Illuminate – Ben Doehr and Caleb Sponheim

The work that I, Ben Doehr, and my co-creator, Caleb Sponheim, are submitting for the PQ2015 National Exhibit, titled Illuminate, was one of a series of three projects created over the past several months with the explicit goal of using design and technology to blur the line between audience, performer, and performance space. Illuminate challenged the traditional concept of theatre as audience members viewing a performance by making ‘the audience’ an essential part of ‘the performance’.

Illuminate was set on the stage of a traditional proscenium theatre, with the twist that the house was only used as a space for passing through; audience and performers commingled on the stage as part of the space. Indeed, the audience were explicitly and implicitly invited to experiment with the space and collaborate with the performers to create something that was truly their own. Illuminate was similar to an installation in that there did not have to be set performance times; the space was and can be open to the public for hours on end.

The mercurial nature of Illuminate and how it fits with the Curatorial Team’s theme of weather is part of what drew us to submit this work to the exhibition. In its prior rendition, we created seven different ‘scenes’ for Illuminate loosely based on different qualities of light. Throughout the time when the space was open to the public, the space would randomly cycle through the different scenes, with the result that each time one entered the space, there could be a completely different visual and auditory aesthetic. This constantly changing atmosphere, evocative of weather patterns across the country, was one of the key components of the success of Illuminate.

Due to the fact that anyone who entered the space could create a performance piece through movement, the possibilities for social commentary were nearly endless. Illuminate operates on subverting the traditional performance dynamic by placing ultimate creative control in the hands of the performer in an intuitive way. Each audience member’s movements were augmented in real time, and they were placed in control of massive visual changes across the space. Spontaneous moments of collaboration, mixed with intense moments of introspection, were common throughout the presentation of the experience. Strangers danced with each other, and were able to exchange ideas through movement and through interacting with the space.

Illuminate challenges many traditional ideas about theatre, performance, and design. It subverts our concepts of the roles of audience members and performers, and the key to it all is the use of technology to create an intuitive, interactive, and emotive space.