A Dream Come True

Q&A with Professor Matthew Kizer, Brilliant Being’s Lighting Director
Photos by Richard Finkelstein

Last summer, Professor Matthew Kizer and a team of PSU faculty and students performed Brilliant Being, a stunning original work, at the Prague Quadrennial in the Czech Republic. Questions by Doran Dal Pra ’07.

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Brilliant Being looks absolutely fascinating and doesn’t appear to be your average performance—how did the show come about?

It goes back to 2015 when Director of Dance Amanda Whitworth and I did a workshop called Shaping Space. We had been talking about wanting to track performers’ movements on stage, but we didn’t have access to the technology that we wanted at that time.

I showed her something I had done long ago with the BASIC computer language that I had first learned in high school. I created screen-capture demonstrations of concepts for her, and we made some performance pieces using new procedures and presented them in a workshop.

A projection technology upgrade enabled us soon after to create Brilliant Being. Professor Jonathan Santore was the composer; Amanda Whitworth choreographed; Paul Mroczka was the playwright and director; and I did all the visuals. It was a wonderful combination of some old-school and a lot of cutting- edge technology that was initially staged at PSU.

How did you adjust the performance for such a unique venue?

The Quadrennial includes performances, an exhibition, a conference, and much more, with roughly 100,000 attendees. I was inspired to submit Brilliant Being for special exhibition on behalf of the United States Institute for Theatre Technology, as well as to the organizing body in Prague for performance as a part of the festival. It was accepted by both organizations. The visual design was displayed in the exhibition of nations, and our team also presented the complete performance in Prague.

The original set had a three-dimensional, almost M. C. Escher-esque cubist layout with crazy angles. I reengineered it to fit the Quadrennial space, which had stained cement walls, cement floor, and wraparound balconies. It was really kind of cool.

The show’s visual effects have a dream-like quality. As visual designer, your role must have been key. Where did you gather your inspiration?

Much of this is coming from the original script. The show is very abstract: our world is destroyed, and we’re starting over. It starts off pitch black for almost five minutes as Dr. Santore’s music begins. No two people I talk to have the same response to it.

How did your manual control of visuals and effects, instead of just running a computer program, add to the show?

It makes the media another performer. The actors know they don’t have to do the same thing every time, that there is some room for them to adjust and adapt and improvise a little, and I know that too. The reality is, when you work in performing arts long enough, you come to understand that’s what makes shows vibrant and alive. There’s this edge to the show—you don’t feel like everybody’s just going through the motions yet again.

What did the students take away from the experience that can help them in future careers inside or outside theatre? How did they benefit from the opportunity?

Here in the United States, we have a very clear formula for shows, but other cultures do things differently. At the Prague Quadrennial, there are massive rooms filled with documented theatre work, strange performance techniques, and performances going on all around you. You learn to question how you do things and think about new ways to innovate. Students discovered that sometimes throwing that formula out is one of the strongest things that you can do.

■ Doran Dal Pra ’07