THE LOST BOOK OF ALEXANDRIA
1. THE PREMISE
A curious old book has been found during recent renovations at Temple Works Leeds. The relic has an eerie aura about it and being in its presence causes strange visions and hallucinations. Historians have confirmed the book’s origins in ancient Egypt and are waiting to substantiate whether it has survived the tragic demise of the Library of Alexandria. Moreover, clairvoyants speculate that the book’s effects on people may have something to do with the Curse of the Pharaohs…
The ancient book’s presence causes visions, premonitions and hallucinations. It gives people the 'power' to see things past and present, ugly and beautiful, ingenious and immoral.
If one spends too long with the book one's visions become so strong that it can cause psychosis and mental disorder. Although the book can make people see things, one would not want to own it or stay in its presence for too long because everyone who has owned the book has gone mad.
But what is it that gives people visions and premonitions?
There is ‘a phenomenon’ trapped inside the book... until someone opens it. Could it be the curse of the pharaohs? A curse alleged to be cast upon anyone who disturbs the mummy of an ancient Egyptian, especially a pharaoh. This curse, which does not differentiate between thieves and archaeologists, is claimed to cause bad luck, illness or death.
Once released from the book, in a mysterious mix of a genie from a bottle and a curse from Pandora’s Box, the phenomenon possesses the room and the objects within it.
2. PROJECT SUMMARY
This project will be a fully immersive, large 360 projection mapped room inside the Counting House in which the room’s architectural features, interiors and furnishings come to life through projections and automations triggered by the turning of the pages of a book through the audience.
The experience economy is booming. 78% of millennials choose to spend money on desirable experiences over material goods. Shared experiences with friends and family have a deeper psychological link to long term happiness than buying products does.
With "The Lost Book of Alexandria" (working title) we want to tap into this trend and create a beautiful, meaningful, spine tingling and shared experience.
A group of ca. 12 people at a time will experience an interactive 20-30 min audiovisual show in which their actions will drive the story forward. The interior design of the room will be a theatrical set based on Victorian libraries, colonial collector’s display rooms and a Egyptian cabinet of curiosities.
We believe that we could create an experience that can run almost every day for several months, opening during Halloween 2023 with the potential to become a long term or permanent legacy project of Leeds 2023.
The audience enter a dimly lit Victorian study. Set on a large desk amongst other Egyptian paraphernalia and collector’s items lies The Book. A strange halo surrounds it and a hardly noticeable whisper beckons the audience to open it...
Once opened something very ethereal seeps out of the book, like a beautiful hypnotic gas enveloping and ensnaring the audience. The visions begin really beautifully. Like a Siren’s call, the released phenomenon is alluring.
The room comes to life. It breathes. It scintillates and chimes. Like supernatural honey traps portraits of beautiful woman on the wall begin to sing. Busts, paintings and other anthropomorphised architectural features start to talk in poetic but daunting riddles. Inspired by popular horror films (”all work and no play makes jack a dull boy", "red rum”) the experience is psychological and not gratuitous.
The room becomes a medium for the phenomenon to temporarily manifest. Memories of the space reincarnate. Objects replay scenes that happened in Temple Works. One minute the audience meet one of the most liberal factory owners of the industrial revolution and the next they see his child employees collapsing after a 72h working week. One minute the audience is in an ancient Egyptian temple, the next moment the cursed walls collapse to reveal the Temple Works pastiche. One minute the cyclorama in the windows moves the room out of Leeds and into space, the next the room’s floor cracks open to reveal humanity’s abyss…
The phenomenon’s effects confuse the real and surreal in people's minds. Like a toxin, a drug or a virus, the curse is not conscious, has no incentive, no objective and no intentions but if it leaves the room it could do to the world what it does to the room. However, sometimes the visuals and visions draw in around windows and doors and their handles shake as if something was trying to get in. Or maybe something is trying to get out?!
After flicking through 7 pages of the book, each revealing a new chapter and a new set of beautifully unsettling visions, the audience closes the book. The phenomenon withdraws and creeps back into the pages and the room goes quiet. Back to the beginning like nothing happened.
The audience feels uncertain but the experience has ended and they head for the room’s exit. When they open the door, a loud garish spectacle happens behind them and the curse escapes the room through the door they just unwittingly opened.
On the audience’s way out something is different. Voices strangely echoing the experience inside seem now to manifest outside. Has the phenomenon escaped Temple Works?
4. INTERIOR DESIGN, AESTHETICS AND VISUAL EFFECTS
We are planning to build a shell inside the counting house' main room in order to avoid any invasive activity to the listed building. The theatrical interior of the shell will be carefully designed to hide all equipment and to look like an atmospheric Victorian study whilst accommodating a series of beautifully unsettling visual ‘tricks’ to take place. These 'tricks' will be used to literally bring the space to live.
