Tuesday, July 27, 2010

This Weekend: OpenAir Circus Goes to the Beach

That's just the theme of the show. OpenAir Circus is performing at Nunziatio Field in Somerville as always.

My mime and commedia students will be performing as part of the annual Somerville-based youth circus. I've even made new masks!

Come see over 170 children of all ages (and a few adults) perform what they have learned this summer! The show is approximately 2 hours long with one intermission. Refreshments, souvenirs and circus equipment will be available near the entrance to Nunziato Field.

Friday, July 30st at 7pm
Saturday, July 31st at 2pm and 7pm
Sunday, August 1st at 2pm

Suggested Donation: $3.00

If you like RSVPing on Facebook, you can do so here.

Arlecchino Am Ravenous at Behind the Mask Studio and Theatre

I'll be performing Arlecchino Am Ravenous as a free outdoor performance at Behind the Mask Studio and Theatre on Wednesday, July 28 at 1pm.

Master maskmaker Eric Bornstein had originally asked me to perform as a demonstration to his assistants (and to inaugurate the small outdoor stage they built this summer) and then decided to open the event to a larger audience.

Behind the Mask Studio & Theatre
6 Campbell Park Place
Somerville, MA

(Enter around back. Please use public transit if possible: it's a short walk from the Davis Square MBTA stop.)

If you like to use facebook, you can RSVP here

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Arlecchino Am Eating Polenta!

Everytime I make polenta, this character appears in my kitchen.

Perhaps I should use this or a similar image next time I perform Arlecchino Am Ravenous? Now if only I knew how to make costumes or could afford a more traditional Arlecchino costume.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Improvising with Karen Montanaro

Ian with Karen Montanaro. All photographs by Justin Moore, check his Flickr page for additional photos from the July 10, 2010 Improv Org Event

I met Karen Montanaro this past spring at the Arlington Center for the Arts where she was performing a set of improvisations to the music of Ginger Ibex a chamber music/progressive rock ensemble featuring pianist/composer, Sharon Crumrine and violist Betty Widerski. I had met Sharon in a coffee house where I had been auditioning actors for a staged reading of Total War, apologizing if my reading lines with actors was disturbing her, where upon we she mentioned her band, it came up that we knew many of the same musicians and that I was a mime.

That's when Sharon asked me if I knew Karen Montanaro. I only knew Karen by reputation and as co-author with her late husband, the celebrated mime, Tony Montanaro, of Mime Spoken Here. One of the best books I've read on mime theatre, which is probably one of the reasons I never got my copy back after I loaned it out!

Months later I found myself in Arlington. Having arrived early, Karen recognized my willingness to get on a stage and invited me to sit in with her ad hoc ensemble that this evening included the twin dancers Billy and Bobby McClain. We had a good rapport and so I stayed on stage for much of the show.

Mali Sastri, composer and singer for Jaggery was also in the audience that night. Not only did she join in improvisation, but it inspired the theme of her next Org event: Improv Org. Org is a series of performance related events at a location I shall not disclose that Mali organizes-- and she prefers to keep to a theme. I'd like to think that the city has many many more such "secret" event series for artists to perform in between public appearances.

With Johanna Bobrow who was sitting in on violin with Ginger Ibex that evening.

So sometime later, after Mali had started to put together the line-up, Sharon emailed and asked me if I would like to dance with Karen again. I agreed immediately, and along with Naomi Davis, became part of Karen's ad-hoc dance troupe. We were originally scheduled to perform in the garden, but because of flash floods that hit the Boston area that day, we were relocated indoors to the attic loft known as the Cloud Club.

From top to bottom: Johanna Bobrow, Ian Thal, Naomi Davis, the other part of Karen's ad-hoc dance troupe.

In between songs, Karen would often discuss her philosophy of improvisation: that no matter the body type or the level of training, each and every body had a certain poetry that could express itself if simply allowed to move. Eventually, she brought members of the audience to improvise with us.

