In a captivating performance on Wednesday night, Eunbi Kim and Laura Yumi Snell crafted a new kind of performance art, a new kind of presentation format for live classical music and a new message for contemporary performing artists. With the spell-binding production of Murakami Music, Eunbi and Laura made it clear that if you are willing to take big risks– your art will thrive.
It’s taken me several days to begin to write this review (for lack of a better term) of their performance. I’ve been thinking about the experience, what I took away from it, and how in the world I would try to explain it to you. I knew that a simple recap would never do it justice. This post is going to be much more detailed than other reviews I’ve done; for when I get the opportunity to write about something that absolutely embodies the core ideals of Tuxedo Revolt, I have to be able to share it with all of you.
When Eunbi first told me about her idea for Murakami Music, I featured the concept in a post back in January. If you aren’t familiar with this project or need a refresher– click here. Last week’s performance took place at The Cell Theatre in Chelsea. It was the perfect venue, living up to its definition as a 21st Century Salon. I must give a great deal of credit to the founding artistic director of the Cell Theater, Nancy Manocherian for her vision for such an innovative, elegant and multi-functional performance space. For a hybrid music/drama project like Murakami Music, the Cell provided a fresh and blank canvas for Laura and Eunbi to explore throughout their performance. But now— onto the performance itself.
Merely listing the order of events, pieces played, and highlights of the evening isn’t appropriate. I found Murakami Music to be so intellectually stimulating that I realized I would need to analyze the performance like a painting, or a piece of literature. This was no concert– it was a full-out experience.
When you consider that the project was based on passages of Murakami’s writings, combined with a performance of musical selections referenced in his novels, a book reading with musical examples is the first thing that comes to mind. The project’s director Kira Simring anticipated this perception and skillfully transcended it. As the program began, artist LauraYumi Snell read from a copy of Murakami’s book– as we might have expected. Then, as Laura continued to recite passages from the novel, Eunbi began to delicately introduce the solo piano into our field of perception. Laura continued to read aloud, but gently closed the book, all the while still reciting Murakami’s text. The dramatic narrative from the text then took on a life of its own. With flawless transition, our descent into the world of Murakami Music had begun.
This performance was focused on engaging the audience at all times. Murakami’s texts, so skillfully dramatized by both Laura and Eunbi, shared a symbiotic relationship with the music of Chopin, Debussy, Prokofiev and other composers whose music was featured in the performance. Spoken word and live music gave meaning and context to each other. Audience members who had never read the works of Murakami were introduced to his world of dual meaning and pensive emotion through beautiful music with similar dramatic properties. Audience members who were not familiar with solo piano music were introduced to it in way that they could begin to understand its emotional depth as it echoed the emotions of the unfolding drama.
For the music-must-stand-alone-as-its-own-art-form critics who are reading this, I must say that Eunbi and Laura created a performance where both music and drama took equal roles. The music, brilliantly executed by both Eunbi and Laura, was in no way impeded by the precisely planned and well chosen texts they also presented. Under the gifted guidance of Kira Simring, the pair used both music and drama to appeal to the senses of sound, sight, and spatial awareness. As an audience member, I was on edge waiting for what was to come next.
Transitions between scenes and musical selections were handled flawlessly and the performance never lost its momentum. I am most critical of transitions between events when I attend performances. These are the moments when audience members are not lost in their own thoughts, but rather present with you and in the moment. Transitions present a golden opportunity to introduce new themes, new ideas and new energy. Too often, transitions seem like TV commercial breaks, interrupting the flow of a performance and flat-lining the energy of the overall experience.
Murakami Music reminded me of why the tradition to hold applause until the end of a performance came to be in be first place. Once upon a time, musical performances were so captivating to audiences that no one dared to release the energy or flow of a performance until the event was truly finished. Audiences didn’t know what to expect as the next great work began to unfold. Finally, at the end of the performance, the moment came for the audience to express appreciation for the performers and to release through applause the energy that was building within each audience member throughout the performance.
