Reflections on Leaves, illusion, and interactivity.

Standing under the trees watching thousands of people emerge from the creek path and view our Monster Habitat for the first time gave me perspective on the process of creating this exhibit. The ground cloth, that I had been staring at up close under bright fluorescents for the last six weeks, transformed under blacklight to the glowing sea of leaves it was always meant to be.

 In the scenic studio

The fully lit installation

Young children played joyously in the blue glow. They tossed loose leaves and chased each other back and forth across the leaf cloth–until one of them tripped and fell.

We created an illusion of real leaves, an effective mirage, and we invited the public to interact with it. The illusion worked a little too well. The young guests wanted to drag their feet through the leaves, to kick them up in the air. The adults wanted to see how every aspect of the installation worked, to tug and pry at the illusion. As a theatre technician, it is my job to help create the appearance of reality on stage for the delight of audiences, but only knowing participants have physical contact with my work. The actors who interact with the things I build are aware of the illusion and take pains to maintain it. Perhaps the results of audience participation in the illusion should not have surprised me, but they did.

At first I was saddened by the crying child and the ongoing deterioration of the leaf cloth and other parts of the installation. However, the tears dried up, and my classmates and I patched up our creation. The tripping children were not careless; they were taken in by the mirage. Even the adults were not willfully destructive; they acted childishly out of curiosity. Sure, next time I work on an interactive exhibit, I will strive to make it stronger and safer. For now, I think the ability to play and wonder is worth a few tears and some elbow grease.

Working at the installation site