OperAvant began their 2021-22 season with a triple-bill program highlighting bird conservation on 10/31/21 (Halloween!) This performance, entitled "Tricks-or-Teasers" (subtitled "FRIGHT-or-FLIGHT!") previewed partial content of three full productions to come in 2022-23: 1) Act 1 of Tim Miller's and Germaine Shames' THE BIRD LADY; 2) Act 1 of Verdi's MACBETH featuring Tamara Cashour's 'pre--deconstruction'; and 3) OperAvant's film FORBEARANCE, concept and music by Cashour. This preview show was intended to initiate audiences into the avant-garde ethics of OperAvant. We do things a bit differently than most opera companies! The performance was made possible by a generous $5000 NYC Arts Corps grant.
TOPICAL, TRADITIONAL AND DECONSTRUCTIONIST STAGING TECHNIQUES:
Our Halloween program on the topic of Bird Conservation, features a kaleidoscopic line-up of bird species, spotlighted within the three performance texts to raise audience awareness of the symbiotic connections between human and bird environments. THE BIRD LADY stresses a spiritually humane relationship to birds, while facilitating the healthy ecosystems necessary to contribute to their continued survival. FORBEARANCE , based on the Ralph Waldo Emerson poem, teaches pacifist restraint and advocates for a world where birds fly observed in wonderment, rather than fall to the violence of a hunter's gun. This respect should transfer to flora, fauna, and fellow humans. Finally, the bird references sprinkled throughout MACBETH call attention to the crude, instinctually predatory natures of certain bird species which can be linked to particularly 'dark' human characters/events in this quintessential play parlaying evil and unmitigated human violence. Readers/audience members do not normally notice the birds mentioned in MACBETH, a play which concerns an ambitious warrior who morphs into a murderous psychopath. MACBETH is neither a bird nor conservation story by any stretch, but in this production, bird citings--emphasized via textual highlighting and projected visuals--provide an additional level of comprehension that orients the individual to consider birds as having intelligences equal to or surpassing those of humans. From there, human observers can make the leap to an eco-stance. OperAvant accomplishes this orientation or "uncovering" of text elements using a stage technique called "deconstruction" which Artistic Director Tamara Cashour studied in depth as part of her interdisciplinary Masters at NYU's Gallatin School of Interdisciplinary Studies. The technique uses various "texts" (any theatrical sign system can be called a "text") to reveal heretofore previously "hidden" meanings and topics which can shed light on alternative meanings of the main text, one which can be extracted from, and which extractions are combined with other texts to apply to a social, civil, political or environmental issue. Each deconstruction is ideally endemic to a main text, an organic outgrowth of it. The point of the deconstructionist performance is NOT to ruin or cheapen the original main text, but to challenge the audience to become involved with it in a deeper manner, to ask questions of it, and to ponder how that text might be considered to tackle issues with gravitas and enthusiasm, and with an end purpose to heal. OperAvant uses the deconstructionist technique only with public domain works that are already well-known to the public, in an attempt to recast them in a non-familiar light, thus bringing audiences to a fresh understanding of a world issue.
All three works are produced in conjunction with OperAvant's series "Environmental Harmonies" (EH), (see: https://www.operavantinc.com/classes) a performance series which brings together a topic of concern within the discipline of Environmental Stewardship (in this case, Bird Conservation) with a performative work that, via its entire text or selected elements thereof, highlights and educates audience members about the topic, and urges them to participate in a remedy for that problem within the useful parameters of the discipline. EH is an on-going community project: an academically-infused learning series whose mission is to teach general environmental conservatorship through performance. Philosophically, EH engages the topic of civilization/technology [i.e. the non-natural world] versus nature. In this period of world environmental turmoil wherein the negligent and selfish activities of the so-called 'civilized' human race have caused all sort of havoc to natural ecosystems—how do we learn to “give back” what we have stolen from our beautiful planet? Through technology, humans have built great civilizations, but the lingering irony is that these “civilizations” have bred a host of uncivilized behaviors which have negatively impacted the natural world and its non-human denizens.
