Jeremy Schropp

“Tesla” lab report

Harmonic Laboratory's ambitious experimental multimedia performance produces mixed results

Introduction

Harmonic Laboratory’s most recent experiment investigated the question: Can a creative cooperative based in digital media, dance, and music successfully add a new theatrical element to its existing compound to produce an integrative, immersive multimedia experience? This lab report examines the results.

Preliminary Observations

Over the past decade, Eugene-based Harmonic Laboratory (HL) has racked up an impressive record of multimedia collaborations involving installations, dance, digital media. (Reference: “The Original Tesla,” Oregon ArtsWatch.) Its new production, Tesla: Light, Sound, Color, added a biographical element, a historical subject, and onstage science experiments to the mix.

Hypothesis

By adopting a recognizable subject that contains a built-in historical narrative, and adding onstage experiments to its newest performance, Harmonic Laboratory can broaden both its artistic scope and its audience.

Materials

  • Creative Heights grant from Oregon Community Foundation
  • Original music for string quartet and digital media by HL members Jeremy Schropp and John Bellona
  • Delgani String Quartet and other musicians from University of Oregon and OrchestraNext
  • Choreography, stage movement, costume, lighting & stage design by HL’s Brad Garner
  • Animation and projections by HL’s John Park
  • Guest animation work by Julia Oldham and Nathan Thomas
  • Dancers from Eugene Ballet and University of Oregon
  • University of Oregon Senior Physics Instructor Stanley Micklavzina and assistant Yohan Walter
  • Biographical facts from the life and work of American inventor Nikola Tesla
  • Performances in Eugene, Bend, and Portland.

Procedure

Tesla opened with a greeting from Garner, a brief overture, and a physics demonstration before actual stage action commenced: a Serbian roots group dance invoking Tesla’s southern European origins through an inward-facing, circular folk-dance like piece.

The next full dance number was inspired by Tesla’s invention of alternating current, followed by another physics demonstration. The first half closed with a bound-flow dance duet symbolically reflecting Tesla’s rivalry with Thomas Edison and a solo spotlighting Tesla’s showmanship, which helped him win support for his visionary ideas.

The second half began with animation inspired by energy field patterns and accompanied by Delgani Quartet’s performance of Schropp’s pulsating score. A pair of full company dances followed, one featuring projected white bird like animations recalling Tesla’s late in life affection for the pigeons who were often his only companions in the New York hotels he called home, and a second suggesting his ideas about wireless communication, some of which fueled the development of radio and later wi fi.

Another physics demonstration ensued before the show ended with a series of group dances accompanied by often dazzling, if sometimes predictable, animations and complementary music inspired by later chapters of Tesla’s life and the great inventor’s legacy.

Data

The experiment yielded useful data related to multimedia performance and context.

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The Original Tesla

Harmonic Laboratories' multimedia production in Eugene, Portland and Bend brings the eccentric genius to life

Clean energy. Wireless charging. A world connected by invisible communication technology. For many, they’re today’s reality, tomorrow’s hope — but they were first realistically envisioned more than a century ago by a a Serbian-American immigrant whose name most of us only know because a new car is named after him.

Nikola Tesla, born in 1856, conceived some of the crucial underlying technology that makes it possible for us to flip a switch in our homes and light and heat and the internet and Game of Thrones magically appear. Dubbed “the man who invented the 20th century,” his nearly 300 patents include early contributions to radio, alternating current, and more. Some speculate that had his visions been realized, we’d have much cleaner, cheaper, non climate-change-inducing energy today, using renewable sources like wind, magnetism and hydro power and requiring less expensive infrastructure.

But Tesla’s quirky personality, perhaps even on the autism spectrum, made him a difficult fit for relationships both personal and financial. Many of the eccentric genius’s most visionary ideas (he had some crackpot notions too) were swiped, subverted or suppressed. Contemporary legends like Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse gained riches and renown, while Tesla, after achieving worldwide notoriety and his own fortune, died penniless in 1943, his closest friends being the pigeons he consorted with in the various New York City hotels he called home.

Tesla’s tumultuous story has been told in books and documentaries (including one now running on the Discovery Channel called “Tesla’s Death Ray”), but a life so colorful and complex invites a similarly multidimensional representation. In Tesla: Light, Sound, Color, premiering January 10-11 at the Hult Center’s Soreng Theater and repeating January 13 at Portland’s Newmark Theatre  and January 15 at Bend’s Tower Theatre, Eugene’s Harmonic Laboratory explores the trailblazing scientist/inventor’s world and works through a combination of dance, music, animation, and onstage physics experiments.

“He’s an unsung hero,” says Brad Garner, who choreographed and directs the show. “We wouldn’t have cell phones and power in our homes without his work. He was an immigrant with an American dream who changed the world.”

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