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A Period of Animate Existence

A Period of Animate Existence presents a series of sharp, hallucinatory visions through the eyes of children, elders, and machines.

The Latest Update

A Period of Animate Existence – Music Video

Posted on May 29, 2018 by Pig Iron Theatre Company

A PERIOD OF ANIMATE EXISTENCE premiered in September.  We were able to show the piece to nearly 3,000 people, and we can’t wait to take it on the road. Here’s a music video we created in advance of the show, with an original composition by Troy Herion, performed by Daniel De Jesus.  It was viewed over 19,000 times on our Facebook page!

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premiere coming soon, September 22-24, Philadelphia

Posted on July 18, 2017 by Pig Iron Theatre Company

We asked our design team and a few collaborators to describe the piece in one word, and this is what they came up with…

Tickets are on sale now: http://fringearts.com/event/period-animate-existence/.  We’ll be at the Annenberg Center at the University of Pennsylvania, co-presented by Annenberg Center Live and FringeArts.  We’d love to have you there.

(If you’re in New York, it’s an easy hop down and there’s plenty of Fringe Festival action in addition to A Period of Animate Existence.)




A Period of Animate Existence (PAE) is a large evening-length work of symphonic-theater for actors, musicians, a choir of elders, and a choir of children.

We find ourselves living in a perilous time, sometimes called the Sixth Extinction, in which we foresee the loss of 20% to 50% of all living species. The gravity of these issues has entered mainstream consciousness, affecting our politics, media, and ultimately our beliefs about the trajectory of life. How do we contemplate the future in such a moment? How do different generations address each other?

A Period of Animate Existence is our inquiry into this great disruption. In five staged movements, PAE presents a series of sharp, hallucinatory visions through the eyes of children, elders, and machines who contemplate the future in a time of dire ecological predictions and rapid technological change.

Movement 1: Contemporaneous Chamber Orchestra performs a prelude as a ballet of scenic forms and light disorients the audience. We ask: what is the difference between the living and the non-living? Is what we see celestial, mechanical, or biological?

Movement 2: The stage overflows with dozens of people including both amateur and professional choirs. Together they sing candidly about planetary cycles, sex, death, and inheritance.

Movement 3: A single halal cart with a scrolling LED screen gains consciousness and ponders its role in the universe while electronic glitches reveal even deeper connections.

Movement 4: An ensemble of children and elders perform a fairy tale about a little girl’s first experience with death. A magical sonic world is constructed of exuberant children’s clapping games, choral singing, and instrumental music performed by members of Contemporaneous.

Movement 5: The Crossing Choir sings solemnly behind sounds of steam hissing through valves. They overlook pairs of wrestlers struggling below. Through synchronized movement, it becomes a ballet of the élan vital – the force that separates the living from the non-living.

With a cast of over 70 performers, ranging in ages from 7 to 85, we bring together virtuosos and amateurs, children and elders, in a performance style that challenges the norms of our musical and theatrical disciplines. One of our most interesting findings through development has been the stylistic combination of highly technical work (performed by classically trained musicians and actors) and natural performance states (performed by amateurs). Our composer and librettist have been writing in workshops with each group, actively encouraging creative contributions from our performers. The children are learning what a professional performance setting feels like, while the older adults and lead artists are stretching well beyond their comfort zones.

A Period of Animate Existence will premiere in Philadelphia in fall 2017 as part of the curated Fringe Festival. The lead artists are Pig Iron’s Co-Artistic Director Dan Rothenberg, composer Troy Herion, and scenic designer Mimi Lien, recipient of a 2015 MacArthur “genius” Award.

Project Media

Baroque Suite
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Features: Troy Herion

Herion is a composer and filmmaker who writes music and designs visuals that combine into “visualmusic.” This composition by Herion expands beyond classical instruments to include analog sound artifacts (hiss, phasing, distortion) to evoke the sound equivalent of visual “blurriness”
which is resolved into “focus.” Baroque musical tropes are filtered through contemporary orchestration that includes guitars, organs, synthesizers, and drums.

He Saw a Skull
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Features: The Crossing

The Crossing performs Michael Gordon’s “He Saw a Skull” on the first concert of their sixth annual Month of Moderns festival on June 15, 2014 at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill. “He Saw a Skull” is written for a chorus of twelve voices divided into four groups of three voices, with each group singing major and minor harmonies that are approached by glissando.

The Crossing will be performing in Movements 2 and 5 of A Period of Animate Existence.

Twelfth Night (trailer)
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Rothenberg has been incorporating live music into Pig Iron’s work for almost 20 years. Musicians do not merely provide accompaniment, but are trained
to act as characters, clowns, and Greek chorus. Inspired by the films of Serbian filmmaker Emir Kusturica, this TWELFTH NIGHT featured a live Balkan band. With original music by New Zealand composer Rosie Langabeer, actors and musicians tumbled on top of one another while music and action became one fabric.

Start and End Dates



Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

2 updates
Last update on May 29, 2018

Associated Event

September 22, 2017 | Philadelphia, PA
Archived Events

Project Created By

Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
The mission of Pig Iron Theatre Company is to expand the possibilities of performance by creating rigorous, exuberant works of ensemble-devised theatre; by training the next generation of daring, innovative theatre artists; and by always asking the hardest questions, both in our art and in its relation to the world around us. Since its inception,…

In Collaboration With

Brooklyn, New York
Brooklyn, New York
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
chamber orchestra
New York, New York


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