BWW Interviews: PROTOTYPE Festival Producers Kristin Marting, Kim Whitener, and Beth Morrison

BWW Interviews: PROTOTYPE Festival Producers Kristin Marting, Kim Whitener, and Beth Morrison
PROTOTYPE Producers Kristin Marting, Beth Morrison, and Kim Whitener (left to right).
Photo Trevor Martin.

This holiday season, Kristin Marting, Kim Whitener, and Beth Morrison are making their lists and checking them twice. In mid-January, they'll be producing seven separate shows over ten days as part of PROTOTYPE: Opera/Theatre/Now, a festival of opera-theatre and music-theatre. While PROTOTYPE is only in its third year, it has already established itself as the crucible for contemporary opera and theater in New York City. BWW sat down with the three co-producers at HERE, PROTOTYPE'S epicenter, to chat about each of the upcoming festival's unique offerings.

"Father Time" :: from Sunken Cathedral (INNOVA) from Swirl Productions on Vimeo.

BWW: You've got a couple of world premieres as a part of this year's Prototype protype festival, including SUNKEN CATHEDRAL?

Kristin Marting: Bora Yoon has been in development with us through our HERE Arts Residency Program. We each have development programs [HERE, Beth Morrison Projects, and PROTOTYPE]. Bora has been developed through our HARP, but was curated with Beth when we were trying to pick the artists who were in the music area of the program, because it's all disciplines: theatre, music, dance, and puppetry. Bora has been growing the piece with us for about three years now - three and a half, actually! It's really a surreal experience. She took an album that she has developed over these last couple of years and she's blown it open - and this has always been her intention - to create different versions of the show. There are music videos and there are videos that were created for the performance experience. There are all these different versions of the experience of SUNKEN CATHEDRAL with the culmination being the presentation at PROTOTYPE.

BWW: Can you describe the interactive element of SUNKEN CATHEDRAL?

Kristin Marting: The video itself feels very interactive, as if the audience and Bora are walking through the rooms inside a person's mind and the rooms of a house, so feels very immersive while you're looking at it. But then there are also different places where Bora's movement and her vocalizations trigger video that is projected on the floor. She also loops samples and live composes her work to create a whole score that she then sings on top of, or she's recorded sound that she is mixing in with the live experience. There are a lot of different elements that are improvisatory but highly structured each evening.

BWW Interviews: PROTOTYPE Festival Producers Kristin Marting, Kim Whitener, and Beth Morrison
A scene from THE SCARLET IBIS, a world-premiere opera that fuses music and puppetry

BWW: Is THE SCARLET IBIS another project you've developed with through HARP?

Beth Morrison: Yes, THE SCARLET IBIS is another world-premiere that started in HARP, and has been in development for three years. All three of us curated that piece as well. We've done several workshops for the piece, including a full orchestral workshop and a full puppetry workshop. It is a multi-media piece in that the puppetry is a very significant aspect of the production. One of the characters is played by - well, a series of puppets - but, a puppet, and so that's a new experience for most of the performers in the room (not the puppeteer's obviously!), and for the opera singers to be working with multiple people to create one character. I was talking to music director Steven Osgood last night, and he said he wanted to create a character thing with a singer. But, then you have to talk to six people, cause you're talking all of the operators of the puppet, so it's a different experience across the board for every body.The music is very lush and it has nine players in it. PROTOTYPE has a wide spectrum of aesthetic genres that is presents, and this definitely lands musically more squarely in the operatic tradition. We're happy to show music that is incredibly wonderful and very singerly, and then to put it with a different art form to shake things up a little bit, and to be more on the cutting edge of the art form.

BWW: Can you tell me more about your DREAM Music Puppetry Program at HERE?

Kim Whitener: DREAM Music was started in the mid 90s. Basil Twist, who is the master puppeteer, has been one of the curators, along with his producing partner Barbara Busackino, who is also one of the co-founders of HERE. He has premiered his own work, SYMPHONIE FANTASIQUE as well as ARIAS WITH A TWIST, with the DREAM Music Puppetry Program, and then we have gone on to develop through HARP other puppetry projects and to present international and national puppet artists. Of course, it's puppetry for adults. It's complicated, sophisticated, and deals with really interesting issues and ideas of our time. HERE has a real reputation for being a home for puppetry. DREAM Music is in the name because Basil's grandfather was a big band director, and so the idea of incorporating music into puppetry is very key, and is very much a part of the personality of the works we do here. The marriage of opera and puppetry seems like a really a really obvious thing to do. We see that it is starting to happen elsewhere, but this has been a very exciting project to develop from day one.

BWW: Puppetry can deal with very adult themes, but THE SCARLET IBIS appeals to young audiences too, right?

Kim Whitener: THE SCARLET IBIS is great for audiences 12 and up. It's a sophisticated story about family life and certain kinds of traumatic issues in family life - about a young disabled boy. It's not an easy story to tell, and it's dark, and it's kind of sad. We haven't wanted to traumatize young people with it, but we feel like it's a piece that adults can see with their young people and have a lot to talk about.

BWW: Another piece in PROTOTYPE that deals with some difficult issues is WINTER'S CHILD.

Beth Morrison: WINTER'S CHILD is a work-in-progress, so we're not staging it. It's a concert reading of the full piece. It's is a story of a mother who makes a deal with fate, and it has Southern Gothic overtones, and very mystical overtones as well. The music is very dramatic and she uses interesting instrumentation to color the drama. She works with very low sounds in the orchestra and then a choir of women's voices, so she's at the top and bottom of the staff if you will, musically. It creates a very interesting and compelling sound world.

BWW Interviews: PROTOTYPE Festival Producers Kristin Marting, Kim Whitener, and Beth Morrison
Mark Stewart's creation for AGING MAGICIAN. Photo Jill Steinberg.

BWW: AGING MAGICIAN is another work-in-progress you'll be presenting, how long have you been developing that project?

Beth Morrison: This is a Beth Morrison Projects production that has been in development for several years in collaboration with VisionIntoArt. We are doing a second work-in-progress of this - we did the first in 2013 to open PROTOTYPE. We're doing in partnership with the Park Avenue Armory residency program, where we have been for the last year, and have done other work and workshopping there, so this is the culmination of that residency. It's a wonderful collaboration with the Brooklyn Youth Chorus, and professionals at the top of their game in theater: Rinde Eckert, Julian Crouch, and the instrument maker Mark Stewart.

BWW: You're creating new musical instruments for AGING MAGICIAN?

Beth Morrison: The set will ultimately be a musical instrument, part of which we will reveal in PROTOTYPE this year. Mark makes instruments out of found materials, so this has a bicycle wheel and various other things that aren't inherently instruments, but when you put them together and strike them, and pluck them, and blow them, they become a musical instrument. Ultimately, the set will be sort of a representation of Coney Island, and the audience and the performers will be abel to play it.

Toxic Psalms Trailer from PROTOTYPE Festival on Vimeo.

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 Interviews: PROTOTYPE Festival Producers Kristin Marting, Kim Whitener, and Beth Morrison
Todd Almond & Courtney Love collaborate in the operatic concept album KANSAS CITY CHOIR BOY

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.

PROTOTYPE 2015 from PROTOTYPE Festival on Vimeo.

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/

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Stephen Raskauskas is passionate about the performing arts. As a performing artist, he has collaborated on productions acclaimed by the Wall Street Journal, Chicago Tribune, (read more...)

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