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Actor on wheel

Actor Ron Cephas Jones, who plays the lead role in an upcoming L.A. production of the ancient Greek tragedy "Prometheus Bound," rehearses on the 5-ton, 23-foot steel wheel that serves as the set's centerpiece. With him is fellow performer Mirjana Jokovic.

The play, thought to have first been performed in 450 B.C., tells of the rebel god Prometheus, who gets chained to a remote mountain for eternity as punishment for defying Zeus by stealing fire to give to mere mortals. The highly engineered wheel functions as that mythological mountain top -- and, essentially, the entire set.

The kinetic wheel is the brainchild of the creative team at the CalArts Center for New Performance, which is partnering with Trans Arts and the J. Paul Getty Museum to mount the avant-garde performance.

Caption:Photo:CalArts Center for New Performance
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Wheel inside a wheel

Actor Ron Cephas Jones, who plays Prometheus in the upcoming production of "Prometheus Bound" at the Getty Villa in Los Angeles, spends much of the play attached to a 9-foot orbiting aluminum disc inside the larger wheel. Another actor at ground level operates the disc by rotating a 36-inch ship wheel (seen at bottom right). That smaller wheel was found on eBay by set designer Efren Delgadillo.

Updated:Caption:Photo:CalArts Center for New Performance
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The contraption, close up

Efren Delgadillo, set designer for the Getty Villa production of "Prometheus Bound," studied wind tunnels, water wheels, clock gears, and Leonardo da Vinci drawings while researching the piece. He and director Travis Preston went through 15 versions of the wheel before settling on the one that will star in the show.

Updated:Caption:Photo:Efren Delgadillo Jr.
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In production

During the construction process, parts of the giant wheel sit on the floor at LA ProPoint, a fabricator of theme park rides and complex mechanical props that built the contraption. Because of its size, the wheel was designed to be easily broken down and reassembled.

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Detailed instructions

Assembling a 23-foot, 5-ton steel wheel requires detailed engineering instructions. The giant wheel rests on a base fitted with casters, and actors can move it by pushing it across the stage, triggering two additional hidden wheels.

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Getting in gear

This is the gear that turns the wheel. Mark Odom, an engineer and co-founder of DAS Design Works, made sure the whole 23-foot contraption was sturdy yet maneuverable. To offset additional weight on the small wheel stationed inside the larger one, for example, Odom created a counterbalance system using dumbbells to keep it stable.

Updated:Caption:Photo:CalArts Center for New Performance
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Lowered into place

A giant crane lowers pieces of the wheel into the outdoor theater at Getty Villa, where "Prometheus Bound" opens for previews August 29 and runs September 5-28.

"In terms of the look, the height, and the footprint, we've never done anything like this before in our eight years of presenting theater," said Laurel Kishi, performing arts manager at the J. Paul Getty Museum. "It's almost like a contemporary art installation."

Updated:Caption:Photo:CalArts Center for New Performance
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