Thursday, March 27, 2008

Carpet Creates 'Theatre of the Senses'

When I was small, I loved to read more than anything. A story allowed me to enter a place or a setting in a way television could never rival. My favorite books were those in which the language and the characters were so vivid I could literally see the plot unfold before me. To this day, I can still close my eyes and see those settings and characters I imagined while reading the books of my childhood. The authors may have created the story lines, but my imagination gave them life.

Part of the beauty of books, like art, is that they include an element of subjectivity. The people who experience them are free to interpret them in any way they choose; while the story itself is fairly concrete, the reader can invent additional background, scenery, imagery. Even definite descriptions are open to individual interpretation. Because of this, the reader can jump into the story head first, tumbling head over heels like Alice down the rabbit hole.

At right: illustration from Chapter 1 of Alice in Wonderland: Down the Rabbit Hole.

Only recently have I been convinced that an immersion like this can happen any way but cognitively. But, apparently, an Italian visual theatre company has developed a "theatre of the senses" that literally brings imaginary journeys to real life. The company, Teatro di Piazza o d’Ocassione (TPO), has created the Children's Cheering Carpet, "a theatrical concept in which performances are conceived as imaginary journeys in 'sensory gardens,' where artists dance to images and sounds, exploring new ways of telling stories."

This theatrical experience is all based on a large carpet fitted with sensors from below that trigger the projection of sounds and images from above. Depending on where the actors step on the carpet, a different scene or experience literally appears before them and the audience, altering both the scenery, the mood and the music. The company offers a variety of performances, including The Japanese Garden, The Italian Garden and The Painted Garden. And then, as if this weren't enough, the children in the audience are allowed to step onto the carpet and become a part of the story.

The libretto for TPO describes The Italian Garden this way: "This is a stage where an architect, a poet and a gardener create a kind of dramaturgy of the eye, where the spectator enjoys getting lost and finding her/his way again as if she/her were living inside an imaginary poem." Literally, the Children's Cheering Carpet is like walking into a piece of literature - a book, a song, even a poem.

According to a review in the Australian Stage, a publication dedicated to the performing arts in Australia, the concept for Children's Cheering Carpet was initially developed as a motor skills workshop for children with disabilities. Through the work of graphic designers, computer science engineers, musicians and the directors, this concept was eventually transformed into what it is today - an interactive theatrical experience.

I imagine a real life Secret Garden, a story that unfolds before me that I can both interact with and become a part of. It's the happiest of happily ever afters...
A scene from the Painted Garden. Photo from
A scene from the Japanese Garden. Photo from

A scene from the Italian Garden. Photo from


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