Sophie Treadwell’s expressionistic play Machinal is the dreary tale of a meek woman who dares to try to find happiness and escape the cold, mechanical, patriarchal world that monitors and controls her every move. She is caged in by pipes, tubes, and gratings, equipped with bare light bulbs and valves and gauges of mysterious purpose. Moments of warmth seem to be metered and rationed. What exactly is flowing through all of these pipes? Water? Air? Electricity? Gas? Poison? At times, each of these seems to be true: Turn this knob, and out flows drinking water. Twist this handle, and the device glows with light. Open this valve, and Sophie meets her final fate.
The thirteen steampunk-inspired practical lighting fixtures that I designed and embedded into David Morris’s scenery inspired me to build lighting fixtures in this style as standalone art objects. I call them Seitel Practicals, after the theater term referring to a scenic element that functions as a light source, such as a neon sign, a lantern, a table lamp, or a wall sconce.