A Period of Animate Existence
Pig Iron Theatre Company
September 24 at 2:00pm
Annenberg Center for the Performing ArtsMap
“Ever adventuresome, always brainy, often mischievous, never cowardly, they love to reinvent themselves with every show. This is an ambitious company, intellectually and artistically.” Broad Street Review
“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.” Dan Rothenberg of Pig Iron Theatre Company
Children, elders, and machines contemplate the future in a time of dire predictions and rapid technological change in this work of symphonic theater conceived by composer/filmmaker Troy Herion, scenic designer Mimi Lien, and director Dan Rothenberg.
How do we contemplate the future in such a perilous time, an era called the “Sixth Extinction,” when up to 50 percent of all living species might die off? An inspired, large-scale melding of music, design, and theater, A Period of Animate Existence investigates the intense, unnamable emotions that arise in a time of extinction.
Pig Iron brings together three generations of choirs, a chamber orchestra, and physical actors in an epic synthesis of original music and theater, played out over five movements. The company’s largest production to date features more than 80 performers including The Crossing, Contemporaneous, and members of the Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale and Philadelphia Girls Choir, and Philomusica. Preview the music of the performance below.
Conceived and Created by Troy Herion, Mimi Lien, Dan Rothenberg Composer Troy Herion Set Mimi Lien Director Dan Rothenberg Librettists Kate Tarker, Will Eno, and Pig Iron Lighting Tyler Micoleau Costumes Loren Shaw Sound Nick Kourtides Associate Designer Kate Freer Video Designer David Tennent Choreographer Beth Gill Dramaturgs Melissa Krodman, Bethany Wiggin Assistant Director Nell Bang-Jensen Creative Producer Meiyin Wang Live Music by The Crossing, The Philadelphia Boys Choir & the Philadelphia Girls Choir, Philomusica Chorale, Contemporaneous
Major support for this project has been provided to Pig Iron Theatre Company by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage, with additional support from the Wyncote Foundation, the Cooper Foundation, and the Independence Foundation.
Creative residencies for the project have been provided by SUNY-Purchase, Swarthmore College, EMPAC, Baryshnikov Arts Center, and the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities.
A Period of Animate Existence is co-commissioned and co-presented by FringeArts and the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts at the University of Pennsylvania.
Festival Star Producers Al & Nancy Hirsig Festival Co-Producers Cat, Annie, & Steven Bohnenberger, Stephen & Barbara Gold, Christie Hartwell, Nancy Lanham
$15 student & 25-and-under
Photos: Maria Baranova
The mission of Pig Iron Theatre Company is to expand what is possible in performance by creating rigorous and unusual ensemble-devised works; by training the next generation of daring, innovative theater artists; and by consistently asking the hardest questions, both in our art and in its relation to the world around us. 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.
About Dan Rothenberg
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 Mimi Lien
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 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.
About Troy Herion
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 which were featured on MTV, The New York Times, and performed with orchestra at Carnegie Hall.
About The Crossing
The Crossing 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 forty world premieres. Consistently recognized in critical reviews, The Crossing has been hailed as “superb” (The New York Times, 7/15), “ardently angelic” (Los Angeles Times, 4/14), and “something of a miracle” (The Philadelphia Inquirer, 7/14). 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, 2/14)
About the Philadelphia Girls Choir
Philadelphia Girls Choir 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 will visit museums, attend performances, and perform in locations that are tied to the core repertoire. They touched on topics ranging from the Revolution to unique musical instruments such as Benjamin Franklin’s Glass Armonica. The girls learned the significance of the music in connection to their experiences.
About the Philadelphia Boys Choir
Philadelphia Boys Choir & Chorale 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, Annual Holiday Concert, Annual Spring Concert, and other various performances throughout the year.
About Philomusica Choral
Now led by Artistic Director Gayle Wieand, Philomusica Chorale was formed in 1979 by Dr. Mardia Melroy. From the beginning, our purpose has been to present to the public all types of choral music from all periods of music history. Through our singers, instrumentalists and audiences, the Chorale draws together people of diverse backgrounds from communities all over the Delaware Valley. Recent programs have taken audiences “Around the World in 80 minutes” and even “Out of This World.” 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.
