Spring 2016 segment on Dan Swern and coLAB Arts' annual 48 Hour Musicals
"Voice Afire presents 'Kafka Shorts'," by Marcina Zaccaria, June 3, 2014.
It is rare to find an evening at the theater that features classical music, dance, and great literature. VoiceAfire presented “Kafka Shorts,” a Concert and Wine Tasting that took place on Friday, May 30 at Tenri Cultural Institute.
Voice Afire Pocket Opera and Cabaret is dedicated to creating performances that are “Chamber Music as Theater.” The company chose text from Franz Kafka, best known for his work with “The Metamorphosis” and “The Trial.” Kafka’s themes of alienation were clear in the original live music performance piece inspired by and using text from ”The Parables” by Franz Kafka. All in all, Voice Afire made a strong showing with “Kafka Shorts,” and the evening was a careful blend of music and performance.
The piece was thought-provoking without being esoteric. Ray Luedeke adapted the Kafka Shorts, using a two person cast that featured Paula Llapur and Eric Gravez. The performances were lively and engaging. The performers used the gallery space in a smart way, effortlessly flowing through a devised stage space while finding meaning in Kafka’s challenging ideas.
Paula Llapur, who originally grew up in Chile, brought her modern dance skills seamlessly to the gallery floor. Eric Gravez gave breath to Kaka’s words, finding nuance while speaking the writer’s text. The event was directed by Dan Swern of CoLAB Arts and sponsored by the American Composers Alliance. It was a poetic production. An adept string quartet accompanied the performers. Gravez entered onto the stage with a dark umbrella. At one point, he climbed a ladder to reveal how the city might have looked to Kafka, a Czech writer who eventually died from tuberculosis.
The evening also featured a sampling of string quartets by Kenneth Fuchs, Matthew Davidson, and John S. Gray. The Voice Afire String Quartet includes top NYC violinists Artur Kaganovskiy and Julianne Klopotic, violist Ann Roggen, and cellist Lawrence Zoernig. The evening also featured “Quartet op. 74 mvt. 1” by David Popper. Other selections included “String Quartet No. 1,” “Quartetto Dell’Arte mvts. 1 & 5, Preludio & Tarantella Tumultosa,” and “Quartet No. 4 in one movement.” The music made for a blissful evening.
Voice Afire began presenting interdisciplinary work in Canada in 2007. The theater company has taken on interdisciplinary performances about Chilean poet Pablo Neruda and Puccini. “Kafka Shorts” took place at the Tenri Cultural Institute. Tenri Cultural Institute is a non-profit organization founded in 1991 with the mission of “drawing together the multi-ethnic people of New York City to engage in cross-cultural dialogue and exchange.”
Tenri Cultural Institute is located at 43A West 13th Street in NYC. Additional information on Voice Afire can be found on www.voiceafire.com.
"The Art of Love, Into the Labyrinth" by Marina P. Kennedy, March 28, 2014.
The Art of Love, Into the Labyrinth was presented by Voice Afire on Saturday, March 22nd at the Tenri Cultural Institute in New York City. The evening began with a tasting of fine Italian Wine from Roca della Masie, Stella & Mosca, St Michael Eppan, and Zenato and Prosecco from Enrico, Toffoli, and Zardetto. The welcoming atmosphere set the stage for a fascinating performance. The Tenri Cultural Institute was an ideal performance space with an intimate setting.
Voice Afire productions are small ensemble concerts using a combination of actors, dancers, singers, and musicians. They are also music-theater, but with staging adaptable to the venue. Their shows feature professionals from the world of theatre, dance, and opera in ensembles of three to eight performers.
Saturday’s performance featured two extraordinarily talented pianists, Jennifer Chu and Beth Nam. They are both graduates of the Juilliard School of Music and Chu is currently on the faculty of the school. Chu is a prize winner at the 2009 Wideman Piano Competition. Nam is a member of the acclaimed Allant Piano Trio.
The show also starred veteran actor, Harry Burney. Burney’s credits include performances of Porgy and Bess at the Houston Grand Opera, and his one-man show, Signature at the Kennedy Center. He is a well-known acting coach and has served as the Artistic Director of the Zora Neale Hurston Festival.
The show opened with Chu and Nam playing Scaramouche suite for piano duo, with music by Darius Milhaud. The suite was an alternatively energetic, moving and exciting piece, flawlessly performed.
It was followed by a thrilling concert of The Art of Love, Into the Labyrinth. Ray Luedeke’s original, virtuosic score for two pianos was played with a text adapted from Ovid’s The Art of Love; an ancient manual which was banned for two thousand years.
The dramatic reading focused on the legend of Queen of Crete Pasiphae and her son, the Minotaur. It was performed by Burney while Chu and Nam played the piano score. The pianists also contributed vocalizations that highlighted and interfaced Burney’s compelling oration. The presentation in nine parts included the Labyrinths of Lust, Love, Sorrow, and Revenge. This adapted reading touched on a range of emotions from amusing to grim and Burney was in full command of his dramatic interpretation. The performance concept merged musical and dramatic arts perfectly.
