Tonight’s lecture is presented by Mark Sussman, a graduate of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts. His Ph.D. was entitled “Staging Technology: Electricity and the Magic of Modernity,” which he completed under the direction of Allan Weiss.

Since graduating in 2000, Mark has held posts in the Department of Architecture at The Parsons School of Design (where he taught a course on “Light, Perception and Culture” together with Linea Tillet who, incidentally, did the lighting for the Sense of the City exhibition). He has also taught at the California Institute for the Arts and in the Department of Theatre at Wesleyan University, before Concordia University had the good fortune to land him as an Assistant Professor in its Theatre Studies Department.

Apart from his academic pursuits, Mark is a Founding Member and Co-Artistic Director of Great Small Works Inc. Great Small Works is a collectively run theatre company made up of veterans of the Bread and Puppet Theater Company. The latter company is famous for taking theatre out of the theatre and into the streets - that is, for its “larger than life” productions (which often feature giant puppets on poles that jut out over the heads of the audience), and for its profoundly political commentaries on contemporary events.

Great Small Works is no less political in its orientation, but it veers toward the opposite end of the visible spectrum. It embodies a “smaller is better” aesthetic in contrast to the “bigger is better” aesthetic of the Bread and Puppet Theater, and especially of the mass media. Great Small Works takes theatre out of the theatre and (back) into the parlour, since it represents a revival of Toy Theatre, the preferred “home entertainment system” of the Victorians. Its performances are staged on prosceniums made of cardboard measuring no more than two feet in diameter with characters that are paper cut-outs no bigger than two-inches tall, all painted with loving care. In consequence of the smallness of its scale, audiences are also smaller in number (rarely more than 25) and the atmosphere decidedly more intimate. The effect of this miniaturization is, paradoxically, to magnify the impact of the message. Recent works include: “Toy Theater Faust” and “The Toy Theatre of Terror as Usual.” The latter piece was staged during the countdown to the first Gulf War. As observed in a review published in American Theater (February 2005):

"Feeling bombarded by the media’s interpretation of current events, and knowing just how powerful small scale productions could be, the puppeteers concerned excerpted material from daily newspapers, interpreted it themselves, and created what would become the first of 12 toy-theater episodes addressing contemporary political concerns (such as [the Gulf War,] gun control, the L.A. riots and the latest crisis in the Middle East). Toy Theater’s "affordability and accessibility” makes this do-it-yourself medium democratic by nature ... An incredibly flexible medium, it lets your imagination soar."

In addition to experimenting with the parameters of scale, veering between the gargantuan and the miniscule, Mark has been testing the parameters of the relation between technology and agency, or what could be called “the dramatic life of things”. Noteworthy in this connection is a piece he published in the book “Puppets, Masks, and Performing Objects” entitled “Performing the Intelligent Machine: Deception and Enchantment in the Life of the Automaton Chess Player.” The “machine” in question was a mechanical puppet built in 1769 by Wolfgang de Kempelen and costumed as a Turkish sorcerer seated at a chess board. Mark uses this case study to explore the question of where human agency ends and mechanical agency begins. The whole idea of mechanical agency is, of course, intrinsically contradictory - or is it? Mark will be enlarging further on this vexing question in his presentation tonight on “Lighting Urban Spectacle”

Phyllis Lambert, Mirko Zardini, members of the CCA and of the public, I present you Mark Sussman. (Click here for the Mark Sussman lecture).