PPL's new opera NATURE FETISH is for seven-year-olds and scientists. We can't claim that it is "educational theater" nor can we claim that it is solely "experimental music-theater" or "visual arts performance" NATURE FETISH is an opera, a combination of artistic mediums, a hybrid creature made of music, text, actions, movements, objects, space, situations, and humans.
Part of NATURE FETISH has been construction of our own frame for the project as a whole. The process of the opera's development has been a social performance involving artists and non-artists from University Settlement and Lower East Side communities, and will involve the participation of all those who attend the shows at Speyer Hall and beyond. The Performance Project @ University Settlement initially gave us a residency on just the seed of an idea about researching "the nature of nature" and making a piece from that research; Alison understood that we needed to hold free, public workshops before we were able to describe what exactly the opera would be "about" or show any written music or text. It's hard to express how invaluable this kind of trust is to a project like this: the initial public devising part of our process often makes it impossible for us to work in traditional spaces and theaters, as they demand a finished script and a full cast right from the beginning. We find that there is little possibility for artistic experiment without institutional experiment/risks, and we are grateful to the Performance Project for making room (literally) for mutual expansion and experimental performance research. Moreover, PPL works with the concept that the situation of performance is not just the performance (play, concert, dance) itself, considering "performance" also as the space, and all of the people involved in every aspect of the project and in the systems that surround it. This broader conception of performance is shared by the Performance Project and, over the course of our residency, we have had the opportunity to participate in the ART IS NOT APART symposium to connect with others who advocate the application of creative methodology to other fields and spheres of human experience, and vice versa, and to work with Alison on the very form of the residency.
That being said, this blog post is really supposed to entice you, the reader, to come see the final performances on the 26th, 27th and 28th of April! Thus, I'd like to give you some idea of what to expect, by breaking NATURE FETISH down into some of its "components," a nod to those who define opera as a combination of all mediums. Perhaps I can give an idea of what this show is going to be like so you can decide if it sounds like something you (and/or your kids) want to experience!
FORM: The opera has five episodes, four of which will be performed at University Settlement (the fifth is an installation). Each episode is performed in a different style, attempting to unify performance mode with conception of the "nature of nature" that the episode embodies. The first episode is "laws and logic of nature." The second is "systemic ecology," followed by "the wild," and "consciousness and humanism." Each of these clusters of concepts attempts to construct a way of being, though this attempt is not expected to "succeed" and we argue neither in favor nor against any single conception, rather proposing that the concept of "nature" or "natural" itself is comprised of various "fetishes" or projected visions; faiths held by humans judged false or true also by humans.
MUSIC: Written by Brian McCorkle and developed in collaboration with fellow composer-musicians Cory Bracken, Ellen O'Meara, and Dave Ruder, the music moves between through-composition (notated and played the same every time), improvisation, analog electronics, and interpretation of graphic scores, as these modes relate to the different episodes. Instruments heard will include clarinet, saxophone, keyboard, percussion, mixing bowls, flute, glockenspiel, grand piano, crackle box, electronics, kazoo, and voices.
TEXT: Text is 99% sung. It is written by Esther Neff from the five Focus Workshops at University Settlement, as well as from interviews and existing research from the natural and hard sciences, and from philosophy, theology, and other human sciences and the arts. No hierarchy has been installed between the theories of Focus Workshop participants and those held by quantum physicists. All questions are valid, theories have been clustered based on their projected implications (fetishized) and articulated through the librettist/playwright's subjective arm of poesy. The words "mean" only what they bring immediately in to your mind, there is no single, empiric interpretation possible.
PERFORMERS: Arla Berman, Jessica Bathurst, Cory Bracken, Katie Johnston, Brian McCorkle, Natasha Missick, Esther Neff, Michael Newton, Ellen O'Meara, and Dave Ruder, the PPL, play themselves as performers, utilizing the different performance modes. Some of these modes involve "acting," while most involve enaction of movement and text, theorization, declaration, and the difficult act of singing and playing in public.
PARTICIPATORY SEQUENCES: At some points in this piece, PPL requires the audience's participation in order to illustrate or theorize a conception. We are not trying to 'give you the opportunity' to participate, as we know that 'participation' is often dreaded. Sometimes, however, we need to diversify the minds that are making certain improvisation choices, and/or need you to help us fabricate a situation in which all present people are doing the same thing. Sometimes we need to remove a traditional performer-audience dichotomy, other times to simply shift it. Please let us know in advance (or when you arrive at the show) if you are unable to stand for any period of time and/or unable to sit on the floor.
The show also includes a ceramic hamburger, iceberg lettuce, yards of plastic, fake flowers, felt flags, skittles, and other elements that orbit the music and text like an asteroid belt of ice and rock. Objects are sometimes symbols, sometimes tools, sometimes musical instruments, not everything is functional, some flowers use color to attract bees: Currently, we pose like a flower on the edge of the woods, hoping our petals are attractive to you, hoping you will come and pollinate us with your attention, your senses, your presence. It will not be possible to complete this performance without you!
Please visit www.naturefetish.wordpress.com for more photos, information, process notes, and more.
Performances at University Settlement are at 8pm on April 26, 27, and 28, 2012. Tickets can be purchased online HERE.