Overseeing the dazzling spectacle is Tony Award-winning scenic designer Christine Jones (American Idiot, Spring Awakening) in her inaugural role as director. Jones, who also created Theatre for One, a boundary-breaking intimate mobile theatre space designed for one performer and one audience member, is applying the concept on a much larger scale with Queen of the Night.
Playbill.com spoke with Jones about her work on Queen of the Night, which not only dissolves the boundaries between audience and performer, but re-invigorates what some might call "dinner theatre" as an immersive and emotional culinary ritual that plays on all of the audiences senses. The creative team reads like a who's who of the theatrical, fashion, culinary and design worlds, all of whom stepped out of their comfort zones to collaborate on the critically acclaimed event, which opened on Dec. 31, 2013, and has recently extended through June 1.
Queen of the Night is ambitious. Beyond creating a theatrical experience, you've challenged yourself with the oftentimes daunting task of serving food in the midst of the show. How did this entire experience come to life?
Christine Jones: It was Randy Weiner's idea in terms of the overall concept. Aby Rosen hired him, and before I was involved, Randy had the idea. Randy and I, actually, were having a meeting about something completely unrelated and he said, "Come down and see this space." So then I came down, and as Randy said, "This project is something that people self-select for." And he's right, I think once you see what's going on, you're drawn to it like a magnet.
Theatregoing audiences best know your work as a scenic designer, but you're also the creator of Theatre for One, which redefines the relationship and shatters boundaries between performer and audience. Was Queen of the Night a project that you thought would allow you to continue to explore that concept and bring about an opportunity to direct?
CJ: When I first started talking to Randy, I don't think we were sure exactly what my role would be; whether I would be designing or directing pieces, but the more we spoke, I said, "Who's directing this? I think maybe that's the role I can play here." [It fit] because of the very different experiences I've had working on many large-scale productions from the opera, to Broadway shows, and then working very intimately, I have a sense of both design and the overall experience of an event. I just kind of jumped in.
What were some of the initial inspirations for what the show would be?
Christine Jones: We had this very loose idea that it might be based on The Magic Flute, but the more we delved in, the more we kept asking ourselves, "What's the event? Why are people coming here? What's awesome here?" Then we started looking at initiation ceremonies and using the The Magic Flute as a parable of initiation rather than adhering to the specific narrative structure. What's also wonderful about the The Magic Flute is that it actually has a variety of musical forms and it in and of itself, is kind of this incredible hybrid.
We started looking at Tamino and Pamina [the central lovers of The Magic Flute] as avatars for the audience and as they are initiated, we are also initiated, and that our descent into the basement of the Paramount Hotel signifies our descent into this underworld where anything can happen. We also looked at the myth of Demeter and Persephone when Persephone is taken into Hades and eats the pomegranate and becomes awakened. We used a lot of different themes of sexual awakenings, initiation and enlightenment. All of these things started swirling around in our heads. I was also looking at the Eleusinian mysteries, which were Pagan festivals that honored Demeter. And, again, they followed this structure of coming into a cave or an underground space and celebrating through ritual, dramatic reenactment and feast. The more we thought about that we realized we were creating a ritual for the audience to participate in. I think on a deep level we all kind of crave these kinds of transcendent experiences.
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