Performance Art

And Christmas light shows

I have been fairly busy since writing the last article for PlanetChristmas. Soon after the first article I was involved with the installation of the multi media show that runs for the summer at Cedar Point Park in Sandusky, Ohio. Next I was involved with lighting the George Strait concert for the grand opening of the new Cowboy Stadium in Arlington, Texas and on July 4th I provided part of the production for The Jonas Brothers, SheDaisy and host Glen Beck for America’s Freedom Festival in Provo, Utah. In the middle of all that I had the pleasure of spending a week in Manhattan. I stayed right in the heart of Times Square face to face with millions of lights and many high resolution LED video grids which assault your senses 24/7 in the city that never sleeps. In the midst of all the craziness that takes place under the NYE crystal ball tower, Mayor Bloomberg decided it would be fun to make Times Square into a beach.

He closed Broadway for the summer between 44th and 47th streets and had the city workers place hundreds of cheap-o lawn chairs on the street. There was no water and no sand but plenty of people and lots of energy. The first block had blue lawn chairs, the second block had red lawn chairs and the third block had green lawn chairs. As I surveyed the landscape for the first time from the top row of the permanent bleachers in front of the TKTS discount booth, I applauded the fact that even a financial mogul of a mayor like Mr. Bloomberg was into color mixed presentations.

I spent several days and nights doing the things one does in New York but the most memorable experience I had was the night I found my way to the Astor Theatre to experience the Blue Man Group in their native theatre. Astor Theatre is a small off Broadway house in the basement of a limestone building on the Lower East Side and seats about five hundred people. Every surface is painted black with plastic tubes in different colors running everywhere. The theatre is a world apart from the glitz and bling of Vegas and has a distinct underground feel to it. In fact, while waiting for the show to begin I could literally feel the trains on the bottoms of my feet as they passed under the building, adding a bit of unintended excitement and cautious anticipation to the night. But once the already dim house lights went down about five minutes late, I was treated not only to the Blue Man Group’s driving percussive music but to two hours of entertainment known as “Performance Art”.

The defines performance art as “A form of theatrical art featuring the activity of the artist and works presented in a variety of media.” That definition does it for me.

Blue Man Group
Blue Man Group

I would like to share with you the inspiration I found that night.

Although music was the web that tied the performance together, it was by no means the focus of the show and in many cases was used only to segue from scene to scene. Don’t get me wrong, there were scenes which featured both the backup band positioned on the second floor of the stage in skeleton costumes with blacklight illumination and the Blue Man Group or both; but the performance art provided by the actors/musicians with the lighting, video, props, skits, audience interaction and constantly moving set pieces are what made the performance different than anything else in town.

The show changed constantly and I found myself wanting to rush into the next unpredictable act. Throughout the show, my eyes scanned the relatively small stage for a glimpse of the next cool use of technology. Rarely did I discover what was coming and that made it all the better. Sometimes the only lighting present was one, two or even six LED message boards which seemed to dance across a darkened stage flashing clever messages. Sometimes video was featured and we were warned that “this isn’t your father’s video”. A videographer came out on the stage with his camera to get a closer look at an audience member the men in blue had brought up on stage.

After the usual head to foot scan the camera was placed inside the unsuspecting participant’s mouth. As I watched on a roll down screen that came from above the proscenium, the image seamlessly changed from the participant’s mouth to a pre-recorded shot of a tonsil, then to a pre-recorded shot of a camera traveling through the upper intestine. The minute most of the audience started squirming around, pyro flash pots went off downstage and six sets of two tubes each were released from the walls and were suspended over the first ten rows of seating. The tubes had internal lighting in various colors and they were attached to a circular board which spun around making the tubes flap about very creatively.
What I have described in this paragraph occurred in about a five minutes and I can’t possibly begin to cover the other one hundred fifteen minutes of the show.

In home Christmas decorating, our viewers are either in their cars or standing across the street. Our homes and lawns are our stage. What can we do to keep our viewers interest? Will a set of fifteen songs be enough? Is it enough to program a mix of music including slow songs, fast songs, faith based songs, rock songs and funny songs? As we all know, our viewers come with their own musical likes and dislikes. A Miley Cyrus song will cause a 40 year-olds eyes to roll upward while a Christmas classic by Nat King Cole is a cue for a fourteen year to grab her cell phone and start texting. We might have those 50,000 lights all bouncing from color to color in perfect time but after a few songs all we have presented to our viewers is a variation on a theme.

The software/hardware developers know this because they are pushed to innovate by professionals and dedicated enthusiasts alike and they are forging a technical yet creatively wonderful path for us to follow. Many companies have already incorporated such features as mechanical triggers, DMX modules, video file formats, Wii interfaces, DC controllers and wireless links in their programs. Imagine what the addition of a couple of separate segments in your show showcasing a few of these six features would bring to your show.

Yes, Christmas lights synchronized to music is still relatively unique, but the software developers and this writer believe that performance art could be the wave of the future in home decorating. You already give direction and feel to your show with your music selections. By incorporating elements of performance art into your home display you can diversify and make your display even more unique.


From the July 2009 edition of PlanetChristmas Magazine

by Charles Belcher

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