BWW Interviews: PROTOTYPE Festival Producers Kristin Marting, Kim Whitener, and Beth Morrison
BWW: TOXIC PSALMS offers a different kind of immersive connection between the performers and audience members.
Kim Whitener: TOXIC PSALMS is an extremely exciting project, it's a vocal theater company from Slovenia led by internationally renowned conductor Karmina Šilec. She has devised this practice that she calls Choregie, which is the ultimate collective experience. She cares deeply about that because she has a philosophy that the sound of multiple voices works very viscerally on the human body and that we actually take in the ideas and the feelings and it becomes very collective. It's extremely powerful.
BWW: How did you discover Šilec's work?
Kim Whitener: Beth was introduced to it through Music Theater Now. It's works that we really haven't seen here. There are 31 women on stage. It's a kind of series of different songs by many composers and writers, and it's very compelling about the state of our world, and the issues of brutality and violence, and how men, women, humans are singing the glory of their actions, which are painful in the world. It's this amazing collective experience, but it's also very theatrical. She stages it. The women have several costume changes. There's choreographic movement, the use of lemons, the kind of manipulation of different objects. It's highly theatrical and visual, while at the same time being this overwhelming choral sound. We're really excited to be premiering that here and to give audiences the opportunity to see something that really has not been seen here before.
BWW: New kinds of operatic experience are very exciting, and even a rock concert or album can be operatic, like KANSAS CITY CHOIR BOY.
Kim Whitener: Director Kevin Newberry, who we worked with last year, brought KANSAS CITY CHOIR BOY to us. Todd Almond is someone he had been working with to develop this project, a piece that Todd had been writing for a number of years, and which is sort of outside the normal musical theater realm that Todd has been working in. The project is very personal and close to his heart. We usually we a cabaret slot in a space downstairs, but they said this is going to be very unusual, very music theater, but also very theatrical - it's kind of a song cycle that's been theatrical.
Beth Morrison: Todd calls it his opera, he feels it's an opera. It's sung through, there's a loose story to. I think theatrical concept album. We're working with an icon like Courtney Love on it is thrilling and exciting, and to see her passion and devotion to the project, and to see her and Todd work together to create this world together has been really special.
Kristin Marting: There's an interesting theme running through the festival - the chorus in all its forms. There's an amazing chorus in WINTER'S CHILD there's the collaboration with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus in AGING MAGICIAN, and with the chorus of women in Toxic Psalms. Even in KANSAS CITY CHOIR BOY, there's a chorus of six sirens. There's some allusions to the sirens in Homer's Odyssey, so it's kind of curated with an appreciation for the choral experience
BWW: How does the Timur and the Dime Museum show fit in with this year's programming?
Beth Morrison: Previously we gave Timur and the Dime Museum our cabaret slot, and they did six shows. This performance at Joe's Pub is in advance of their major premier of a work I've developed with them called COLLAPSE which is a full theater night (in a way it's a theatrical concept album too) that will be at a major festival in Brooklyn. We wanted to give New York one more opportunity the chance to hear them before they come back with their big show this fall.
BWW: People are often shocked with how long it can take to develop a project. What have you learned about process during this year's PROTOTYPE?
Kristin Marting: I think the productions developed by Beth Morrison Projects and HERE require an enormous amount of time, and an enormous amount of time for the collaborators to get together. We often do developmental residencies with full tech because the artists need that in order to uncover what the form is, and to discover, "Oh, we don't need to do everything here, we can just develop one of our threads here - this can be developed with puppetry, so we can actually have a really simple musical line going on underneath instead." If they didn't have that time, and you're going into a short rehearsal process, and suddenly you're putting something up in front of people, I think you've had a lot of underscoring of things that aren't necessary, and you'd also miss a lot of things because you wouldn't have time to develop it. So we've created our residencies to allow artists to develop things over a long period of time, and we've developed a lot of partnerships with organizations like the Playwright's Center, and get the artists to focus on the work early in the process, and discover and unlock what the potential is.
BWW: The works in PROTOTYPE speaks to a broad community. How do you select what to produce and present?
Beth Morrison: We are very fortunate that we have a broad based audience. We have a young audience and we have a middle aged audience, as well. We're getting a cross section of many demographics. When we curate, we try to represent a diverse group of projects. We want to have a varied set of aesthetics, and that's the guiding principal. If we're going to have a piece that represents something at the more conservative end of the spectrum musically, we're going to have something that's as equally way out at the other end of the spectrum, and we fill in what's in between. We travel the world to see things, and bring back projects individually. But, it has be a unified decision [of what to present], and mostly we have a pretty good track record of sort of, 'One for all, and all for one.' It just happens to work out most of the time.
Kristin Marting: We're trying to make people rethink what opera is, and we're trying to interrogate that idea with a spectrum of programming, and we hope that multiple people will come to that most conservative offering and that more experimental offering, and then they can be like - "Oh my god, my mind is blown! How can opera be both things?"
Kim Whitener: We're excited how the audiences for Protoype have grown. We have a base of very adventurous audience - a younger demographic - but we've recently seen an interest coming from uptown, of people who are hungry for new work, people who are really engaged in the chamber experience. The spaces we are doing the work in range from 70 seats to 300 seats, and there's still that intimate black box experience.
PROTOTYPE: Opera/Theatre/Now is the premier global festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre in New York City, co-produced by Beth Morrison Projects and HERE. The third edition of PROTOTYPE, running from January 8-17, will feature two world premiere co-productions-composer Stefan Weisman and librettist David Cote's The Scarlet Ibis, a dreamy contemporary family opera that weaves puppetry into its story-telling, and Korean-American artist Bora Yoon's multimedia music-theatre work, Sunken Cathedral, which takes the audience on a sonic journey of deep psychological impact. The festival also includes Toxic Psalms, an international co-presentation with Slovenian vocal theatre company Carmina Slovenica and St. Ann's Warehouse; Kansas City Choir Boy, a theatricalized concept album by Todd Almond, at HERE; two work-in-progress presentations of Beth Morrison Projects operas in development: Winter's Child, by Ellen Reid and Amanda Jane Shank, co-presented with Trinity Wall Street, and Aging Magician, by Paola Prestini, Rinde Eckert, and Julian Crouch, co-presented with Park Avenue Armory and Opera America's New Works Forum; and a one-night-only performance by Timur and the Dime Museum at Joe's Pub.
Read more about PROTOTYPE at http://prototypefestival.org/#sthash.G23x472Y.dpuf
Read more about the HERE Arts Center at http://here.org/
Read more about Beth Morrison Projects at http://www.bethmorrisonprojects.org/