A couple of years back, Marco Tempest, a technoillusionist from Switzerland, retold the life story of inventor Nikola Tesla using the principles of Tanagra theater, a form of theater popular in Europe nearly a century ago. A good description of this forgotten form of theatre is surprisingly hard to come by. Perhaps the best I encountered comes from this academic web site:
Tanagra Theatres existed in many European cities in the years 1910–1920. The name comes from the figures excavated at Tanagra in the 1890s whose name became synonymous with perfect living miniatures, particularly female. The sideshow illusion consisted of a miniature stage where living actors appeared as real but tiny figures, through an arrangement of plain and concave mirrors. Its development as a sideshow attraction came about as a by-product of research into optical instruments which could better sustain the perception of depth. The use of concave mirrors has a long history in magic but for the Tanagra the stronger light of electricity was essential.
In his presentation, Tempest takes the concepts of Tanagra to a whole new level, combining projection mapping and intricate pop-up art. As you watch the show, you might find yourself intrigued as much by the method as by the story itself. If that’s the case, you will want to watch the “behind-the-scenes” video below. Tempest also gave his presentation at TED. You can watch it here.