While working on the new musical-theater production The Aging Magician, co-creator Julian Crouch was living in Brooklyn. He found inspiration from traveling the F Line, an eyesore of a train, to Coney Island.
"[Taking the F Line] was a journey to heaven in a way, a journey to the other side,” he says. He liked the names of the stops, some of which are very poetic, like “Neptune Avenue” and “Aquarium.” In The Aging Magician, there’s an imaginary version of Coney Island that’s also like a constellation filled with wheels, roller coasters, bicycles, and clocks.
The Aging Magician, taking the stage this week at the Walker Art Center, features a 40-person chorus, live animation, and a giant, playable instrument/set. With an unconventional narrative that’s more poetry than prose, the show ruminates on the nature of creativity, life's failures, and mortality. The story follows an old watchmaker as he repairs a timepiece, but soon the production jumps off into an exploration of time itself.
Crouch, one of the founders of the British company Improbable Theatre, joined the collaborative team after composer Paola Pristini and librettist/vocalist Rinde Eckert (who plays the elderly clockmaker Harold) put on an earlier version of the show. “I saw it not knowing I was going to get involved,” he says.
Crouch joined the project around the same time the 40-member Brooklyn Youth Chorus, who act as a kind of Greek chorus, came onboard.
“For me, the challenge and the delightful thing about this project is having a chorus to work with,” he says. The choir not only sings, but also helps the magic of Crouch’s design come alive. For example, during the play they manipulate pieces of paper, which are used as a canvas for live animation and shadow puppetry. The paper itself comes alive through the way the performers deal with it.
"[The paper] adds a story,” he says. “It adds a life the way anything that comes onstage does.”
Making ordinary objects come alive becomes a new way to tell a story. “I want to use a recognizable object and then pull some life out of that; it takes people by surprise,” he says. “There are some things that puppets and objects do better than actors. They are very good at sex and violence in a way that actors aren’t so good at.”
In a way, creating life out of an inanimate object is a kind of magic. “It is in the magic that we all have to believe some inanimate thing may have life. We have that ability,” he says, “and to try to channel that onstage can be a powerful thing.”
IF YOU GO:
8 p.m. Saturday, March 5; 2 p.m. Sunday, March 6
Walker Art Center