Musical Stairs!!

During last Thursday’s site specific performance class we collaboratively created the design for our Musical Stairs performance.  We knew we wanted to do something interactive near the entrance to a dining hall.  As we explored possibilities for a performance, we considered theatrical ideas as well as abstract ideas.  We decided on a more abstract design – Musical Stairs, in which each student focused on one of the stairs in front of Frary, and when a person passing by stepped on their particular step, they would sing “what” in a soft, airy tone.  We had just enough students to cover all the stairs, and practiced focusing solely on the stair so that the “what” would be sung with the exact tempo of each footstep.  Should someone stay longer on a stair, the note would continue.

On Tuesday, we lined the stairs in front of Frary dining hall at 6pm, all wearing black, and performed musical stairs for 30 minutes.

“Observing people’s reactions was the best part – some people were nervous about entering the stairs and looked uncomfortable, while some people went to town with it – jumping up and down, racing up, sitting down, lying across the stairs, and experimenting with the stair noise they could make.  Others didn’t even notice..”

“Watching the reactions of the students when they first stepped on the staircase was interesting because of the degree of variation.  One girl seemed to be overwhelmed by the noise and covered her ears, the others were either delighted or confused.”

“It was also interesting how people reacted once they realized what was happening.  Some were very playful with it, others were uncomfortable and hurried quickly through, and a few even joined in!”

“Many seemed very skeptical of the situation.  Some stopped to wait for someone else to walk the stairs and others did not make too much of the situation and chose to continue walking.  This moment, when they did not know what was in store, I found most intriguing.”

“The great part about it was that the audience made the show.  When there was nobody passing by, we were just black statues sitting, not doing anything, but as soon as there was an audience, the show was made.”

“I love how we created a place where the audience/students simply heading to dinner became the dancers.  Our soft notes brought an alertness to the space and caused many people to stop and notice.  We were not performing so much as creating a stage on which and with which others could perform.”

“Some of the most beautiful moments were times which nobody was on the staircase and we sat there expectantly waiting for the next person, who could come to us either unexpected or running and would be either surprised by out sounds or intending to play along.”

“The best comments included a guy thanking us as he left, and one guy who said ‘That was an awesome stair walking experience!’  Several people stopped to watch, including two service workers at Frary.”

“The best moment was when two boys sat at the edges of the top few stairs and joined us for a few minutes.  It was clear that we had succeeded in being truly engaging because people joined us.”

“With the noninvasive performance that was still interactive, people felt comfortable enough to comment on us while we were there.”

“People felt free to interact to any degree that was comfortable for them.”

“I think the sense of deliberate purpose together with calmness in execution helped people (the pedestrians) get into playing with the whole thing”

Because of the continuous concentration that the performance demanded, performing was a sort of meditation for the students.

“I always wondered why artists don’t have a smile when they are doing a quiet activity… I didn’t know whether to keep a straight face or not.  Would people notice a serious expression and be put off by it… because this wasn’t necessarily a serious exercise.  Well, now I know.  It was easier to keep a straight face because all I cared about and was concentrating on the act of stepping… when someone stepped on “my” step.”

“I relished the opportunity to be still and concentrate on my task; I’m very much interested in this type of performance art, and I think this is the first time I’ve ever challenged myself to remain immobile for such a long period of time.  At one point, I had an itch on my cheek, but I overcame it and the itch went away, it was a satisfying experience.  I tried to keep an upright posture and impassive facial expression, which prevented me from observing who was on each stair; I only focused on their foot interacting with my designated space.  I wanted to keep going!  The time flew by because I was actively engaged in my focus on the stair; I never felt bored or uninterested in my task.  Sometimes, when there weren’t people for a while, I would concentrate on the stair so much that everything would go out of focus, and all the stairs looked level with each other, as if the rise in level were gaps between them.  That was cool!”

“The stairs look different when you stare at them for long periods of time.”

“This performance was a great opportunity to observe both others and oneself.  I tried to relax my muscles and throat as I sang and tried to focus on the people walking on the stairs at the same time. I enjoyed that they controlled the time, that we had to be paying close attention. And I found that I could play around with widening or narrowing my field of vision and see how it helped or hindered my response timing.“

“As a performer, I feel like I learned a lot about people’s feet and how their gait was indicative of how they felt.  People took tentative steps, determined steps, jumped around, and even though there was no eye contact (because we were focusing on the stairs), I still felt a connection to the people walking because of how much attention I could give to their feet.  Even just their feet say that much.”

“I noticed things I wasn’t expecting to – for example, the fascinating variety of shoewear that my peers have (jaysus…) – and was surprised by how well I felt I knew each person that stepped on my stair, simply by the way they did it.  Their speed, force, willingness to give into gravity – all said something about them.”

“I observed feet more than I usually do and how that relates to how a person carries themselves.  People also use different parts of the foot when walking that correlates with their energy – people who land on the toes on stairs are usually moving faster, people who slowly trod up use the whole foot (and it makes the movement either tires if it is somewhat careless, or peaceful/slow when it is more deliberate).”

 “I kind of wanted to make an injured sound when a foot wrapped in ice and bandage landed, or to somehow make a double tone when friends were walking in step with each other.”

“I also noticed that most people skipped stairs when they were going in to eat and usually stepped on every stair on the way down.”

“… our performance created just a small amount of excitement and happiness to make someone’s day.”

“It felt really good to make people smile… I enjoyed this performance because I really like people, and getting to interact with so many people I don’t know, and having so many of them leave smiling absolutely made my day.” 

“An opportunity to cause delight!  Also, a sense of bewilderment.”

“I loved this improvisational exercise because it provided the “audience” with a moment of play.”

“I was glad to bring delight, confusion, or uncertainty to people, in a busy semester it’s important to be in the moment occasionally, and “Musical Stairs” sis that for most no matter what response it inspired.”

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