TRAF Blog Post: Squonk Opera’s ‘Pneumatica’

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For over twenty years, Squonk Opera has been entertaining Pittsburgh with their eccentric blend of music and performance art. This year Squonk returns to the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival with their new show titled ‘Pneumatica.’

Lady Pneumatica will loom large above the crowd at Point State Park from June 13–15. This newly created icon is the focal point of the show – she embodies the spirit of Squonk’s themes of windpower, and sustainable energy. Steve O’Hearn – the artistic director and co-founder of Squonk Opera – says, “We knew we wanted to do a large scale icon…we wanted to create a personification of air.” This goddess of air stands tall, her eyes closed, her mind spinning wind turbines. Her arms are inflatable tubes, her lungs an accordion that will breathe music, and her body is the stage where the members of Squonk will perform. Lady Pneumatica is the driving force behind the show, an ever-present reminder of the power of air and wind.

The word ‘pneuma’ means air, breath, or spirit. The title of the show comes from an ancient text written by Heron of Alexandra – who created the first pneumatics. Air is used to power different movements of the set and brings to life many of the playful visuals that Squonk is well known for. Inflatable balls hovering on airstreams, fans that rise up behind the head of Lady Pneumatica like an aurora haloing her head. Air also powers many of the instruments utilized in the show; an electric bagpipe, a simple flute and an instrument entirely of Squonk’s own invention: the ‘lung-ccordian’ that inflates below the head of the icon to produce remarkable sound and gives life to the icon through the breath of air and sound.

Steve O’Hearn speaks to the idea of utilizing air and wind in their newest outdoor show. “We just played with the idea of being outside and embracing the fact that we are out there in the air. We’re also very interested in using new pneumatic technologies and materials; inflatables and blowers and pneumatic cylinders, in different ways.” Some of these pneumatic technologies will be used to create an interactive tactile experience for the audience.

The issue of sustainable energy is an underlying theme for this particular show. “It seemed very timely because of the issues of sustainable technology,” Steve says. “From touring outdoor shows you are aware every second of what the wind is, how high it is going to be…you’re always kind of looking on the horizon. There is an awareness of it and the timeliness of wind power and the issue of air being a precious resource.”

After their premiere at this year’s Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival, Squonk will take ‘Pneumatica’ on the road. They are planning to play small shows around Pittsburgh throughout the summer and the fall. Steve says, “We love doing work that’s accessible and right out in the public space. As often as possible, we stage the shows for free, and do school shows as well.” Squonk has launched a kickstarter for ‘Pneumatica’ in order to fund their upcoming tour and keep it free to the public.

For a behind the scenes look at ‘Pneumatica’ you can visit their Kickstarter page where you can make a donation.

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