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IU students, professor headed to international design 'Olympics'

Jan. 22, 2015

Eight students. Two exhibits. One professor. Final destination: Prague.

A group of IU students spent part of their summer and holiday breaks constructing two exhibits that will be on display in June during the 2015 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space.



Held every four years in the Czech Republic's capital city, the 10-day event is the largest for performance design in the world. Often described as the "Olympics" for stage and set designers, it brings together the best in theater and performance design from more than 60 countries. This year's theme is "Shared Space: Music, Weather, Politics."

"For me, it's a wonderful way to grow professionally at the international level," said Paul Brunner, IU associate professor of theater technology, who was selected to be part of the event's U.S. team. "And to involve some of our students, for them to be able to work with these well-known designers and to have to chance to travel to Prague and experience the very best in international theater design, it's amazing. IU's involvement demonstrates that our programs and students are held in the highest regard across the nation."

Among the dozens of exhibits that will be on display during the event are the two being built here on the Bloomington campus: A free-standing sculpture tentatively titled "The Cloud" resembling a tornado that will represent U.S. designers, and "Transcend," a piece featuring a bank of brightly colored lockers designed by a panel of American theater students.

Student Bradley Shaw working

Graduate student Bradley Shaw drills a hole in a electric light conduit fixture in the Wells-Metz Theatre Scenic Studio. Shaw and fellow graduate students were at work prepping an art exhibit piece for final mock up in the nearby theatre space. | Photo By James Brosher, IU Communications

In both cases, however, IU's student-builders weren't just following a set of blueprints.

They had to literally engineer the nearly 18-foot tall spiraling piece envisioned by up-and-coming Czech designer Klara Zieglerova, who is based in New York City. The group had to ensure the sculpture could bear its own weight, could be disassembled and reassembled relatively quickly and that the individual pieces could stand up to being shipped internationally.

"It's very free, very organic," third-year technical directing MFA student Bradley Shaw said of the piece. "We literally bent the one-inch pipes by hand and built all the stairs. And all of the items suspended from the piece -- umbrellas, lights, other things -- we gathered ourselves. It was very exciting to work on, but also very challenging."

For second-year lighting design MFA student Carrie Barton, the opportunity to attend the international event is still nearly unbelievable.

"I'm from a small town in East Texas, and going to something like PQ was simply unattainable to me," she said. "It's kind of a cliché, but I can't think of any other way to describe it other than as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. And I'm so glad I came to IU and can have this chance."

It won't be Brunner's first trip to Prague, however. He's been a member of the U.S. Institute for Theatre Technology -- the Prague Quadrennial's major sponsor -- since 1997, and when he noticed a call out for technical directors for this year's event, he applied.

Stage exhibit

Students assemble an art exhibit piece Jan. 8 at the Wells-Metz Theatre. The piece will be part of the 2015 Prague Quadrennial of Performance Design and Space in June. | Photo By James Brosher, IU Communications

He attended the 2011 event to get a feel for working behind the scenes of what is essentially a giant public art exhibition, with pieces being shipped to Prague from all over the world.

"It's stressful, and every country scrambles to finish their work in just four days, but there's also this remarkable sense of camaraderie among the countries -- oh, you need a saw? Here, borrow mine. There might be a language barrier, but the fundamentals of who we are as artists and what we do are still the same," Brunner said. "There's nothing else like this for people who do what we do, and I'm so happy to be able to take some of our students."

Assisting Brunner with international logistics and project management is Thom Quintas, the theater's production manager. Described by Brunner as "a sort of professional trouble-shooter," Quintas will travel with the IU team to Prague in the summer.

Graduate students taking part in the project are Aaron Bowersox, Bridgette Dreher, Sandy Everett, Katie Gruenhagen, Kristen Martino, Kelsey Nichols, Shaw and Barton. Travel costs for four of the students are being funded by the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, while costs for the remaining four were paid by a local donor.

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