As the final tableau in Murakami Music drew to a close, I glanced around at my fellow audience members. I saw young and old on the edge of their seats, leaning forward, captivated and ready it burst into applause. When the final note of Prokofiev’s Sonata No. 2 in d minor, op. 14 sounded, we the audience, finally had our moment to thank the artists who performed for us. It was truly a genuine exchange of gratitude.
When I am able to attend such a great performance, I am inspired to keep writing this blog. I am refreshed and reassured that through adaptation and innovation, live performing arts can still be socially relevant and meaningful to audiences. With its solo piano and stage absent of scenery and props, Murakami Music brought to my mind images from the great American playwright Thornton Wilder‘s Our Town. When the audience is challenged to use its imagination, but is guided to do so, there is a freshness to the performance and each audience member walks away with a unique and memorable experience.
I’m reminded of a line from Our Town spoken by the character Emily Webb, “Live people don’t understand, do they? They’re sort of shut up in little boxes, aren’t they?”
In Murakami Music the audience shared in an emotional journey together. We heard live music and spoken words. We saw expression on the faces of the performers which led to an expansion of our own sense of empathy. And for just a little while, we weren’t shut up in the little boxes of ourselves. As an audience we shared in the experience together, and it became ours.
Congratulations to Eunbi Kim, Laura Yumi Snell, Kira Simring and the Cell Theatre for a performance that was truly in the in the spirit of Tuxedo Revolt.
- Haruki Murakami’s new novel reaches 1 million print run in one week (japandailypress.com)
- You: New Murakami novel tops 1 million (japantimes.co.jp)
- Haruki Murakami’s new release: Colorless Tsukuru Tazaki (themindsplace.wordpress.com)
Invisible walls exist between the stage and the audience in performing arts organizations around the country. In my last post, I tackled the problem of making the wall visible. I showed you how to identify the problems that the wall was causing in your performance or your organization. Depending on what you do, there are many different ways your wall could actually look.
If you are a small ensemble or a solo performer, then you have lots of individual control over how you can tear down the wall that keeps you separated from your audience. If your performing organization is large and has many members, like an orchestra or a dance company, then you have to work together with your administration to decide what steps you will take to break down the wall together. This latter scenario can be significantly more complicated, but if you have identified that a wall exists, it is your duty as an authentic performer to initiate the changes you feel need to be made.
So to give you some ideas of where to start, I’ll use today’s post as a chance to make a list of some of the actions you can take to start breaking down barriers and drawing your audiences closer to you– and if you do it right, they might just begin to grow too.
So while there are countless options to consider, you must carefully take a look at who your audience is, what they like, and what they need. The following list is broken into several categories, but some may have dual applicability.
Your Audience Barrier Wrecking Ball includes (but is not limited to…):
At the administrative level:
1. Leaders that have direct one-on-one physical communication with all audience members, not just elite and wealthy donors. (and yes, shudder, tremble, quiver, this means executive directors as well.)
2. An environment where the administration pools the organization staff from secretary to executive director, and a retreat is held where all employees can voice opinions, exchange ideas, and take ownership in the way the administration interfaces with the audience. This is in lieu of relying on “consultants” to tell an organization everything that it needs–and much less expenses. Capitalize on every strength in your administrative staff. Use the intelligent, artistic, and valuable people that you pay to run your organization where they think the organization is headed in terms of its interaction with the audience. This advice is golden, because these people have a very personal stake in the success of the organization.
3. Be transparent, invite audience members to public discussion about the future of the organization. Don’t keep the public in the dark about what is going on at the highest levels. (I’m sure executive directors are trembling somewhere…) The days of back door deals and nepotism are not cool anymore. Don’t let patrons feel like they are shut out, they’d be thrilled if you invited them into all aspects of organization. It’s not hard guys, just put it on a blog.
For the performers in large organizations:
Ok folks, I hit the administrators pretty hard, but now let’s talk about what we can do to tear down the wall.
1. Mingle with audience members before and after the concert or performance.
2. Wear a pleasant countenance at all times. (Just smile) Even if you aren’t feeling it, remember you are onstage and you are acting. Make eye contact with as many audience members as you can, and smile at them.
