Ed Dunsavage, artistic director of the Siskiyou Institute, promotes jazz and jazz studies throughout the Rogue Valley. He is also a guitar instructor at Southern Oregon University. We met at Boulevard Coffee to talk about jazz.
ED: The guitarist Frank Zappa had a great quote: “Jazz isn’t dead, it just smells funny.” Like classical music, it’s probably in the 2 to 3 percent range of what people listen to. Jazz, as an art form, is recognized worldwide. It’s more appreciated in Europe and Asia than here.
EH: Is there a difference between jazz and classical musicians?
ED: I think there is a difference in terms of attitude, from the classical approach to the jazz approach; they’re different worlds. Classical musicians are amazing sight readers and interpreters of music, but if you ask them, “Can you improvise over these chord changes?” that’s a whole different thing.
Josh Gross, artistic director of Puppeteers for Fears, has written a new horror musical comedy, “Robopocalypse: the Musical!” which opens Oct. 20 at Pioneer Hall in Ashland. It features live puppets, a live rock band with synthesizer, puppet rap battles, a light show, and multimedia backgrounds. I met Gross at Case Coffee Roasters on Siskiyou Boulevard in Ashland.
JG: A core part of our mission has always been to create new art and new pieces that come from a local voice. No one will have ever seen a puppet show quite like this one. We want to make theater for people who’ve never been given a reason to like theater. They’ve never seen a show that speaks to them, and they’ve never seen it in a place that they feel comfortable. There’s a whole untapped market out there.
EH: What are you saying with this musical?
JG: We should all be very afraid of artificial intelligence. Technology is now progressing faster than our understanding of its implications: It’s, in many cases, operating outside of a moral framework. It’s barreling along so fast, that we don’t know what we’re doing with it. The core of the musical is just a family drama, and how you cope with loss.
EH: How does this relate to politics?
JG: Our politics are not addressing the real threats that we face. We’re dumping money into military defense, and yet we’re actively at cyber war and little to nothing is being done about it. It’s this slow-moving disaster, where the groundwork is being laid, and no one sees the threat until it’s too late to do anything about it. We have integrated technology into our lives, but we aren’t thinking about, “What happens if it fails?” There are serious consequences that are worth serious consideration and careful policy. But I wouldn’t say that that’s the major emphasis of the musical. Continue reading Adult-themed puppet show tackles ‘Robopocalypse’→
Pianist Martin Majkut will perform with flautist Katheryn McElrath in concert at Grizzly Peak Winery on July 16 and 17. In a recent conversation, Majkut, Rogue Valley Symphony’s music director, gave me some insights into the development of classical music.
MM: In general, I am convinced that we are moving away from music that was very academic. Music of the second half of the 20th century often consisted of composers in ivory towers disrespecting accessibility, and thinking, “If you’re not good enough to understand my art, then I don’t want you,” which is such a silly proposition.
All of the great composers wrote with people in mind. Otherwise, the music is dead, it’s on paper. We need the audience to complete the circle. Without them, we’re lost.
I see a trend in music that is deep and meaningful, but at the same time, accessible. It gives you a full range of emotions, not just freaky and dark, but also with elation and romance. We’re going back to an era where all these things are embraced in their totality, not just: “Let’s just wallow in despair and sadness.” Continue reading It’s OK to get lost listening to classical music→
Scott Kelly plays the Gravedigger in “Hamlet,” now playing at the Oregon Shakespeare Festival. But there’s something else: Throughout nearly all of the play, looking up from the audience toward the Elizabethan Theatre’s “heavens,” you see Kelly, an enigmatic figure, surrounded by musical instruments and bathed in a deep-red light. Kelly’s music provides a psychological resonance for Hamlet’s inner monologues with an occasional duet with Hamlet on electric guitar. I saw the first preview, and the undercurrent of music intensifies the emotional impact of the language.
Before joining the cast of “Hamlet,” Kelly spent eight years as an OSF sound technician. A gifted musician, Kelly often tours internationally with his heavy metal band, Neurosis.
EH: When did you know you wanted to be a performing artist?
