The Magic Tree,
Set Design for The Magic Tree (L'Arbre Enchanté)
Fire Island Opera Festival
Fire Island, New York, NY
When Edwin Cahill, the artistic director, first described the Fire Island Opera Festival and asked me to design the stage set for a new production of L'Arbre Enchanté (The Magic Tree), he compared contemporary culture to the baroque period – both share exaggerated motion, exuberance, tension, and unremitting complexity. He had seen my installation on the High Line and was drawn to the changing viewpoints, movement, and my use of dazzle painting techniques to disorient and mislead the observer through angles and surface disorientation. We immediately started talking about our interest in un-reading form, the tension between nature and culture, and the dynamic nature of experience.
Edwin described a new type of opera. Singers move from stage to stage, genders of the characters change, viewers move from room to room, operas transition from period to period, the festival itself travels from location to location. Edwin wanted to create a dynamic experience for the viewer that embraces relationships that are transitory in character and adaptable to different spaces.
When he visited my studio he saw an installation that I was working on that uses ultra-light weight tent material and aluminum rods. I was designing a giant installation that could be packed in a box, shipped easily and adapt to any space. We immediately decided to use the concept for the Fire Island Opera Festival. I designed a series of geometric tents for the first performance. Multiple large tents, of varying size and geometric form would be scattered around the front, the roof and the back of the house. Lighting would be placed inside each tent projecting images onto various surfaces. The lovers in The Magic Tree would meet in one tent.
Three weeks before the performance the venue changed from outdoors to indoors. The stage was now in a nightclub on Fire Island. The design went back to the drawing board. I focused on creating an "enchanted" tree. We took down the huge disco ball replacing it with shimmering branches that rotated over a tree trunk. Next to the tree trunk was a boardwalk similar to the boardwalks that grid the town of The Pines, Fire Island. The entire stage set was constructed from repurposed wood that was either damaged by Hurricane Sandy or used to reconstruct the island after Hurricane Sandy