The stories or texts OperAvant chooses for its EH series alert citizens to direct, mindful conservational action they can take to contribute to Earth's healing—often a simple, graceful action improves a situation. EH creates a safe space where informed performative art can arouse and secure community awareness toward consistent, ethically impactful action. In an non-imposing, non-challenging manner, EH engages a performative artifact (i.e. an opera) with a specific natural environment, while remaining respectful of that natural environment's needs and parameters. Each performance is also supported by ideas contained in a key academic text or texts pertinent to the theme of conservatorship. THE BIRD LADY’s supporting text is the book NATURE’s BEST HOPE: A NEW APPROACH TO CONSERVATION THAT STARTS IN YOUR YARD, by University of Delaware professor Douglas W. Tallamy. Tallamy teaches us that the vast suburban lawn, prized by homeowners, is actually anathema to bird ecosystems. An urban partner to Tallamy's book is Christian Cooper's BETTER LIVING THROUGH BIRDING which enlightens New Yorkers to current issues plaguing the over 200 different species of birds found in the New York City area. Impacts of climate change, light pollution, and urbanization--all byproducts of human activity, threaten their immediate and future survival. Cooper is a board member of NYC Audubon Society.
MACBETH FULL PRODUCTION SUMMER 2023
MACBETH will eventually become a full-fledged deconstruction. What you are seeing today is just the very germ, the beginnings of how to work with various texts to form an additional angle on the work, perhaps an untried one. Certainly today's work is not of the avant garde, but the final project, after various applications of different creativities, new research, and the input of various co-creators, may look nothing like you see today. Today's "pre-deconstruction* presents a possible theme which will gradually take shape until the creative aspects congeal with the technical, logistical, dramaturgical, musical, mise-en-scene and other texts.
THE BIRD LADY: FULL PRODUCTION SUMMER 2022:
THE BIRD LADY, conveys prime ideas of Environmental conservation. Its plot concerns an eccentric young woman, Annabelle, who loves birds and lives peaceably in a modest garden setting with her caretaker-father figure, Percy. This blissful domestic scene is interrupted by a builder—an egotistical, aggressive young man, Marcus, who wishes to build his dream home next to Annabelle’s property. However, an old majestic tree bisecting both properties stands in his way. Annabelle stands her ground against Marcus's onslaughts, and the opera plays out the dilemma and its ultimate resolving. The plot presents a microcosmic analogy to what happens in urban environments everyday.
OperAvant enthusiastically looks forward to producing THE BIRD LADY in full in early summer 2022. We plan an outdoor location in the Bronx or Manhattan whose current statistics report a healthy stewardship of birds. We plan to partner with both The Audubon Society and The American Bird Conservancy to increase public (community) awareness of how they can help become more knowledgeable about, and contribute to, the saving of our beautiful birds. We have full confidence that the production will be an unqualified success.
FORBEARANCE: FULL PRODUCTION LATE SUMMER 2022 or EARLY SPRING 2023
FORBEARANCE, with the original poem by Ralph Waldo Emerson, was made into a film during COVID times, last July 2020. The film concept and composition by Tamara Cashour was brought to musical life by the talents of New York Choral Group C4, a collective of singers who are all also composers, and Inversion Ensemble, a choral ensemble from Austin, Texas. The singers recorded alone in outdoor settings. The "full production" will feature a larger chorus singing together, with accompanying staging sets and costumes in an outdoor New York City park, most likely Henry Hudson Park in the Bronx. All birdcallers and birders welcome to participate!
WE LOOK FORWARD TO SEEING YOU AT ANY OR ALL OF THESE PRODUCTIONS. STAY TUNED TO OUR WEBSITE HERE!--Tamara Cashour, Artistic, Director