A Theoretical Design for L'enfant Et Les Sortilèges by Ravel, Libretto by Colette

Staged at the Hackney Empire, London

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The Libretto, written in the midst of World War One, tells a timeless story of a young rebellious child who, in a state of tantrum, wreaks havoc throughout his house disrupting his surrounding. The furniture in the house then becomes animated and harasses the child for the damage he has caused.  L’Enfant Et Les Sortileges, in its simplest understanding,  is a coming of age story about a boy learning to be responsible for his actions.  However, by using a visual language that quotes digital glitch, I was able to draw parallels between the effects of the Industrial Revolution during World War I and the overwhelming effect of digital technology in contemporary times.  


The set design is composed of mobile video surfaces that box in and frame the action. These video panels reference windows and screens of a computer interface.  Like Diller + Scofidio’s interscenium, these provide a portal into a different dimension of the narrative. I reference Brecht’s alienation effect by giving the audience a clear view of what is happening behind the panels. Howbeit, the entire design is meant to sit with the larger proscenium of the theatre itself, creating a dichotomy between the the ‘backstage’ that is on stage and the ‘backstage’ that is hidden.  The audience is left second guessing whether or not there was more happening than they were seeing on stage.  

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The protagonist (The Child) exists physically as portrayed by a live performer and digitally through video content. The digital child shifts in size as the narrative progresses, at times dwarfing the physical performer and skewing the scale of the space.  As the digital child gains in autonomy it becomes an observer, peering in on the live reality. The physically performer becomes aware of his digital counterpart, and is unable to escape its presence.

Rendering of mask/digital child

Rendering of mask/digital child