In Scheib's 'Desert,' love goes all wrong


Jay Scheib, assistant professor in music and theater arts, has created a new work, "This Place Is a Desert," a study of love gone wrong produced in collaboration with media artist Leah Gelpe.

"Desert" will be premiered at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) from March 22 to 25 as the new waterfront museum's inaugural theater production.

Conceived as a workshop with the Kretakor Ensemble in Budapest and developed at MIT, "This Place Is a Desert" unfolds in fragments: The action occurs through windows, reflected in mirrors, behind half-drawn curtains and projected live onto a wide screen looming above the stage.

Scheib, who's also directing MIT Dramashop's upcoming production of "Our Town," spoke to Lynn Heinemann of the Office of the Arts about his ICA "Desert" venture.

Q: How did you achieve the distinction of being the new ICA's first theatrical production?

A: David Henry, the curator at the ICA, has a real passion for cross-disciplinary performance works, especially those that use new and known technologies in live performance. I delayed the premiere of "This Place Is a Desert" so that it could happen here in Boston.

Q: Will you be using the ICA's incredible view of Boston in the show?

A: The play takes place on the waterfront, more or less. We have changed the text to incorporate the view.

Q: You've said that Italian modernist filmmaker Michelangelo Antonioni inspired you. How?

A: Antonioni used human life itself as a mode of artistic expression by observing and in some cases unleashing the social forces that surround and inform a character's actions. He fixates on those individuals for whom technological advancement provides a sense of profound anguish, helplessness and loss. These were Antonioni's heroes. And now they are mine.

Q: You call "Desert" a "motion portrait." What is that?

A: A motion portrait is a portrait that moves. The experience of the piece is live, but the dramaturgy is cinematic, hopping from one world to the next. What just happened informs what happens next--this is how we understand the piece as an audience. The piece accumulates in motion and in dialogue. And hence a motion portrait encompasses an intimate look at an impotent world, described in intimate motions, framed by intimate screens above the stage.

Q: Are all the videos used in the production shot live?

A: Nothing is pre-taped. We have a number of fixed cameras as well as a camera operator who moves with the actors. Leah (Gelpe) and I think in terms of four screens, four visual lines, much like a composer would think in terms of four instrumental lines.

"This Place Is a Desert" will be performed March 22 at 7:30 p.m., March 23 and 24 at 8 p.m. and March 25 at 2 p.m. at Boston's Institute of Contemporary Art (100 Northern Ave., Boston). Tickets cost $20; $15 for ICA members, students and seniors.

A version of this article appeared in MIT Tech Talk on March 21, 2007 (download PDF).


Topics: Arts, Faculty

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