March 24, 2011
What would happen if you cloned Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Edison and Ernst Werner von Siemens and they lived in the Science Museum, only coming out at night to discuss energy metering? It's a question we've all asked ourselves at some point. But why don't we take it further? What if, say, we threw Konrad Zuse, Alexander Graham Bell and Sir Tim Berners Lee into the Mix? And why not toss in Steve Jobs, Eric Schmidt and Mark Zuckerberg while we're at it. What would they talk about? Who would pay the electricity bill? What happens when Zuse and Bell are on the phone but Tim Berners Lee wants to use a Dial Up Modem?
Last night, thanks to Energy Metering giants Landis + Gyr, we got a chance to answer those questions in the most "infotaining" way possible. As part of an event celebrating a successful 2010 and introducing the concepts of the company's Smart Metering initiative, we'd been asked to provide meet and greet artists who would also perform three short scenes between courses introducing the concepts involved in Landis + Gyr's new Smart Grids.
This required writing a short, informative but entertaining script, casting the actors to play the roles, sourcing costumes, wigs and make up and rehearsing the scenes before the big night. It's the kind of bespoke performance that we always jump at, partly because we all know that it'll mean trying on prop glasses and putting fake beards on actors.
In this case, the three scenes of the script needed to incorporate the three layers of the Smart Grid - Power/Infrastructure, Communication and Application. The difficulty here is getting across a great deal of highly technical information in an eye catching and entertaining way to a group of people who are experts in their field. It's no good explaining how an energy meter works to the people who make them. (You can take a look at the script here if you're interested. )
For the event we hired 6 actors - the first 3 doing a meet and greet and the first scene, the second 3 doing the second and third scenes with a quick costume change. This required a bit of rehearsal time to iron out any of the problems with the script and give the actors a chance to 'block' the scenes and, crucially try out different funny voices. Thanks to the Youth Music Theatre, we had a great space to run through the script in advance of the event.
We're well equipped to handle costume enquiries but finding 9 different costumes for characters spanning hundreds of years was a real challenge. From the starched, pristine Victorian costumes of Graham-Bell and Thomas Edison to the dishevelled post war attire of Conrad Zuse and even up to the schlubby, student outfit needed for Mark Zuckerberg - this event gave our costume department (i.e. Samantha) a real work out.
Getting the right look for the actors involved creating what I've come to know as a Beard Matrix to hand over to our Make Up Staff so that they were able to find the right wigs beards and moustaches. We tried to match the actors to the parts they were playing to make the process as easy as possible. It would be difficult, for instance, to make Alek look like an aged Ernst Werner von Siemens but when Ernst was a younger man, there was a close enough resemblance to make it work. Once again, Kit was asked to shave off his carefully grown facial hair having just grown it back after the last time. Thankfully, the actors were all game for trimming the offending facial fuzz for the good of their 'art'. (Thankyou and sorry)
Facial hair and pantalooons aside, there was also the issue of props and sound effects to be taken care of. This involved Sam trawling the prop warehouses of London for suitably Victorian looking phones and a frantic search through the iTunes store looking for a Dial Up Modem sound effect that wasn't 'too synthy'.
Once all the pieces were in place, all that was left was the business of the performance itself which was, thankfully, warmly received by the Landis + Gyr representatives in attendance who laughed and applauded in all the right places, taking jokes about the company (and instances of outright sycophantic flattery) in the spirit in which they were intended. The Science Museum really is a superb venue for an event like this - there's something about being let loose in there after the visitors have gone that brings out the child in everyone. There's really no better place to get dressed up as the inventor of the telephone and make jokes about wrong numbers.
If you're looking to bring the past into the present, or even if you'd just like someone in a silly costume - get in touch!