Art on the Mart Presents LUCKY PLUSH LIMELIGHTPARADE on Chicago’s Merchandise Mart Façade- Preview Interview

Image of Limelight Parade by John Musial and Julia Rhoads. Photo courtesy of Art on the MART by Bob Grosse

Now through September 20, 2019
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Recently  Art on theMART began a collaboration between scenic designer John Musial and Lucky Plush Artistic Director Julia Rhoads. The work, titled LimelightParade, utilizes fragmented choreography and script from Rhoads's work with Lucky Plush, reimagined within John Musial's layered and projection design. The source material draws from Lucky Plush's Rooming House, in which varied interpretations of personal and mythic storytelling leads down a rabbit hole into the lives of everyday people who do extraordinary things.

Julia Rhoads Photo by Benjamin Wardell
John Musial Photo by John Musial

Here, Picture This Post (PTP) asked John Musial (JM) and Julia Rhoads (JR) to talk about this project came about and what they hope to accomplish with this work.

What were some of your goals when bringing this piece to Art on theMART?

(JM) We wanted to bring human interaction to the building. The building responds very well to a light show of moving color and geometrical patterns, but with our background in performance, Julia and I craved something more personal. Some sort of narrative will necessarily arise from people interacting, but because of the limits of audio capabilities and the difficulty of projecting complicated texts, we knew we'd need to rely upon physical humor and movement to convey story. There's a lot of slapstick to the piece in addition to dance. The title LimelightParade is hat tip to some very famous silent movie titles.  Our goal was simply to create something human and delightful.


When was this work first conceived and how long did it take to create?

(JM) It took about 6 months to go from the initial pitch to the projected piece you see on the building. We started by filming some test footage of Lucky Plush performers to see what was possible. Watching the test footage on the facade in March taught us about the technical requirements of the extremely high resolution we needed to shoot at. Lighting and color choices as well as how we handled the huge files in post production were a real challenge. Most importantly, seeing the test footage projected on site early in the process really gave us an understanding of how the performers needed to interact with the environment. We shot the final piece about half way through the process and then it was a mad rush to edit the footage, create the visual effects, compose music and finish the piece.


(PTP) How did you approach taking a physical medium like dance and projecting it onto a massive 2.5 acre surface? 

(JM) I approached Lucky Plush because their style of physical theater was a natural for this piece. Whatever we did had to interact with the building. The massive facade of the Merchandise Mart is a strange projection surface because it is so extremely present. There are a myriad elements we could not control - the ambient light spilling on the building, the randomly lit windows controlled by the building's tenants and all the activity surrounding the building: cars on the street, the adjacent elevated train, planes above and all the boat traffic below in the river.  It is simply impossible for the building to disappear and become the neutral projection screen of a darkened movie theater. We felt from the outset that it would be most exciting to interact with all these live elements. We started with a series of interactions that built to a loose visual narrative with Lucky Plush's physical vocabulary at the heart of the work.

Can you tell us more about your collaboration and how you two worked together to create Limelight Parade?

(JR) ...John wanted to make sure that the formal and aesthetic values of Lucky Plush’s work were maintained as we imagined how the intimacy, liveness, and humor of our work would translate into a massive projection on the Mart’s facade. He brought many ideas to the table about how our uniquely hybrid performance vocabularies could pop off of the building in a way that didn’t feel like a flat, 2D documentation of a Lucky Plush performance. We also spent a lot of time thinking through how the architecture of the building could be brought into a dynamic relationship with the thematic world of the work.

(JM) I really tried to be hands off in terms of guiding performance. In response to several conversations with Julia, I conceived a general framework for the piece and proposed setups and transitions. In production, I was focused on how the technical aspects of the filmmaking worked in response to the performances. The narrative flow of the piece grew organically from all the elements working together, rather than from a top down imposition. As producer my most important contribution was simply making sure the right people were on hand and had everything they needed to do their best work, from our camera team (Brian Schilling & Ben Rodig) to the post-effect work (Sam Gierasimczuk), the music (Michael Caskey) and especially the work of John Dingfield, the project's editor.


How did the source material from Lucky Plush’s staged work change when projected and what remained similar to when it is performed?

(JR) The biggest changes had to do with duration and scale. Lucky Plush generally creates evening-length works that capture an intimacy in the storytelling, so Limelight Parade was imagined for a much shorter-form context within a much larger visual playing field. For example, something that is signature to Lucky Plush is the way that we layer naturalistic dialogue with highly stylized movement, creating unexpected logics within the storytelling that feels authentic as opposed to staged. LimelightParade creates a similar tension as viewers will hear the conversation and sound design in a very intimate way through their phone, while the visual experience is both larger-than-life and undeniably human.


Do you plan to take this work elsewhere?

JM and JRNo. The piece is extremely site-specific, and was composed for the site and the enormous scale of the Merchandise Mart as well as its peculiar shape. So much of the performance is an interaction with the building's architecture. It would be very difficult to rework for another location. The Mart is the home for this piece and we hope it lives there for a good while.


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