE THEATRICAL DESIGN: Wingspace’s mission is to practice collaboration in the field of theatrical design while advancing a larger conversation about design with the community. Wingspace’s studio is located at The Old American Can Factory on the Fifth Street Basin of the Gowanus Canal in Brooklyn. Wingspace is a 22-member collective of award-winning, internationally-recognized designers, directors, and dramaturges. Our members work on Broadway, off Broadway, in regional theatre, opera, film, television, industrial design, concerts, music videos, and photo shoots.

Our initial proposal focused on the process and collaboration required for any theatrical design’s creation. Our PQ15 exhibition space proposal emphasized process and celebrated collaboration to tell the story of American performance design and share its products with our global community.

The initial design submission from Wingspace Theatrical Design helped the curators choose the collective to design the USITT/USA exhibit for the 2015 Prague Quadrennial
The initial design submission from Wingspace Theatrical Design helped the curators choose the collective to design the USITT/USA exhibit for the 2015 Prague Quadrennial

We were particularly interested in an approach that embraced the personal, ephemeral, and immersive experience of performance in order to create a dynamic vehicle to display the work of American theatre designers between 2011 and 2015.

Now that we have been given the task of creating the exhibition space, our focus has not change as much as it has sharpened. Here is what we are working towards creating:

– An “American” space.

– A space that takes you on a journey.

– A space that surprises.

– A space that requires audience involvement.

– A space that allows for real engagement: a “real experience.”

– A space that moves beyond “gallery” or even “installation.”

– A space that allows the content to be exhibited in a variety of ways.

We want the space to reflect the scattered, diverse and eclectic qualities of America and its Theatre. We are interested in something dynamic, enterable and sculptural. We hope to create a space that initiates a change in the viewer.

Our biggest challenge is merging the space we create with the work on display to create an experience that is wholly cohesive. We’ll continue to search for the most evocative and interesting ways to display the work as well, and it’s possible this means never putting a photo on a wall. In fact, if we can figure out how to do that, we’ll see our design as a success.

Wingspace is honored and thrilled to have been chosen as the designers for the U.S. Exhibition at the Prague Quadrennial 2015. But in lieu of photos of individual members, here are production stills [featuring designs or direction by Wingspace members] that we submitted to USITT that helped to seal the deal:

"A Midsummer Night's Dream" written by William Shakespeare, directed by Ethan McSweeny at The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. (USA), set design by Lee Savage and costume design by Jen Moeller © Courtesy of Wingspace Theatrical Design
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” written by William Shakespeare, directed by Ethan McSweeny at The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. (USA), set design by Lee Savage and costume design by Jen Moeller © Courtesy of Wingspace Theatrical Design
"A Midsummer Night's Dream" written by William Shakespeare, directed by Ethan McSweeny at The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. (USA), set design by Lee Savage and costume design by Jen Moeller © Courtesy of Wingspace Theatrical Design
“A Midsummer Night’s Dream” written by William Shakespeare, directed by Ethan McSweeny at The Shakespeare Theatre Company in Washington, D.C. (USA), set design by Lee Savage and costume design by Jen Moeller © Courtesy of Wingspace Theatrical Design
"Cooler", by Gary Winter at The Chocolate Factory in Queens, NY (USA) direction by Dylan McCullough, costume design by Alixandra Gage Englund, and sound design by Hillary Charnas, 2010 © Courtesy of Wingspace Theatrical Design "Nonsense parts the waves for the demon class." An abstract play about a group of people who live in a cooler under a mysterious but palpable oppressive force. Their language has been warped and the rules of their society have been confused, and they struggle to reconcile their desires and impulses with the chilling environment they find themselves in. The play operates in an almost dream-like state as the characters experiment with language, will, and the nature of oppression - both external and self-imposed.
“Cooler”, by Gary Winter at The Chocolate Factory in Queens, NY (USA) direction by Dylan McCullough, costume design by Alixandra Gage Englund, and sound design by Hillary Charnas, 2010 © Courtesy of Wingspace Theatrical Design “Nonsense parts the waves for the demon class.” An abstract play about a group of people who live in a cooler under a mysterious but palpable oppressive force. Their language has been warped and the rules of their society have been confused, and they struggle to reconcile their desires and impulses with the chilling environment they find themselves in. The play operates in an almost dream-like state as the characters experiment with language, will, and the nature of oppression
– both external and self-imposed.
"It Or Her" written by Alena Smith at Performance Space 122 in New York (USA), set and costume design by Jen Moeller and lighting design by Gina Scherr, 2010 © Courtesy of Wingspace Theatrical Design "Somewhere between Pee-Wee's Big Adventure and The Tell-Tale Heart, this provocative dark comedy explores the basement of a suburban home where Andrew has devoted himself unconditionally to his incredible collection of figurines. Suffering the loss of The Red One, he seeks to uncover The Ulyimate Arrangement before his hideout is invaded, and his dark secret is revealed."
“It Or Her” written by Alena Smith at Performance Space 122 in New York (USA), set and costume design by Jen Moeller and lighting design by Gina Scherr, 2010 © Courtesy of Wingspace Theatrical Design “Somewhere between Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure and The Tell-Tale Heart, this provocative dark comedy explores the basement of a suburban home where Andrew has devoted himself unconditionally to his incredible collection of figurines. Suffering the loss of The Red One, he seeks to uncover The Ulyimate Arrangement before his hideout is invaded, and his dark secret is revealed.”

Gener
[1] Randy Gener is a founding editor of Critical Stages/Scènes critiques, an award-winning writer, a freelance dramaturge, and an artist in New York City. He was twice appointed by the Czech Arts/Theatre Institute to serve as Editor of Prague Quadrennial’s official broadsheet publication. From 2007 to 2012, Gener served as the curatorial producer/adviser of “From the Edge: Performance Design in the Divided States of America,” the USA National Exposition in the 2011 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Space and Design in the Czech Republic. He is World News Editor of The Journalist.ie, Series Editor of NoPassport Press, and Founder of In the Culture of One World, a cross-media project devoted to cultural diplomacy and international exchange.www.CultureofOneWorld.org

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“A Space That Moves Beyond ‘Gallery’ or Even ‘Installation’ ” — Interview with Wingspace Theatrical Design Members Caite Hevner, Dylan McCullough and Lee Savage