We started with location allotments, and we were allotted the space at the end of the hall on the 8th floor where the lockers were. We decided immediately (during the class when location allottments were made) upon a basic storyline. We would cordon off the locker area with a curtain, and begin right outside of it. One actor would introduce the audience to hideous freak-show artefacts from various places, and then say, ‘But our most horrifying artefact is behind that curtain. Enter at your own peril!’ Once the audience member(s) went through, we had the vague idea to manipulate the lockers, have them open and close, and for objects to appear and disappear in the space – basically, for ‘something scary’ to happen.
Over the following two weeks, we researched and refined our ideas. As part of this process, I researched some of the stage mechanisms of scary theatre for inspiration. I found particular inspiration from some of the behind-the-scenes cuts of the long-running West End production of The Woman in Black (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KkLaY1DLTJc) and from the dramatic aesthetics of The Tiger Lillies’ puppetry (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TOVSp-fYUQc). I think we incorporated some of the former in our staging, and some of the latter in our text. Following research and discussion, we settled upon a story: we would be presenting the life and work of a failed inventor, Dr Jingles Fakhr, who was active in the late 1800s. After showing the audience the first couple of failed inventions from the Doctor, we would send them through to his ‘least obscure invention’ – the Perpetual Light Machine. The story went that Dr Fakhr had tried to use diamonds to make a light machine work – but in the course of working on it, he saw frightful visions and went insane. Other people have also seen visions and felt nausea when in contact with the machine, so we have had to keep it behind curtains. This was our general backstory.
As to the specific scares, we determined that there would be three phases. When the audience entered, there would be a museum exhibit, with the light-source flickering. The audience would be listening to an audio-guide. Stage two: the lights would die out, and in the darkness, a vision – a mannequin or dress-form – would appear. The lights would come back on. Stage three: the lights would go out again, and in the darkness, a second vision – this time an actor – would appear, and actively scare the audience. As is clear, pitch darkness became a necessity by this stage of the project. (A more complete description of the blocking is in the link below).
Post research, my first major part in the project was the writing up of the script and the organizing of theatrical blocking, which I did here: https://docs.google.com/a/nyu.edu/document/d/1jFW2mjvmIQvO66diFAfkDFXOkJdjBN6AI5NAh_E8fkE/edit?usp=sharing
The second part of setting up was the physical aspect. We moved the lockers to create a pathway that got narrow, to elicit a claustrophobic effect. We used used a number of curtains (fortuitously mis-ordered) to cover up the entire space, and a green-screen frame to set up an entrance. Finally we organized an backstage area from which we could operate. In the performance space, I was the theatrical announcer, David was the second vision, Sam handled the audio aspect, and Nicholas controlled the lighting and the movement of the first vision. The light contraption itself was modified for use from the project of Sun Jingyi, who built a bluetooth light-source for her Network Everything class.
(Pictures to come)