It’s Not Over Until The Fat Robot Sings

Last summer, I volunteered to design and (help) build the set for a local youth theatre production. Even though I knew almost nothing about scenic design going into the production– still don’t– I had a blast. I was asked and volunteered this year to design the set for another show that occurs simultaneously with an arts festival in my small town and am currently sketching and researching a little bit more about sets. One of the things I’ve come across is the set, above, developed by the MIT Media Lab for the opera Death and the Powers. The opera, which premiered in Monaco in September and opens next week in Boston, was composed by a member of the Media Lab: Tod Machover. You may have seen his talk at TED.

The opera begins with robots trying to understand what death means; the robots then come to life and sing for several hours about interplay and struggles between technology and spirituality. An excerpt from the NYTimes review asks: “Can we store who we are in such a way that we will continue to inhabit the earth long after our bodies have turned to dust? How many gajigabytes make up a life?” Abstract questions demand abstract scenography, and the robots and giant digital set pieces for this production look amazing (the photos above are from here).  I’m a little biased, but I tend to judge productions based on the design of the performance just as much as the talents of the actors. The novelty of Death and the Powers is that the robots are so integral into the action of the opera that they become performers, themselves.


March 14, 2011