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An Experiment in Environment based on ‘The Light Fantastic’ by Lee Cookson

September 2012
For We Should Know Each Other #100
part of Alberta Culture Days @ King Edward School cSpace.

“The Light Fantastic is an immersive performance which takes place in the apartment of a shut-in named Margaret, who after five years of being indoors is determined to leave. Margaret is sensitive to light and has an overactive imagination. Her primary companion is Bruno, a desk lamp come to life. However, motivated by loneliness and an unwillingness to fail, she has invited an audience to help her through her final hour as she walks out the door and joins the world once again…”

Photography by Lee Cookson

Us boys at Humble Wonder Theatre have been working on The Light Fantastic for a while now, and the opportunity came up to do an installation piece at the King Edward School. There was an old dark room, covered in graffiti, on the third floor of the old abandoned school, begging for something to be done to it. Our character Margaret is a photographer, so it seemed appropriate to turn this dark room into her living space.

The setup was simple: she had set up tea and cookies for the visitors of the school, but as a shut-in she could not greet them in person, and had fled to the world outside. The visitors would come into the room, linger, listen to some records, look at some of Margaret’s photos, engage in conversation with each other, and move on. Some would stay longer than others – some folks would camp out and talk my ear off over a couple cups of tea. (We had to be careful not to spend too much time in the room – people would think we were part of the installation, or ask if we were the janitors!)

Our goal was to provide the audience an introduction to Margaret Lamb, to infer her character through the textures present in her ‘room’. We wanted people to feel the essence of her character through the muffled music, photographs, tea and camera equipment displayed, without ever meeting her or hearing her full story.

Most people took some tea and cookies and kept their hands in their pockets and hung out for a bit, digging the vibe. However, there were these two kids who came in and started tearing everything apart – our slides, records, flowers, everything. By chance I was sneaking in to observe how things were going, and watched the two girls go through our stuff. After they had finished demolishing the cabinet they got up to leave, I piped up from the chair I was sitting in, “are you going to clean that up?” You should have seen them jump! After some mumbled apologies and a hasty clean-up they ran out of the room. I kept seeing them skulking around the exhibit and whispering to each other guiltily for the rest of the afternoon.