Arts: The Camouflage Project

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

During World War II, women helped stranded British soldiers sneak out of German-occupied France. When Ohio State theater Professor Lesley Ferris randomly came across a book about their efforts, she had a feeling that the subject could be the basis of a meaningful stage performance.

Six or so years later, Ferris' research on the war has yielded "The Camouflage Project" - an exhibit and a play that integrates both historical elements and advanced technology. The project is a collaboration among OSU faculty members and students.

Ferris asked fellow theater Professor Mary Tarantino to be her "co-conceiver." The two studied Britain's Special Operations Executive organization, which trained men and women to become undercover operatives in France. The professors were intrigued that artists and actors developed camouflage techniques to help agents maintain their covers.

"As Mary and I were talking about it, we realized that [the play] was an enormous venture," Ferris said. "If we focused on the theater performance, there would be so much missing. We came up with this metaphor: We're anthropologists or excavators of these past histories, and we're digging them up to put them on stage. In a way our live performance is an exhibition, and it's surrounded by an exhibition."

The professors worked with theater students to create a script, and they decided the play should be performed within a related exhibit. Theatergoers have time before and after the performance to view the artifacts and displays.

The play itself follows the story of the female operatives and agents-in-training who learn about camouflage and how to conceal themselves. Elements of the script are based on the Special Operations Executive syllabi, which Ferris said were published only recently.

As the actors perform within the exhibit space, projections designed by faculty and students of the Advanced Computing Center for the Arts and Design appear on a screen and on pieces of the exhibit.

The projections are themselves a sort of camouflage.

"Part of what ACCAD is doing is projecting light onto surfaces to change the way we perceive them," Tarantino said.

Cast member Kevin McClatchy said the projections present an unusual chance for actors to interact with technology.

"It's kind of fascinating because you have to marry the technology with what you come to expect from live performance," said McClatchy, one of nine MFA students in the play. "There's an exactitude about where you're standing on stage at any given moment because you don't want to block the projections."

Those projections help bring the agents' stories to life.

"We're aiming for something cohesive through all of this technology," Tarantino explained. "At the end of the day, it's about the story of brave women and World War II and what that means for us in a contemporary context."

Spy on it:

Thurber Theatre, Drake Performance and Event Center

May 12-May 27

1849 Cannon Dr., Campus