As a preschooler named Sophie sat drawing with chalk on the floor, a young woman sat down beside her to join in. Both were among more than two dozen people who attended Thursday night’s opening for a performance-installation called “SparrowSong,” presented by ASU’s Binary Theatre Company.
Just thirty minutes before, they’d walked with other audience members into a room transformed into part art installation/part interactive theater space. Three walls, and the floor, were covered in black chalkboard paint. Chalk drawings of skyscrapers and birds in flight filled the walls, and the sounds of traffic and chirping birds played softly in the background.
Unike most performance art, “SparrowSong” doesn’t happen on a stage set apart from the audience. There’s no “fourth wall” separating performer from audience.
Folding chairs are available for those who need them, but participants stand and slowly stroll for much of the experience. At first they’re quiet, looking for something they can watch.
A single performer appears inside an L-shaped space, popping out periodically as birds in flight are projected onto umbrellas serving as canvases for an array of digital art.
Audience members, whose ages clearly span more than five decades, follow her movements. Sometimes the movements of her body are mirrored by a blue bird seemingly birthed by laptop.
There’s no formal program, no directions about how to act while in the space. Initially people move largely en masse. They’re silent and maybe a little self-conscious. But soon the performer engages them in play.
Nothing’s forced or expected. But opportunities are there. Folks discover ways their movements can influence the room’s technology, and find they’re free to add to the drawings all around them.
One college student traces the outline of a friend’s body onto a wall with chalk. Another participant draws Batman’s symbol beaming into the night sky. Skyscrapers get populated with stick figures.
Sophie figures out that smearing chalk can be more fun than drawing with it. Soon people are talking softly, and by the end of the one-hour experience they’re relatively loud.
“SparrowSong” was conceived by ASU graduate students Julie Rada, Daniel Fine and Megan Flod Johnson. Primary artists include Brunella Provvidente, Matthew Ragan, Anastasia Schneider and Adam Vachon. Contributing artists are Aimee Leon, Tristan Bustamante, Amy Masters, Andrea Silkey and Muharrem Yildirim. Rachel Bowditch, Pamela Sterling and David Newton serve as project advisors.
Families who attend “SparrowSong” together will have plenty to think about, and talk about, after the experience. How did various family members react to the space? How can we replicate the work’s recycled elements at home? How does technology effect what’s possible in performance art?
Parents who grew up with rotary phones and typewriters will marvel at what today’s students can accomplish in all things media arts. Children with a creative bent may head home eager to build their own interactive arts space. And teens may ponder the wonders of making a living by laptop rather than merely watching movies on the darn thing all day.
“SparrowSong” runs through Sunday, Feb. 3 at ASU’s Prism Theatre in Tempe, located at 970 E. University in Tempe (behind a retail complex anchored by Einstein Bros.). Tickets are $8 for adults and $3 for the 12 & under set.
Dress the little ones in chalk-friendly clothes. Sport a cross-body bag or leave your purse at home. You’ll appreciate having the freedom to move and get a little messy.