SK: I was focused on music at a young age. I was driven by it. I started out playing music mainly inspired by punk rock. That was how I learned. It was the kind of music where your emotion mattered more than your skill level, at the onset. If you felt it, you could get up and do it. I slowly learned. I taught myself how to play through the course of that, through touring, and being exposed to the world and other musicians. My initial influences were bands like Black Flag and Black Sabbath and early Pink Floyd. Then I came across Miles Davis and Hank Williams and more obscure underground stuff, noise music, and avant-garde music. I like some hip-hop music. I like Wagner, Prokofiev; I like the heavy classical stuff, anything that moves me. I like emotion-driven music. I don’t like cookie-cutter stuff. I’ve got to feel it in the words or the music. It could be (the poet) Charles Bukowski, to me he’s very musical. I just need to feel it. Continue reading ‘Hamlet’ music maker and grave digger→
When “1776” opens at the Camelot Theatre, it will begin with a drum solo by Steve Sutfin, Camelot’s resident drummer and photographer. A professional musician, Sutfin toured internationally, finding a home base in Ashland. Steve’s iconic photos have graced Camelot’s programs and the pages of local newspapers. We met at the Whistle Stop in Talent.
EH: When did you become a photographer?
SS: As a professional musician, I took up photography so I could starve in a second art form.
EH: You contribute your time and talent to the Camelot Theatre. Why?
SS: I believe in the theater. I love playing music in the theater. I’ve been in bands for 45 years, playing rock ‘n’ roll and blues and traveling. I got tired of it. I found I liked hanging around with actors better than I did with musicians. They’re a little bit more intellectual and witty. Musicians are fun, I am one. It was a natural evolution for me. It’s something I want to do. I like theater. Continue reading Steve Sutfin→
Next Stage Repertory Company, housed in Medford’s Craterian Ginger Rogers Theater, is the brainchild of Artistic Director Doug Warner, formerly the producing director of Camelot Theatre; Peter Alzado, former artistic director of Oregon Stage Works; Kate Sullivan, co-director of Ashland Children’s Theatre; and Stephen McCandless, executive director of the Craterian.
The new theater opened with a three-day run of Lanford Wilson’s “Talley’s Folly” this month and will offer three more shows for its first season.
I chatted with Warner one afternoon in the spacious lobby of the Craterian.
EH: What is it about theater that we find so stimulating?
DW: I think it is storytelling. What happens in the process of telling stories and hearing stories told is that you identify with the characters. With good stories, you identify with what the characters are going through. And by the end of the story, you’ve got some clues about your own life that you can apply. When I direct or act, I approach it from that angle. It’s never about the surface structure of the story; it’s always about the psychological underpinnings. “Death of a Salesman” (which I did years ago) was called, “Inside Willie’s Head.” That was the original name. Of course that is not a great title, but it does tell you that the fathers of modern theater, people like Arthur Miller, thought of the stage as a psychological space.
A great way to go in putting a story together is breaking down the psychology and then presenting it. Then the audience is actually getting something that’s deeper than just entertainment. They’re getting something of value that they can actually walk away with, something tangible. There’s nothing wrong with a good belly laugh or good, solid entertainment; but theater can be more than that. It can be something that you can savor, and use, and hopefully could improve the quality of your life.
Great stories are compressed, bigger than life, concentrated. There’s usually some big change that takes place. In directing I try to make sure that every actor is aware of where they are in the beginning of the play and where they are at the end. If you set it up right, the audience can also go through a change. Theater is unusual in that sense. Hopefully theater can offer more than straight entertainment.
On the other hand, I think theater has gotten a little too full of itself — a little too pretentious. It tends to attract post-graduate-educated people instead of the face of the community. We’re trying to overcome that by making sure that you will be entertained. First and foremost, you should be entertained.
Right now Medford might be on the edge of a cultural awakening or reawakening in the downtown area. It’s pretty exciting to be part of that. Hopefully we offer something a little bit different than what we see in Ashland and around the Rogue Valley.
Gina Scaccia recently produced “Cartoonespeare,” a musical CD and an animated DVD interpreting Shakespeare’s sonnets.
The music is extraordinary; the styles vary from lyrical melodies, to monk-like chants, to country, folk, rap and blues. The musical concepts make Shakespeare’s language accessible to the most modern of audiences.
“Cartoonespeare” originated with “Love’s Not Time’s Fool,” which were wonderfully diverse theatrical interpretations of Shakespeare’s sonnets performed last spring at Rogue Community College, adapted and directed by Ron Danko and produced by John Cole.
Scaccia received her music degree from Southern Oregon University this year. Most recently she composed and performed the music for “Larry’s Best Friend” at Ashland Contemporary Theatre. We visited over tea one afternoon.