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.