Visual Effect Examples:
Portraits on the walls will come to life; interior walls will morph into an Egyptian tomb whose walls begin to crumble; wallpaper patterns start to warp, change and animate to create a psychedelic story; patterns on the carpet morph into bottomless pits, busts open their eyes and begin to chat to the audience, shadows without bodies appear along the room’s walls; chandeliers start to chime and scintillate, a piano starts to play itself; books fall out of book shelves; a secret door opens but nobody enters, ghostly characters appear as holograms floating in the air, exotic orchids luminesce like northern lights; architectural stucco starts to dance; the room catches fire etc.
5. NARRATIVE THEMES
We want the experience to be beautifully unsettling and entertaining but also meaningful, thought provoking and relevant to Holbeck and the history of Temple Works. We’d therefore like to create a completely fictional story which is inspired by and creatively comments on local historical, contemporary and future events.
These are possible narrative themes which (once narrowed down) we will explore in conjunction with our writer Richard Hurford, local people from Holbeck and the British Library's archives:
Global mythology: genie in a bottle, pandora’s box, Curse of the Pharaohs, demise of the Library of Alexandria, Egyptian mythology
Local mythology: Holbeck residents’ personal ghost stories and paranormal sightings, local myths and folklore, different cultures and traditions that have moved in and shaped Holbeck (what are their stories and what is their relationship to spirits/the afterlife
Local history: the history of Temple Works, the future of Temple Works as part of the British Library, the life of John Marshall, workers’ lives at the mill, Temple Works' relevance to Holbeck and Leeds
Global history: Egyptian history, Temple of Horus, British colonialism and industrialism, 19th century British factory works and BC Egyptian slaves, pharaohs and industrialists, cultural appropriation
6. BRITISH LIBRARY CATALOGUES & COLLECTIONS OF INTEREST
Main Catalogue: In the main catalogue we have found various sources on the Library of Alexandria, Egyptian curses, the paranormal and the industrial revolution.
Social Welfare Catalogue & Modern British History Catalogues: In this archive we would like to explore social inequality, living conditions for workers and social reform relating to the Victorian era and the industrial revolution.
Evanion Collection: This catalogue explores Victorian entertainment and everyday life through the lens of a conjurer who collected various posters and memorabilia from the Victorian era.
Asian and African Studies Department: We would like to contact this department to facilitate a deeper dive into Egyptian culture.
7. CREATIVE TEAM
The line up below is preliminary and might change depending on availability.
Lead Artists - Davy and Kristin McGuire: www.studiomcguire.com
Davy & Kristin McGuire are a multi-award winning mixed reality artists, internationally renowned for their idiosyncratic experiments in merging physical reality and digital reality to create elegant and exquisitely crafted hybrids worlds.
Their works have been exhibited, sold, published and screened internationally, and their critically acclaimed theatrical projects have been invited to tour to more than 100 venues in 23 different countries over 4 continents.
The art duo that has been commissioned by organisations such as the RSC, Canal+, Barneys New York, London International Mime Festival and ELLE China amongst many others. Their works have been exhibited, sold, published and screened internationally, and their critically acclaimed projects have been invited to tour to more than 100 venues in 23 different countries over 4 continents.
Davy and Kristin have won the Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award, the Australian Helpmann Award for Best Visual Theatre Production, the Japan Space Design Association Award and most recently Innovation of the Year at the Museum + Heritage Awards.
Writer - Richard Hurford
Richard Hurford is an award-winning theatre, radio and multi-media performance playwright, whose work has been produced throughout the UK and Europe.He also works extensively as a dramaturg, new writing consultant and workshop leader.
He has long-standing relationships with York Theatre Royal, Sheffield Theatres and Pilot Theatre Company and has held writer-in-residence posts with the latter two. He has also worked with and/or had his work produced by BBC Radio 4, National Theatre of Wales, Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, Derby Theatre, Oxfordshire Theatre Company, Birmingham Rep, Tutti-Frutti, Fresh Glory Productions, Watermill Theatre, Harrogate Theatre, Dundee Rep, Polka Theatre for Children, Theatre Royal, Plymouth, Seven Sisters Group, Emergency Exit Arts, Merseyside Young People’s Theatre, Compass Theatre Company, Mad Dogs Theatre Company, Whoopee Stomp Dance Company, Saxony State Theatre (Germany),Taurus Teatro (Spain), Landestheater Linz (Austria), Vrienden van de Dansmuziek (Netherlands), Exit Productions (Norway) and the European theatre networks MagicNet and Platform 11+.
Richard has twenty-five years’ experience of developing new work and leading creative projects with people of all ages and skills levels and working within a range of different communities.
Composer - Spesh Maloney: www.lophonics.webflow.io
Spesh is an active composer of music and sonic works for film, commercials, theatre and multimedia installations.
Spesh has worked with: BBC, Royal Shakespeare Company, British Museum, Shakespeare’s Globe, The Old Vic, Royal Opera House, NT, National Gallery, Royal Palaces. He’s an Mmus composition graduate of the Royal College of Music, London and has lectured and tutored at the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama, University of London, the South African College of Music, University of Cape Town, and the National Science Museum’s DANA Institute. Spesh’s research interests are in the application of 3D, binaural, 360 sound and music fusion in multimedia, exploring audio-visual synchresis.