The evening would include a story by Evan O'Sullivan, a raga sung by Molly Zenobia, Guitar Circle New England and a jam featuring members of Walter Sickert and the Army of Broken Toys, Jaggery, Amanda Palmer and others.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Shadow Circus at Wheelock Family Theatre

This summer I had a week-long gig co-teaching a puppetry class at Wheelock Family Theatre. It was my first time teaching puppetry. For two hours and forty-five minutes a day over the course of five days, my co-teacher, two assistants, and I, met with a group of roughly two-dozen nine-to-eleven year olds. Our objective was to teach them both puppet making and puppet performance. For me one imperative was that the kids came away introduced to at least three styles of puppetry and the associated techniques-- the other was that they created the work themselves.

On day one, we introduced them to the construction of rod puppets, and gave them the homework assignment to bring in a found object that would be modified into puppet. On the third day, I introduced them to shadow puppets using an overhead projector (a style of shadow puppetry covered extensively in Theatre on a Tabletop: Puppetry for Small Places by Kuang-Yu Fong and Stephen Kaplin of Chinese Theatre Works)

(All photos by yours truly while I was operating the overhead projector.)

The kids were split into teams of three and sent to create circus-themed acts, which proved to be some of the most well-received aspects of the show they gave on Friday.
And now, a human tower on a unicycle!
Don't worry, folks: we have a net!
A tight-rope, a unicycle, and an elephant!
And now, ladies and gentlemen! The fire-breather!
Can the most fearsome of beasts jump through a hoop of the most fearsome of elements?

Saturday, July 3, 2010

For Independence Day Weekend: A Repost from 2004

For Independence Day Weekend, a repost from my old authorsden blog from 2004 about the first performance of a piece that would later be incorporated into Cosmic Spelunker Theater's Waltzing to War:

Our National Anthem/Back in the USA
1/30/2004 4:24:55 PM

Tuesday, January 20th:

Once again, I am at my monthly regular gig at Whimsy, a free form performance art cabaret at the Zeitgeist Gallery in Cambridge. It was started by Warren Lynch when he was still going by the moniker of Thistle Kachunk and before he decided to devote his time to making low budget fantasy films. Whimsy bounced around from place to place for about a year before Warren got tired of it. More recently Markus Nechay decided to try his hand hosting the series.

Markus is one of Cambridge's eccentrics, a scruffy blonde fellow who immigrated from Communist Poland as a child and has a penchant for dressing in historical costume at every opportunity. Every opportunity includes Whimsy, where he chooses a historical era or theme and along with his cohost, Nick, free associates on one era or another in between featured performers. One evening the theme was pirates, another it was western pioneers, another was his childhood escape from the workers' utopia on the back of the American bald eagle (played by yours truly -- this took some rehearsal as I needed figure out how to flap my arms like wings while carrying an average sized adult male on my back.) Tonight's theme was "Dead Presidents" as we were competing with the State of the Union Address for the Cambridge audience. Markus had assembled a cast that included Abraham Lincoln, Chester B. Arthur, Ronald Reagan and Richard Nixon.

Given that "dead presidents" is slang for money, the most obvious performance piece I had in my repertoire was "Open Letter to the Treasury Department" in which I petition the creation of a "thirteen dollar bill" dedicated to Thelonious Sphere Monk-- it's a comic piece I wrote back in 2000 and was influenced by the monologues of Lenny Bruce and Lord Buckley whom at the time I listened to a great deal. While my poetry has since taken another direction, I had continued to perform the piece with Cosmic Spelunker Theater as part of "Give and Take."

In its latest incarnation, I open the piece with one my signature routines: I mime playing various musical instruments, either mimicking their sounds or scat singing. In this case I open with a bass solo. My intention had been to play "Epistrophe" but for some reason I find myself playing "Straight, No Chaser”. I have always, and now more so than ever, been fascinated by the physicality of musicians-- especially jazz musicians: When they play, their hands, and everything else that comes in contact with the instrument is disciplined, precise, and focused while every other part of their body expresses their individuality: differing postures, how they react to the crowd and the music around them. As such, I have not only had to learn the isolations and fixees that make the illusion of trumpets or double basses, but I have to create the musician personae-- these characters have slowly become larger and larger...

