5 PQuestions – Tony Walton


We’re interviewing the leaders of the US exhibition team in Prague to see how things have been going for them, and what their highlights have been. They’ve been working so hard on getting the exhibition curated, designed, built, and installed, they have a unique perspective on the PQ that we’ll be sharing while the Quadrennial draws to a close. We’ve asked each member of the team Five questions to get their exclusive thoughts. 

This interview is with Tony Walton, Curator for the US exhibition at the 2015 PQ. Tony chose to focus on question 4 of our interview: What are you taking away from this PQ (thoughts and/or things)?

I have to blame myself for not fully absorbing – ahead of time – how different this year’s event would be from my memories of attending PQ 20 yrs ago ( when all the exhibitions  were laid out on pretty much the same level, and all were in the same spectacular ‘crystal palace’ space ).

Since my wife, Gen, and I are both currently ‘physically unstable’, and  walk – slowly – each with the aid of  canes; maneuvering throughout the  wide and romantic range of exhibition spaces – ( most involving flights  of very beautiful – but very daunting

stone staircases ) – turned out to be  challenging beyond all expectation.  Though we plugged away at it for all twelve days … until we had covered all the exhibits, & were pretty much  on our knees !!!

Despite the extreme wear & tear on our old bones – there was much to marvel at — though the bizarre  nature of the ‘Awards’ choices might not have led one to suspect that much of PQ15 involved ‘Theatrical Creativity’ of any sort … or indeed ‘Scenography’ – let alone any of the other traditional ‘collaborative’ design disciplines.

Dismissal of any consideration for the Costume or Lighting Design Awards was the PQ Jurors’ most flagrantly offensive, arbitrary, hurtful, disrespectful & scandalous judgment.

MANY truly superb examples of design… in both disciplines, were impressively visible from MANY countries – ( I was unaware of any ‘off-handedness’ in the manner of their presentation and the examples displayed were clearly visually available for reasoned judgement by artists within their fields … or, indeed, by anyone with merely a smattering of knowledge in these  two distinguished crafts ).

Recognition was far more frequently given to what we – in the 60’s – used to refer to as ‘Happenings’; ‘Political Happenings’, in which much of what happened happened without benefit of either ‘Creative Art’ or any educated literary input – ( which might – as today – have risked seeming ‘Elitist’.)

Such ‘Happenings’ can certainly be very valuable and even ‘Important’ .. but are surely entitled to their own ‘Quadrennial’ – without demeaning the great traditions of Theatrical Creativity that have been developing throughout the centuries.

Perhaps this is giving entirely too much weight to the PQ Awards process?   Or perhaps the’Awards’ should be re-titled : – “Some erratic acknowledgements to a bunch of bizarrely un-focussed stuff” ??

(The welcome Award to China’s very beautiful – traditional – display simply turned out to be ‘the exception that proved the rule”).

The dazzling ‘out-of-the-box’ design for USITT’s exhibition space ‘spoke for itself’ and – at last – made the U.S. exhibit seem less fuddy-duddy than in the past. It was exhilarating to watch visitors – young and old – interact with – and even add to – the soaring, whirling, endearingly demented, inspirational, ‘on-the-tight-rope’ mixture of extreme artistry and meticulous craft. And even to overhear – from time to time – variations on the theme of :-  “I’m  not crazy about America .. but I really LOVE this”!!!

Viewing – & hearing – the individual  design displays within our structure turned out to be far easier – & more entertaining – than imagined … and, even for someone as physically incapacitated as I … the swirling central stair-case seemed easy to maneuver – & felt very safe .. as well as providing truly spectacular views of St Ann’s itself, and the excitingly reverberative exhibits of each of the countries flanking ours.  (Which – in the varied qualities of their extreme visual and structural differences – combined to give a highly energized – and thrilling – ‘call and response’ effect betwixt countries! With the US perhaps unsurprisingly insisting “Attention Please! Please look at me” !!!    Instead of – as in the past – “Please pay no attention. This isn’t really ‘our kind of thing’ … We have more weighty & important matters on our minds”.).

Simultaneously thrilling, titillating, educative, complex – & yet madly functional – with a  fabulously serendipitous relationship to its – oh-so-different-‘neighbors’.  It’s hard to imagine a more politically  enthralling metaphor for the U.S. than our ‘maelstrom’ (sorry ‘Vortex’) displayed amidst its neighbors !!!

Simultaneously ‘archaic’ & playfully youthful. Surprisingly’Useful‘… while always insisting on its completely crazy originality!!!

A ‘flat-out’ (well, an exhilarating, ‘life-enforcing’, ‘whirling’) TRIUMPH !!!!!