Sean Griffin’s “Cold Spring” smashes theatre, music, visuals together at EMPAC

Trying to describe in advance what is churning in the mind of theatrical innovator Sean Griffin is not an easy task. The simple description is that the guy (with a PhD no less) is playing with a different deck of cards than you and me. Take the premise of Cold Spring, which receives its world premiere at EMPAC on December 3 and 4. It is not a holiday show, in fact it is so far out of this world as to be a totally new experience.

Griffin is like a battering ram, or particle accelerator for the traditional trappings of the stage. No neat plots, story arc or traditional techniques. Instead his stage will consist of alien abductions, eugenics, snapshots of area theater productions, and roller girls as seen through his own special kaleidoscopic operatic lens.

The cast in rehearsal at EMPAC for "Cold Spring."

The Specifics: On Friday and Saturday, December 3 and 4, 2010 at 8 PM in the Theater, the Curtis R. Priem Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center (EMPAC) presents Cold Spring, a theatrical + musical performance created in residence by the Los Angeles-based composer Sean Griffin. More information can be found on the EMPAC website, www.empac.rpi.edu. First visit? Details like where to park and how to access the performing space are important, and the EMPAC Box Office: 518.276.3921 is the place to call for your logistics.

A diversity of musicians, actors, and dancers from all over the United States and Canada turn the EMPAC Theater into a high-energy collision of charged musical and theatrical particles and their underlying ideologies.

A view at the state-of-the-art theatre as seen from on stage. Note the stadium type seating with almost perfect sight lines from every seat.


Among these is the Eugenics Archive in Cold Spring Harbor NY. This archive represents the breeding-ground research for the eugenics-based social policies that resulted in mass sterilization of undesirables, forced lobotomies and, ultimately, with support from the Carnegie Foundation, Nazi Germany’s master race policies.

In Cold Spring, materials from this archive intersect unexpectedly with the early 20th century spiritualism-meets-pop-supernaturalism of the 1970s. Through an operatic rendition of the 1961 Betty and Barney Hill alien abduction hypnosis tapes, we follow the embattled, mixed-race couple as they navigate social complications through the hyper-vigilant sanctimony of their pre-civil rights world.

Cold Spring is propelled by a collection of iconic musical and theatrical snap-shots, several performed by actors familiar to Capitol Region theater-goers. Ideas best forgotten and good intentions gone awry unfold onto one another, turning the theater into a crippled ceremonious procession.

Funded in part through Meet The Composer’s MetLife Creative Connections program.

Sean Griffith

Encompassing many languages, styles, media and forms, Griffin’s unusual compositional works rely on interdisciplinary incongruities positioned at the intersection of sound, image, performance, and the archive.

Manifesting as large and small-scale operatic works, collaborative sound and video installations, complex numeric choreographies, or historically weighted political works that defy categorization, Griffin’s works obsessively instrumentalize embedded cultures of injustice, racism, and wars of the recent past disturbingly mixed with dated-pop fantasies about self worth and class. Animated by rhythmic regimentation and improvisation, his compositions can be viewed as platforms for the performer’s unique talents with whom he collaborates extensively.

Cold Spring – created in residence at EMPAC, and includes area theater groups: Curtain Call Theatre (performing pieces from Driving Miss Daisy), Johnstown Little Theatre (Good Fences), and Class Act Productions (All in the Timing), as well as the Albany All Stars Roller Girls (being their standard level of awesome). EMPAC and Griffin have also been working with the Schenectady Museum in terms of securing pieces from their collection for the set design. One of them is shown in the lead photograph.

Griffin frequently collaborates with Catherine Sullivan, Juliana Snapper, Charles Gaines and Aiyun Huang. His works have been presented internationally at venues including Los Angeles’ REDCAT, Armand Hammer Museum, and LACMA, June in Buffalo, Berlin’s Volksbühne, Secession Vienna, London’s Royal Academy and the Tate Modern, Festival d’Avignon, Taipei City Arts Festival, Walker Art Center, Centre Pompidou, and Festival BOM 2010 in Seoul, Korea. He recieved an MFA from CalArts and a Ph.D. from the University of California, San Diego.

The collection of set pieces and props looks random (and very interesting) before being organized.


Tickets are required for this event and available through the EMPAC box office for $15 general admission; $10 for students, seniors, and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute faculty and staff; or $5 for Rensselaer students.

Parking for this event is available in the Rensselaer parking lot on College Avenue. Evelyn’s Café will be open before the performance for all your culinary needs.

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