By Amy J. Barry
A multi-media spectacle- Terra Tractus: The Earth Moves-will be presented this month in the Stony Creek Quarry by Projects for a New Millennium (Projects2k). This is Projects2k's first full-scale spectacular in the quarry since 2005.
The performance uses projected and laser light, original music, pyrotechnics, fireworks, rock climbers, dancers, shadow puppetry, kinetic sculpture, and photography to tell the story of the quarry's geological and human history-past, present, and future.
Sadly, Joy Wulke of Stony Creek, a nationally recognized environmental artist who authored the show, died this past February and will not be here to see this spectacular production light up the quarry. Nevertheless, her daughter, Gioia Connell, and the artistic team of Projects2k are going full steam ahead to bring eight performances of Terra Tractus to the community in Wulke's memory.
Connell graduated from University of St. Andrews in Scotland in 2011 with a degree in sustainable development. She works with a consultancy that does brownfield remediation on sites all across the country.
She says it was a very hard decision to go ahead with the project.
"I was sitting in Hospice not so sure it would go on," she says. "But the project was a lot more than my mom's-it was her collaborators'; it's everyone's. She was really the person with the insight and the vision and wherewithal about how to get something from concept to full fruition.
"This is really the first time I'm part of it on the planning side," she adds. "I've volunteered, ushered, danced in previous shows…It's a project I really believe in and am really inspired by the idea. I can't help but have it take up a lot of my time and energy."
Lighting and theater designer Jamie Burnett designs all Projects 2K productions and worked with Wulke for 30 years. He says he always had it in mind to complete the project no matter what.
"It's sad of course to continue without her, but I feel her presence in my mind prodding me along to complete the task. She's still an active partner in my head," he says. "I am happy that many past fans will be returning to see the show and pay homage to her memory."
The production's composer, sound designer Istvan B'Racz, agrees with Burnett.
"Joy made it very clear to us that if we should so choose, we should go on and make it happen. I'm so happy it's happening and I know that Joy would be happy as well…We have all worked together so many times before that we know what needs to be done and who needs to do it, etc., but I miss interacting with her. I miss her soulful, wonderful, positive self. She was such a warm and supportive, collaborative artist."
Connell notes that the creative team has been working with the department of geography and geosciences at Yale University on the script as well as images and animation, and that the Stony Creek Museum has been providing historic images to use in the show.
What to Expect
"Watching and experiencing a performance like this really does knock you off your feet," Connell says. "It's like being transported for an hour-not to a place, but a feeling. Partly from being in the quarry itself, being out in the open air, under the stars."
She finds that being in such grand man-made places as cathedrals or the quarry with its 80- to 100-feet-high walls is incredibly moving.
"Man has chipped away at these blocks, but at night you're surrounded by stars and trees. When you add the performance layer and lighting design layer and music layer, it manipulates that and enhances that and takes that feeling of wonder to another level," she says. "It really does make you think about geology, history, climatology-all themes that are touched on-and makes you critically think while having this fantastic theatrical experience."
Burnett says that since Terra Tractus tells the story of the geological history of the earth from the last 500 million years or so into the future, "we will be dealing with continental drift, plate tectonics, and the formation of Stony Creek granite. We will also deal with the brief time humans have inhabited the earth. The lighting and special effects will help create the illusions of lava and fire and fog and steam. There will be an illusion of being under the ocean. All of the natural processes that helped to form the earth's surface with often violent collisions and rifts in the earth's crust will be explored.
"A recurring theme we have had throughout most of the [past] productions is the passage of the armillary sphere high in the air over the quarry canyon," Burnett continues. "This is a sphere that was designed for Newton's Tomb. This one has 2,000 watts of light in the center representing a sun. The passage of the sphere across the quarry represents approximately 250 million years. This is about the time it takes for our galaxy to rotate about its axis once."
High-powered video projection will be a major element in this production, Burnett points out.
"I have enlisted the help of projection designers Dan Fine and Matthew Ragan to specify and map out the granite walls to project selected effects and elements that will help further the story," he says.
The music is mostly recorded and there will be some live drumming in the show, says B'Racz.
"The music is comprised of electronic sounds, synths, samples, spacious pads, deep basses, buried voices, distant cello, frog sounds, etc.," B'Racz explains. "When the frogs hear themselves, they loudly sing along during the show. It always amazes me."
Stylistically, B'Racz describes himself as a classical composer who completely embraces modern music and, as a result, his music is rather eclectic and jumps freely from one style to the next.
"There are more ambient tracks-very laidback and meditative-balanced out by intense electronica-influenced tracks," he says.
B'Racz credits the entire creative team, including "the brilliance of Burnett's incredible lighting, design, programming, and [his brother] Tom Burnett's directing [with having] made it much easier for me to feel supported and sharing in the creation.
"I can safely say there is no experience quite like creating an hour's worth of music and then hearing it in such an amazing and strangely beautiful space," he says.
Connell says she's looking forward to "how fabulous this show is going to be and how much we can't wait to see the shoreline community come to it because they'll really enjoy it."
Performances of Terra Tractus will be held in the Stony Creek Quarry on June 19, 20, and 22 and June 25 to 29 beginning at 8:15 p.m. Remote parking only at Francis Walsh Intermediate School, 185 Damascus Road, Branford. Shuttle service to the quarry begins at 6 p.m. Food trucks from local restaurants will be on-site for pre-performance dining. Tickets cost $35, general admission; $100 VIP (special access to on-site parking and pre-show tour); $25 student discount; $30 senior discount; and $30 six-person group discount. Tickets are available at www.eventbrite.com, search term Terra Tractus. For more information, call 203-444-8311 or visit www.projects2k.org.