Contemporaneous 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.”
Interview with Dan Rothenberg and Troy Herion of Pig Iron Theatre
Abridged, check back this summer for the full interview on the FringeArts Blog. READ THE COMPLETE INTERVIEW HERE.
FringeArts: How did the title A Period of Animate Existence come into being?
Dan Rothenberg: We were working with a few different sources of inspiration: Alan Watts, who talks about “the rocks peopling” as a way of imagining the beginnings of life on Earth, and understanding that we organic creatures are made out of exactly the same stuff as inorganic rocks. We looked at Richard Dawkins and “the Selfish Gene,” which talks about humans as big lumbering robots “operated” by genes within us. This grade-school question: “what’s the difference between alive and not-alive?” remains elusive for both scientists and philosophers, even today.
Troy Herion: When you look up the word “life” in the dictionary, one of the definitions you will find is: “a period of animate existence.” Our piece looks at the concept of life from a zoomed out perspective—one that tries to consider where life came from and where it is going. When I think of the dictionary definition of life—a “period” of animate existence—the word period implies something with a beginning and an end. The period of my own life is barely conceivable—to think I have a beginning and an end. But when I zoom out and think about the period of life on earth, or life in the universe, the origins and the future trajectory of this continuum of life are entirely beyond my imagination.
When we consider the idea that life is a continuum, that all living things on Earth are part of an unbroken chain going back to the first emergence, and continuing into the future from generation to generation, then the period of animate existence is really on a timescale beyond comprehension.
FringeArts: What prompted the 5 movements structure? What does structure allow the work to do?
Dan Rothenberg: Gustav Mahler said that a symphony must be like the world, containing everything. So the 5 movement structure is a symphonic structure. It’s our own “13 ways of looking at a blackbird.” A deliberate effort to get at something that’s too large to get your head around, by coming at it from 5 very different angles.
Troy Herion: The five-movement structure is something I’ve used in a number of my previous music and film pieces, and it’s really grown on me. I was initially introduced to multi-movement form through baroque and classical music. The classical symphony, which is usually four movements, creates this really wonderful experience of accumulation where each movement is very different than the other, but they complement in mood, tempo, and texture. Our five-movement structure comes from this same idea—to break a theme into five unique perspectives. Maybe each movement could stand on its own, but that would be coincidental because they are designed to complement each other as single courses in a larger more complete meal.
Especially in a piece like PAE, it is nearly impossible to get across complex thoughts and feelings in a single gesture. Each movement is very different, with a unique ensemble, expressive language, and visual design. One of the exciting things about this approach is that we as artists get to explore very different sides of our own minds and feelings. It’s pretty common for me to think: I want to express this in a huge, loud gesture. But maybe it’s better to say it in a whisper. With a multi-movement form you have a chance to do both.The different movements speak through different genres, with their own unique rules. Writing simultaneously in five unique expressive languages—for five completely different ensembles—is a major artistic challenge, and that excites us.
FringeArts: What have you been discussing the most now with your collaborators? What is important to “get right”?
Dan Rothenberg: We’re often talking about when to be big and when to be small. One of my heroes, Toshiki Okada, writes very political plays but they take place in the minds of ordinary people, with very ordinary concerns. So sometimes we are following that lead, trying to get at the dull feelings of worry that pulse beneath the everyday. And other times we want to evoke the feelings of awe that arise when contemplating enormous scales of time and space.
Troy Herion: Early on we spoke a lot about the difference between a “musical” attention and a “theatrical” attention. In other words, the audience experiences a symphonic concert differently than a dramatic play. But what happens when a symphony is performed in the midst of a dramatic play? How can we lead the audience through these very different styles of attention? These questions have influenced us, and we are interested in shifting between musical and dramatic attention throughout the piece.
This project is so big that our conversations are hardly able to keep up with the creative and logistical demands of the day. With each movement there are very different needs – sometimes we are discussing actor facial expressions, or the ways different types of mylar can reflect light, and other times I’m finessing details of the clarinet in a larger orchestration. We are forced to swing pretty dramatically from big picture issues to very detailed decisions.