Seven 10-minute street theatre performances, housed in empty Manhattan storefrontsand in histrionic sets designed by David Rockwell, offer a new way of enjoying art, transforming the void into a creative opportunity

After a year and a half of restrictions due to the pandemic, various and diversified initiatives are being implemented around the world to transform closures into opportunities for creative rebirth, to reinvent spaces and start a recovery with a strong artistic connotation. And, why not, a spectacular one.

It happened in Milan last spring,when, while museums and art galleries were closed, the Viavài project used some shop windows in Via della Spiga to exhibit for works and artistic installations, turning the void into an opportunity for creativity and at the same time launching a message of artistic vitality.

Look here at the Viavài project in Milan

Initiatives in empty stores such as the exhibition Unterwegs (Traveling) by Kerstin Brätsch and Judith Hopf, promoted by the ATO Art Takes Over association (also in Via della Spiga in Milan, until end of September) are responses to the current situation of closed commercial spaces and lack of tourism. Rather than leaving everything untouched, entire areas are offering the public an encounter with contemporary art, bringing it back to the center of the Quadrilatero della Moda, which in the mid-twentieth century housed the most renowned art galleries.

But not just boutiques. In Mantua, in Northern Italy, the closed shops have become artist's ateliers. Thanks to the Lunetta Cultural Camp call, in fact, artists, designers, actors, film-makers, writers and associations have applied to receive a vacant space on free loan and transform it into a creative studio, thus becoming real engines of economic and social recovery.

Read here how closed commercial spaces have been transformed into ateliers in Mantua

In New York, on the other hand, on a summer night in late June, The Seven Deadly Sins transformed the streets into outdoor theater.

A theater anthology series directed by Moisés Kaufman is composed of seven 10-minute long world premiere. Each takes place in an empty storefront (with the exception of Envy, which takes place in a shipping container). Each play addresses a sin (or vice): pride, sloth, greed, lust, wrath, envy and gluttony.

Rockwell Group designed the set and environment of this unprecedented outdoor experience. David Rockwell grew up in the theatre – his mother, a vaudeville dancer and choreographer, often cast him in community repertory productions – and since then he has drawn on aspects of performance to frame and enhance his architecture and design. His set designs include She Loves Me – which was awarded with a Tony Award, A Midsummer Night's Dream at the Delacorte Theatre in Central Park, as well as the set for this year’s Oscars ceremony.

In addition to the impacting force, both visual and involvement level, of the performances in the window, what really amazes is the fruition. The public, in fact, sat outside the storefront windows and were guided from performance to performance.

Audiences begin their journey in Purgatory, a loading dock across from the Whitney Museum with neon strips and a red Mylar curtain that doubles as the introduction to the performance and a pop-up bar. Each play has a distinct color and a 7-foot-tall sign that sits in the transom or outside of the storefront spelling out the name of the sin presented. The set for Greed was the only one that was not designed by Rockwell Group.

The smallest of the sets, Lust, is a monologue by a pole dancer having an internal dialogue about her to-do list and past relationships while in the midst of her routine. A purple and silver rain curtain hangs at the back of the stage. Two mirrored sidewalls are trimmed with purple and white flex neon. Two sparkly purple curtains hang downstage. The stage itself is painted in high gloss purple. The ceiling has a mirrored finish. The set of Sloth is realistic living room in the suburbs features two windows, and two doors and typical furniture. The frame has concealed lighting concealed that emits a glow from top of walls, and a baseboard produces uplighting. The play features a young couple having a disagreement while the husband plays video games.

Gluttony takes place in the Garden of Eden, but rather than create naturalistic foliage, designers were inspired by Henri Rousseau’s bold jungle images and Kehinde Wiley’s representation of foliage in his take on Old Masters. A baroque set features a front ground row painted in bold, abstract flowers and foliage. A set of wings and a painted backdrop feature the same design. In Pride a trans blogger sells out to a big corporation that begins to crafts his content and his readers turn against him. The set is an explosion of Pride paraphernalia, with a rainbow Mylar curtain, pink floor, trans flags, and Pride bunting. The blogger’s content is shown on nine TV monitors on a truss above the stage and stage right.

Set in Versailles, Envy features an aging King Louis IV and his wife. The inspiration was the decadence of the era and Versailles. Set in an immersive gold room, a cascading flower wall of golden roses frames the King and his wife is in her period garb on a Rococo chaise. The set of Wrath, finally, is a dominatrix lair with red walls, red vinyl padded surfaces, whips, chains, and bondage mechanisms.