Aging Magician

January 15-16, 2013

As a tenet of PROTOTYPE, each year a preview of a work in progress will be presented that will be shown in completion in future seasons. Paola Prestini’s work in progress Aging Magician begins with a barker for a magic show at Coney Island, undergoing an operation in the early 20th century. He begins to hallucinate and imagines himself as a famous magician being transported by Charon, the boatman of the underworld, across the river Styx, which he envisions as Venice. The patient is transformed into a magician and his bed becomes a gliding gondola. He encounters and falls in love with a boy who sings from his piano and encourages the Magician to take one last journey before death. As the Gondolier, Charon cares for and shepherds the Magician through the adventure. What unfolds is a compelling portrait of longing and loneliness and the persistence of hope as this gentle soul performs the ultimate magic trick: the transformation of an un-magical life, in its final moments, to one of greatness, representing mankind’s ultimate yearning to leave a legacy to the departed world.


A children’s youth chorus will be woven into set and story. They begin as spectators in the operating theatre and tend to the transformation of the operating room into the Coney Island/Venice/Hades of the protagonist’s mind. The antiseptic hospital becomes an explosion of color. The chorus of medical students becomes a moving sea of life as boardwalk denizens and puppeteers, creating an orchestra of sound effects with their voices. In the end, artifacts of the fantastic journey remain, and the color and magic of the patient’s dream have entered the real world.


Instrument designer Mark Stewart will create an immersive installation that can be played like an instrument—blown, struck, whistled, plucked, and bowed. The port and starboard of the gondola will be made of long strings that will be played by the Rinde Eckert, the Magician and a music ensemble led by violinist Cornelius Dufallo. Along with directing, Julian Crouch will create the scenic and puppetry design forAging Magician. Julian’s scenery will be a canvas for video designer S. Katy Tucker. She will paint the space through film, creating water, stars, and sky along with scenes from the Magician’s imagination. The installation will slowly illuminate throughout the arc of the story to reveal the gondola in its full glory.


Prestini specializes in works that transcend disciplinary boundaries and that (as Time Out NY noted) “gracefully walk the line between opera and performance art.” Her writing for strings is contrapuntal and melodic, and laced with field samples that she collects. The string quartet at times will be amplified by an orchestra of strings, digitally recorded. Crouch, Prestini and Eckert plan to create an integrated tale spun from our own musings on life and death, failed and imagined loves, and attempts at greatness. Through these discoveries, they place the protagonist, an aging magician, on the boat ride of his life.


Aging Magician is supported in part by an award from the National Endowment for the Arts.


Photos by Jill Steinberg.