Just a couple of days before the performance, I feel some tug to do something more than the comic-- to once again do something on stage that my audience would not expect. I have made the demand upon myself as an artist to not allow anyone who has not seen my act in over a year to have an accurate measurement of my current work and so it is time to experiment again.

While visiting my parents in Washington, we chanced upon a radio interview with cellist Matt Haimowitz during which he performed his acoustic cello rearrangement of Jimi Hendrix' electric guitar arrangement of "The Star Spangled Banner." I was particularly awed by Haimowitz performance. It was Hendrix’s performance of this song in the film “Woodstock” that inspired me as a teenager to strap on a guitar, and while I have changed media since then, I still have a portrait of Hendrix in sight of my computer.

My parents had never had my interest in rocknroll and through Haimowitz were hearing Hendrix for the first time and it seemed to capture both their imaginations. It was a good antidote for me as I had just spent the afternoon listening to the Marylander who referred to the Confederacy in the first person plural and his romanticization of the Southern cause had left me with some degree of queasiness-- but now I was listening to the anthem of an America that I shared with both Haimowitz and Hendrix, and suddenly I could share something that I loved with my parents.

When it was over I offered an explanation. "Hendrix," I began, "served in the US Army as paratrooper about the same time as Dad was in Korea. He was of African American and Cherokee ancestry and was with the 60s counter culture. He was saying that this is his country too."

The next day, some letter by a listener who had also heard the broadcast was read on the radio. It was some angry letter claiming that Hendrix hated America.

I decided that for Whimsy, I was going to do my own anthem. I was going to sing the Star Spangled Banner while dancing, interspacing it with sound effects and mimed instruments. I began by miming a hip hop DJ at the turn tables.

with the right hand I spun one invisible disc as I said "Our national... Our national... Our national" and began to spin the other invisible disc with my left hand "Death of the Ball Turret Gunner." I had made a cut up of Francis Scott Keyes' lyrics with Randall Jarell's brilliant poem.

"Our national [...] Death of the Ball Turret Gunner [...] Gunner [...] Gunner [...] Ball Turret Gunner."

And then I sang "O, say can you see..." interrupting myself with
"From my mother's sleep I fell into the state... by the dawn's early light..."

"And the rockets' red glare [...] I awoke to black flack and the nightmare fighters [...] the bombs bursting in mid air [...] I woke to black flak and the nightmare fighters"

Somewhere, I mimed the guitar in a little nod to Hendrix with some words of my own: "Chime singing, like bell ring, like voice sing, like plucked string, singing string" to the tune of that famous bugle dirge based on the second inversion major triad.

I slowly began the collapse to the floor as the young airman was shredded by German bullets, "O, say does that star spangled banner yet wave, o'er the land of the free, and the home of the brave [...] and when I died they washed me out of the turret with a hose."

I balanced on my coccyx like I had been taught in butoh class, raising my torso and limbs upwards and increasing the tension in my body as I looked silently upwards as I let the audience know that I was done. They applauded and I rose to my feet, bowed and slipped to the back.

It was the first time I had done anything of this sort and as always, I wished for more rehearsals or at least an ability to perform it every night like when I was with Bread & Puppet, but several people told me they were moved by it, even several nights later at a party in Somerville. There is clearly some potential with the piece and I decide to mention it to James for project we've been discussing for Cosmic Spelunker Theater.

As far as what the piece is about: If I want to make a political statement, I make my argument. This was art, it is meant to make the audience feel and think and come to their own conclusions. As for me: It's my country too.

The piece later came known as "Wartime Mash-Up" and I would perform it both with Cosmic Spelunker Theater and as a solo artist. There must be some video of it that can be pulled out and posted.