Marcella Calabi, principal consultant at Clarityworks and a multi-talented, award-winning soprano and music teacher, wrote several journal entries over the course of her multi-day stay with the Art Monastery this summer. This is the second of three parts.
How to describe their show… They sing, they dance, they play instruments and beat barrels, and they recite in English and in Italian. In a fabulously clever move, they do shadow-play against the tower. They’ve constructed a dreamy sequence of images and sounds that trigger a variety of feelings and ideas, about life and relationship and death. A lot of it is truly beautiful. It’s stitched through the crowded dinner-space so you never think you’re seeing it all. I’d be curious to see it proscenium-style, but one effect is that you feel like you’re looking at life—we never get a good bead on all of that, either.
The five principal performers are
- Neva, who appears at one point in a billowing white dress with an antler headdress and just plain takes your breath away. Her character covers a wide expressive range and, throughout, she looks and dances like an apparition of the seven graces rolled into one.
- Raphael, whose character ranges all over the map, from young lover to something along the lines of Michelangelo’s Prigionieri, and who looks—I’m quoting an Italian—“like a cross between Pan and a Norse god.” Everyone comments on his beautiful singing.
- Ryan, whose artistic commitment is a real inspiration. He’s what they call a “triple threat”—singer/actor/dancer—in the American world of musical theater, but he adapted his prodigious physical skills to Neva’s modern-dance choreography extremely well. His solos are gripping, and the duets with Neva are exquisite.
- Andi, a violist who gets the warm brown velvet sound out of her instrument that only really good violists can make. She sings and recites and dances, too (if you know anything about how constraining it is to train in the classical music tradition, you know just how much sheer open-hearted gameness that takes), and she does them movingly and well.
- Charles, who wrote the music, including looping technology that he manages in the moment, while conducting and playing the trumpet alternating with clarinet, and singing. His work carries the emotional through-line of the whole thing. The waiters have been heard humming themes, and that’s an important compliment, especially in Italy.
And there are others, most of whom also appear variously in the chef’s opening number:
- The Executive Director and co-founder of the Art Monastery Project is Betsy and she’s not only running the place but accomplishing kind of amazing things with lights, including chasing after the dancers with hand-held spotlights.
- The director’s name is Liz and, as with all directors, her vision permeates the work in ways the audience can’t separate from what we’re seeing. The Art Monastery’s piece uses all the performers’ ideas, Betsy’s lights, Neva’s choreography, Charles’s music, and Christina’s translations, but it is in an essential way Liz’s show.
- There’s Molly, who is the community manager and oversees the prodigious conversations required to accomplish scheduling and logistics. I’ve learned that she’s also a writer.
- They’ve got Emma, who is a full-on professional chef and creates astonishing meals in a kitchen the size of a postage stamp, and who’s still game to go along with many of the artistic exercises, and put on a costume and appear in the opening number, too.
- Christina is the language person, who does translations and teaches everybody else how to connect with Italian culture. She does the opening number also.
- They’ve got worktraders—people who come through for a couple of weeks and trade work for travel experience—and the two I’ve met have thrown themselves into the community. One named Kelly overshoots her 5-hours-per-day commitment by a factor of three, to function as stage manager, props manager, dresser, and production assistant now that performances are under way. Another named Tina looked at the situation and immediately constructed yet another collaborative win-win: in between helping out in the house and kitchen, she got her boyfriend, Sean, who is a photographer, to show up from the States. He’s soaking up the artistic atmosphere and producing publicity shots in exchange.
- [Editor’s note: Anaya Cullen, the costume designer, created the costumes for the show in the earlier part of the summer.]
I’m leaving out fifty times as much as I’m saying, about the show and about the individuals. But the point about who does what and who participates in the opening number is this: they all support each other in daring to do more than what fits in their comfort zone. People who think they don’t sing or dance, sing and dance: that’s a big deal. (I can say this first-hand because, in a different atmosphere, there’s no way I myself would have taken Ryan’s dance workshop.)
Whether it’s art-making or equipment-lugging, everyone helps everyone else do everything. I think many of these brave and talented souls will figure in each other’s futures—and if not these specific individuals, then what they’ve absorbed about living in a company of such gifted, big-hearted, intentional collaborators.