A couple of weeks ago, set designer Christine Jones asked me if I would be interested in experimenting and collaborating on one of her projects, Theatre For One. Inspired by peepshow booths and confessionals, Christine had the idea of building a unique black box theater for one performer and one audience member. The idea sounded unbelievably fascinating to me and really brought a new way of looking at performance. The closeness of the audience and performer seem like the perfect world for the toy piano. I have often thought that being close to the instrument is the best way to experience it.
Last Thursday, Theatre For One had an Open House at the Voorhees Theater located at City Tech College (Brooklyn.) Getting into the booth for the first time was absolutely thrilling–the toy piano was just small enough to fit into the stage of the booth and it has had theater gear such as house lights, PA, velvet curtains and everything else that we associate with a full-sized theater. I did not exactly know what to expect performing for one person at a time in such an intimate space. Christine described the first time she saw a magician perform a magic trick for her one-on-one and how she felt “an instantaneous crush on the magician who had just pulled my nine of hearts out of his mouth. Experiencing the private version of a normally public act was intoxicating.” I found myself having a similar feeling as the performer towards the one audience member in the booth. I was really drawn to each listener and each performance felt completely unique and different, depending on who was in the booth with me. Unlike the more conventional concert setting, there was always a specific person to play for.
The booth is scheduled to be up in Time Square for 10 days in May 2010 through the NYC Public Arts Fund. I will be one of many artists performing in booths ranging from dancers, poets, musicians, actors to magicians. Please take some time to check out Christine’s site and read up about Theatre For One. It is truly a touching and inspiring artistic project!
Pictures by John Huntington. This is a picture of looking into the booth through one of the vents.
I am honored and happy to be in a short documentary film about Chicago-based ensembles that use new media in their performances. In February, I performed a solo toy piano set as part of the ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) series at the Museum of Contemporary Photography. A short clip from this performance is used by filmmakers Mary Mazurek and Zaine Magee at the 2009 Chicago International REEL Shorts Festival playing on September 12 (2:30 PM) at the Film Row Cinema, 1104 South Wabash 8th Floor.
It only seems natural to be curious about music boxes when playing a toy piano all day long. They have a lot of similarities actually– both instruments have teeth/tines made of metal and both are dependent upon some sort of box as a resonating chamber. My recent fascination with music boxes has led me to acquire nearly ten of them in the last couple of months. The amazement of punching holes into the music strips and cranking them through has still not worn off on me yet! I have been experimenting with a variety of resonating chambers for the mechanism, including toy pianos, wine glasses, and most recently , tin cans. This photo is a music box attached to a Twinings tin can that has been spray-painted.
Aside from the acoustic music boxes, I have been sampling the sounds and creating a new collection of works for music boxes and electronics. More details to come on this developing project!
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by Phyllis Chen
Thanks to everyone who sent in submissions for the 2nd UnCaged Toy Piano Competition! I have been utterly giddy and thrilled with this year’s submissions. I don’t know how it’s going to be possible to pick one winner. I have browsed through some of the scores and I am already impressed with the abundance of good toy piano ideas people are sending me. When I came home from the post office yesterday carrying a bagful of submissions, I felt like a kid on Christmas Day. I’m glad that I will have the help of Wendy Mae Chambers, Margaret Leng Tan and Nathan Davis to look at all of this year’s works.
I decided to host a toy piano composition competiton over a year ago when I was looking for more works written for the instrument. This year, I have received works from the US, Germany, Finland, Sweden, Australia, Korea, Japan, Greece, Portugal, Argentina, and England. I cannot thank the composers enough for spending time and energy on such a specific and quirky project. I’ll be in touch with everyone very soon!