Every year the Getty Villa produces a play. It’s always a new take on a classic, a work that you probably studied in high school or even acted out in some introduction to theatre class. These presentations mirror the Villa’s mission of attaining and sharing ancient artworks, pieces valuable to scholars of antiquity and important for educating the public on world and art history. You likely won’t find any Shakespeare performed at the Villa nor will you ever find a piece written by Suzan-Lori Parks or Neil Labute: they are a classic theatre slanted performance venue.
For their yearly Summer production, this year the Villa is stepping it up a notch. Not only are they producing a show in collaboration with CalArts Center for New Performance, they’ve literally brought a gigantic, multiple ton steel wheel behemoth to sit at the center of their Barbara and Lawrence Fleischman Theatre. It’s over two stories tall and twenty three feet wide and is like a steampunk jungle gym that actors will play on in a few weeks. It’s an intense, wowing object that is theatrical with or without a performance taking place around it.
The giant wheel is a playing space for the show Prometheus Bound, the Villas’s latest production. The play is a new translation by lauded weiter Joel Agee that tells Prometheus’ story, that guy in ancient mythology who stole fire from Mount Olympus to give to humans but was caught and punished by being chained to a giant rock for all of eternity. There is no rock or mountaintop in this Bound but instead this wheel, an object that probably was a weapon used by a robot in the film Pacific Rim earlier this Summer. It’s great to see that this mechanical actor is getting work!
The play will have actors and actresses hoping on and off of the wheel, all to service the direction of director Travis Preston (photographed above, speaking at a recent press lunch). There’s a small wheel within the big wheel that has Prometheus (played by Ron Cephas Jones) locked up to it for the duration of the performance. The wheel can totally spin with the help of a balanced weight system, minor gears, and a ship’s wheel for steering it. How wild is this?
The wheel was designed by scenic designer Efren Delgadillo, Jr. (the guy with the beard below, next to Travis) and totally was dropped in by crane onto the Villas’s campus after being dismantled because—um—it is huge. You can watch a video of that madness below and read abouthe whole ordeal here. Efren mentioned that he created multiple designs but this version, his eleventh design, was the winner. It has multiple references within it (clocks, the zodiac chart, the Wheel of Dharma, etc.) and was constructed by LA ProPoint, a group who are responsible for building things like amusement park rides. As you can imagine, all the actors and crew had to be trained on how to use and interact with the lone, monstrous set piece as to prevent any injury.
The play is going to be crazy. It isn’t even open and it’s already a spectacle. A handful of press got to have a meet and greet with the wheel on Tuesday (along with fabulous Getty staff, Travis, Ron, Efren, and a handful of actors) and, believe me, it is as big and intimidating as it looks in photos. It’s like an alien mechanism that fell from sky the sky and landed in the faux-Rome of Malibu. It’s pretty unbelievable.
We can’t wait to see how the wheel is employed during the play—and what comes of it post-show since you can’t just pop the wheel onto a giant car and call it a day. We’re sure if you swing by the Villa between now and the show’s September 5 opening the wheel will be there for ogling. Where else is it going to go? Hidden under a blanket? Rolled into a gallery? We doubt it. You totally should stop by and see it. Catch Prometheus Bound on view Thursdays through Saturdays until September 28 starting on the 5th with previews starting August 29 through 31.
(Also a note on the production: lead actor Cephas Jones is actually the African American man in the photos, which is interesting because he’ll be spending most of the play “bound.” Although there was no mention of a racial undertone or slavery subtext, you can’t help but think it will function on two levels, which could be brilliant or a missed opportunity. Color blind casting or not, it’s a bold statement. We are very, very curious to see the production…)