The Cone Project

Premiere 30 May, 1999
Venue Victorian Arts Centre and Southbank Precinct, Melbourne

The Cone project Handspan Visual Theatre clowns in white lab coats with conical hats performing with green rubber cones

The Cone Project, Arts Centre Melbourne
Photograph © Marcus Struzina 1999

Like the pyramid and the ziggurat, the cone provides the image of ascension, of development from the material to the spiritual, of the gradual spiritualisation of the world, of a oneness and a return to personalisation.

Extract from Installation Text, The Cone Project 1999

THE CONE PROJECT was devised and directed by Katy Bowman and was a successor to her project, The Phoenix Cycle produced by Handspan Visual Theatre in 1998. These were the only new works produced by the company during the two year period, both projects on a large scale.

THE CONE PROJECT was a multi-faceted work combining installations with roving performance segments. It was staged by the company throughout Melbourne's Southgate Arts precinct as part of the Victorian Arts Centre’s Winter Program, 1999, in partnership with the Victorian Arts Centre, Southgate Arts and Leisure Precinct and The Age Artstate’99 initiative.

The idea of the project was to represent the subtle changes and transformations of our lives through representations of cone-shaped objects.

The very form of a cone embodies the concept, containing within it ever expanding volume - from a single point to three-dimensional space. It acts as a sort of 'spotlight' on the world, putting both the environment and human experience under a microscope. The cones themselves are major characters in the work, subtly changing number, colour, texture, size and position over the duration of the project.

Handspan Visual Theatre promotional copy, 1999

Cone installations sited around the Arts Centre created multiple performance locations for six alchemists (Questors) who arranged and re-arranged their component parts.

They split the cones into smaller units, re-build them, wrap them in silver foil, cover them in grass, burn them, sit inside them, swing from their apex, place found objects and text in and around them, plant a forest of invitingly soft-textured cones and perform strange rituals.

Handspan Visual Theatre promotional copy, 1999

A journey into the Questors Laboratory, where the mysterious and absurd Questors seek to crack the code of life’s constant transformation and change.

Promotional postcard, 1999

The Work

The CONE PROJECT was a work of spectacle, site-specific and improvised performance, dramatic visual and physical theatre design, and snapshots of thought-provoking concept. It was accompanied by Composer, Darrin Verhagen's soundscape of his recorded music and on-site sound fragments interspersed with spoken text.

Tall orange plastic cones ('witches hats' otherwise found at roadworks' sites) were lined up in rows and at angles across the Arts Centre Forecourt so that audiences peering into their apex viewed objects and text snippets that reflected the conical theme. Three metre high metal-framed perspex-covered cones stood curious and empty, or framing ‘in-cone’, spot roving Questor appearances; a maze of rubberised tree-cones became tumbling mats and juggling props for these dunce-like clowns performing acrobatic sketches; scaffold cones supported the Questors in aerial acts; and soft cone statues complemented the precinct landscape. Audience members played with the clowns and with the cones; and different performance activities popped-up around them throughout the precinct by day and at night.

Cone Project Handspan Visual Theatre 2 squashy tall silver cones with small orange cones behind

The Cone Project

Cone Project Handspan Visual Theatre back view of acrobats at night in a 3-high tower in front of city buildings

Photographs © Marcus Struzina, 1999
Click photos to enlarge

An unusual venture for the Arts Centre and the company: a season of free performance for audiences of all ages, the Project was one of the largest, and certainly the longest-running of Handspan’s outdoor works. It was performed in the precinct over a six-week period during which its cone peepshow installation was open daily.

An indoor installation of the small orange peephole cones was later remounted for display at the Victorian College of the Arts for the National Puppetry and Animatronics Summit in 2008.

THE CONE PROJECT was the last such production for the company itself, although former Handspan artists have continued to create outdoor spectacle incorporating the magic of animated imagery, across Australia and internationally, for large and small scale occasions into the 21st century.

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Creative Team
Director Katy Bowman
Associate director Daryl Pellizzer
Designer David Bell
Associate designer Greg Clarke
Composer Darrin Verhagen
Producer Lynne Rahill (Victorian Arts Centre, Events)
Megan Cameron
Haydn Chiron
Annika Glac
Michael Hurwood
Martin Kwasner
Heather Monk
Production team
Set construction David Hope, Cliff Dolliver, Alison Ross, Rod Primrose, Kevin Douglas
Production manager Chris Harris
Stage manager Michael Carr
Graphic designer Adele Smith
Southgate Marketing Amelia Bartak (Southbank Marketing Co-ordinator)
30 May - 17 July Victorian Arts Centre & Southgate Precinct, Melbourne
2008 Puppetry & Animatronics Summit installation, Victorian College of the Arts, Melbourne

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