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.