3. Look your best onstage. Look like a million bucks, feel like a million bucks, and play like a million bucks. You are performing, you are doing what you are meant to do. Love every minute of it and let the whole world know it.
4. Form a committee in your organization to send hand-written notes to audience members, from you, to thank them for coming to the concert.
5. Put surprise tickets on the bottom of seats and lucky audience members will get to come to a reception after the concert to meet members of the orchestra or company, or group.
6. Put the audience on the stage once in a while. It is a more intimate setting, you can charge appropriately for the less availability with seating, but don’t gouge. Use this as an opportunity to let the audience know that you want to know them up close and personal.
For the Solo performer:
1. Talk to your audience. Forget about the old day of walk out on stage and play. Speak to the audience, acknowledge them, thank them, and engage them. I’ll write more about this in future posts.
2. Play a video before the concert that helps the audience put context around the performance that is about to happen. How did you prepare for it, what does it mean to you, why are you glad you have an audience. Tell them how you feel and why you love to do what you do.
3. Do away with program notes and have a live person announce each new event in the performance, or you can do it yourself.
4. If your audience is small enough, take questions and answer them honestly.
5. Receive your fans graciously after every performance, no matter how many (or few) of them there may be.
This list is as long as your imagination wants it to be. But rest assured, every action you take to bring your audience closer to you and the wonderful artistic work that you do, the bricks will begin to crumble into invisible dust.
Until next time,
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You might remember the famous line from the movie Field of Dreams, “Build it and they will come.” I’m learning that it is not quite as simple as all that, but still the idea is basically true. The kick-ass entrepreneur, writer and general champion for unconventional living, Chris Guillebeau, says in his newest book (The $100 Start-up) how we must consider what our customers/audience want and or need. This had a profound effect on me as a performing artist, but especially because I have devoted most of my life to classical music.
There is a great divide between what an audience needs to have a great experience and the norm of what we are actually giving them in our concerts and recitals. What an audience needed to experience in the 1700’s or 1800’s in order to be entertained was much, much different than it is today. That’s obvious right? Those people had no electricity, no indoor plumbing, no way to listen to music other than a live performance. For them, the sight of many people onstage, playing music together was an awe-inspiring experience. It was a great spectacle to see and hear.
But now, with technology at our fingertips, and the ability to record music and listen to it repeatedly for as much as the price of an iTunes download, the idea of paying to see 50 musicians on a stage together is becoming increasingly irrelevant to the general public. This is a bitter pill to for those of us who have devoted our lives to mastering the craft of music. So my question is this: why don’t we champion any and every possible option to enrich our already amazing art form to bring in new audiences? This is no longer just about creating stellar concerts, our industry is changing in to an industry that creates experiences.
People want experiences. They want to enjoy a process from the moment they pick up the phone or go online to buy a ticket to the time they walk through the door of their home after returning from the concert. They want to be made to feel valuable, like they are participating in the process of the concert. They long to feel valued by the artists themselves. They want to be treated with respect and appreciation, after all their purchase of a ticket or donation helped to support the arts. I think that we know these things already, but the way we respond to them is outmoded and not relevant. The connection must be real and not forced, and this is all on the administrative side.
From the angle of the concert experience, patrons need to feel like they are contributing to something great and larger than themselves. They need to connect with the real musicians/performers. To meet them, to be acknowledged by them, to interact with them. The audience must be completely transported out of the concert hall and into a new place. This may mean more than just musicians sitting on the stage–in tuxedos.
More, more, more. Better, brighter, more intense. This is what the audience demands of us today, and as performers who serve our audiences, this is what we have to deliver. Each experience has to be unique, each experience has to have a hand-crafted meaning and message. No detail can go unnoticed. For each experience for every patron we must strive for perfection, not only in our art, but also for the services we provide.
So the idea to build it and they will come is not exactly accurate when it comes to the Arts. You can build a concert or a performance from the ground-up, but you have to ask yourself, are you building a playground or a theme park?
Until next time,
- Classical music news: Should concert halls be noisier and livelier or quieter and more attentive to attract bigger and younger audiences to classical music? The argument grows. (welltempered.wordpress.com)