Notable works: Black Roses - composer (BBC/documentary/RTS winner); A Night At The Mansion - composer & sound (Studio McGuire/installation); King Lear - composer (RSC/theatre feature film); A Summer Hamlet - composer (Globe Theatre/feature doc).
Spesh is currently working on a groundbreaking ‘special episode’ of the BBCs long-standing continuing drama EastEnders. The episode follows the POV of a hearing-impaired character, telling his story through an immersive distorted sound-world.
Graphic and Set Design - Anna Bean: www.bluebeany.com
Anna Bean a freelance artist and designer based in Hull. Her work recalls a long tradition of staged narratives and theatrical role playing in art. She utilises the camera and photoshop and various tools of the cinema and theatre, such as makeup, costumes, props, and scenery, to create dream worlds filled with Gothic horror and surreal humour.
Alongside photographic work she also creates still and animated photo-montage, and quite often appropriate existing images and re-imagine them in a new context. She also works in collaboration with performers to reshape her 2D created worlds into 3D immersive theatrical experiences allowing the audience to become part of these imaginary spaces.
Set Build - Ed Ullyart
Ed has been a teacher for 38 years so is used to multi functional and used to making quick, informed artistic decisions. He has created the following theatre sets: Happy Days(Beckett), A Christmas Carol (Dickens), Brief Lives (about John Aubrey by Patrick Garland), Echoes (a community play), A Steady Rain, a tough 2 handler which transferred to the Arcola theatre, London, Oliver Twist, his first venture into a large scale scaffolding set, Sparrow, an absurdist theatre set, and Blackbird, a dark 2 hander, naturalistic box set. He is thoroughly enjoying the large scale building it allows him. HeI designs, builds, paints and makes props.
Automation, Engineering and Programming - Ian Mitchell, Adam Tunnicliffe, Meggan Gumbrell
Ian Mitchell is a professional Chartered Electronic Engineer with considerable experience in some quite diverse industrial and technological areas, including Satellite Navigation and Positioning Systems, Sonar Ranging Instrumentation, Industrial Control Systems, Radio Data Telemetry and Robotics. His expertise includes the ability to design electronic circuits and systems from the component level upwards, to design and build printed circuit boards, to design and write software from low level assembly language through to object orientated languages and this is accompanied by the skill set to be able to install and commission equipment and systems as necessary on site.
More latterly Ian has been increasingly interested in and engaged in designing, producing and installing lighting, sound and special effects systems for the arts sector, these being used both in the conventional theatrical arena and also for more avant-garde street theatre performances.
Adam Tunnicliffe is a Microsoft certified mixed reality developer at VISR Ltd. with commercial experience working and managing MR projects. Past experience collaborating with Unity3D on their "Learn" platform, supporting "Autodesk University" as a teaching assistant, and running Unity workshops. Proficient in 3DSMax, Photoshop, Nuke, Unity, C# and C++.
Meggan Gumbrell is an experienced C# and Unity developer specialising in Mixed Reality applications. Hardware prototyping and R&D at VISR Dynamics Ltd with experience in Blender (3D Modelling), Fusion 360 (CAD), 3D printing, CNC milling and embedded electronics.
In order to launch the experience around Halloween 2023 we are anticipating to begin production work in March 2023.
The production schedule is preliminary and might change once the project conditions (e.g. counting house renovations and final room layouts) are confirmed.
An experience for ca. 12 people at a time.
Projection coverage using 10 Optoma projectors (incl. ceiling) with internal "room within a room" dimensions of 10m width, 4.3m depth and 3.40m height.
Complete projection coverage (minus back wall) using 6 Panasonic projectors (incl. ceiling) with internal "room within a room" dimensions of 10 x 4 x 3.40m.
We have scoped out various budget options for the project.
These options give a little flexibility in deciding how long the project should run for and whether more durable and expensive equipment should be purchased or whether equipment should be hired for a shorter run.
The running, upkeep and management of the experience would need to be covered by Leeds 2023.
These budgets are preliminary and might change in accordance with equipment and material costs and once the project conditions (e.g. counting house renovations and final room layouts) are confirmed.
Main Artist Production Budget:
Includes all artistic fees and equipment costs with options for buying projectors from Optoma OR Panasonic OR renting them from SSS (rental period covers a run between Halloween and Christmas). This budget does not include "Room inside a Room" build which needs to be chosen from the two options below and added to the main production budget.
"Room inside a Room Build" budget option 1 (Matt Sykes-Hooban):
Includes all labour and materials for building a shell room inside the Counting House which avoids intrusive interventions to the Grade 1 Listed Building.
"Room inside a Room Build" budget option 2 (TG Events)
Alternative to Matt Sykes-Hooban budget which includes various technical production management services on site and costs for building the "room inside the room.