The abundant talents of the night’s performers gave full life to an evening of artistry, one which presented the best possible qualities of musicianship and theatrical performance.
Dan Swern directed the production and looks forward to more performances in the future. Swern is the co-founder and producing director for CoLAB Arts in New Brunswick, New Jersey, providing performance and developmental programs for emerging artists and arts education for the local community.
Voice Afire Pocket Opera and Cabaret, “Chamber Music as Theater” began in Canada in 2007 by composer Ray Luedeke and it moved to New York City in 2010. Voice Afire productions include Butterfly’s Trouble; a reinvention for seven performers of Puccini’s opera, and My Life with Pablo Neruda; a cabaret-opera based on the life of the Chilean poet.
"I Hope They Serve Beer On Broadway," by Freddie Morgan, November 12, 2013.
“My name is Tucker Max, and I am an a**hole.”
Max’s opening line of his infamous book, “I Hope They Serve Beer in Hell,” embodies the controversy that surrounds his shocking tales of debauchery.
That same line served as the opener for Smugbug Productions’ weeklong run of “I Hope They Serve Beer on Broadway” in the Black Box Theater at George Street Playhouse, which ended this past Tuesday.
The book, which made the New York Times’ Best Seller List for five straight years, displayed Max’s narcissism as he regaled his readers with stories of his wild sex and drunken adventures from his young adult life.
The eight-member ensemble production took place in a bar, built specifically for the play to endure the weight of several cast members at once. The audience members were wholly immersed, and could interact with the characters during the show and even order drinks from them.
For Director and University alumnus Dan Swern, the choice to make the play immersive was easy. As the associate producer New York’s “Sleep No More,” he saw how setting allows the production to better artistically create the atmosphere of the stories. “The audience makes up the tableau,” he said.
The cast members too believed that immersive theater was an effective change that Swern made to the original script. “This piece makes people want to come to the theater,” said cast member Vinnie Urdea. “It’s like they’re coming to the bar to hear stories.”
For Swern, an immersive theater easily creates a universe where fictional characters and real viewers can exist together. “It blurs the lines between written words and an actual audience.”
The decision to adapt Max’s book was playwright Christopher Carter Sanderson’s. The book spoke to him during a difficult moment and he felt it would make a good show.
“So I sent a pitch to Tucker Max’s mailbox, and he responded,” Sanderson said. “We sealed the deal artistically in Texas. [Max] would receive 5% gross on the first-rate production, and I got complete creative control.”
However, despite Sanderson’s power over the script, he is frequently asked if he changed the text at all. “People always ask if I lifted the stories from the book and stuck them on stage,” he said. “I actually changed a lot.” [But] it’s the perfect compliment for an adapter.”
The production’s strong resemblance to the book can be attributed, in part, to the play’s tone. Sanderson said he tried to stay true to the dramatic structure of the book, imitating its episodic storytelling and Max’s big ego.
However, Sanderson wanted his adaptation of the controversial book to be more meaningful. “I wanted to provoke discussions about tolerance and sex,” he said.
“Open dialogue can be a helpful prophylactic against rape,” he added, responding to a common critique that Max’s writing promotes a culture of rape. Sanderson believes that demystifying sex and educating the audience about tolerance makes for a better society.
“Tucker Max operates in taboo subjects but is open,” said Urdea, a longtime reader of Max’s books. “He doesn’t make them ‘others’ … Very little shocks Tucker. He’s very accepting.” Urdea said he believes Max’s own sexual proclivity and adventure allow for sexual openness.
Additionally, the cast members felt that Sanderson’s adaptation of the book portrayed Max in a different light.
“We see people reacting to Tucker in the moment, and that’s a different experience,” Urdea said. “It’s an interesting way to comment on the character.”
Dan Stern, who plays Tucker Max, believes playing out Max’s stories gives the audience a glimpse into his vulnerabilities. “It humanizes the character,” he said. “You can tell he feels dirty upon reflection.”
Cast member Jordan Spoon said the stage adaptation is very different from the book. “The story of Tucker Max is meant for those who subscribe to patriarchy,” she said. “The cast refuses to subscribe to that.” She cites instances of gender bending, exploring double standards and turning the tables on Max that strongly deviate from Max’s text.
Ultimately, Swern would like to tour other bars and ultimate set up a space in New York City where the show can reside. “Ideally I’d like a space built especially for us,” he said. “It’s an expensive proposition but can be profitable.”
“Dan [Swern]’s production is cooler,” Sanderson said. “It’s a performance for the younger generation by the younger generation. It’s sexy, like ‘Coyote Ugly’ does Tucker Max. Dan’s a genius.”