Friday, July 22, 2011

Spotlight: John Moran

In 1995 I read a brief review in the NY Times about a show called Mathew In The School of Life at The Kitchen. It's the only time I ever went to see a show just because of a review. And it changed my life. I'm still not sure why I felt so compelled to see it as the review was unclear as to what the show was, but the opening line got me, "Watching "Mathew in the School of Life," John Moran's dazzling science-fiction techno-opera, it is easy to imagine having stumbled into a phantasmagoric music box where elaborately programmed robots replay the same nightmarish scenarios over and over into infinity." I mean who wouldn't want to see a phantasmagoric music box? And after I saw the show I knew I wanted to make them myself. So for my next piece, I wrote a one-man hyper-opera reversing his process and adding cartoon sound effects. Oh, and I also sang sometimes in my piece because I loved blurring for the audience whether I was vocalizing live or lip-syching. When I wrote on my website that he and director Bob McGrath's production were inspirational, he found me and contacted me. (Partially to explain the technique was something he developed on his own without Mr. McGrath's involvement. Sadly a few years later they had a very public artistic separation compared to the 'divorce' of Philip Glass and Robert Wilson a decade earlier.)
But we emailed a few times about the technical process he was using and it was thrilling to be found by someone you were writing about. I'm curious if he'll find me again (Hey, John! Hope to see you in August.). I'd already just about finished my opera so I had to figure it out on my own already and we were using different technical tools. But it turns out our process was similar, and different. And our results? Well, he made live animatronic large-ensemble, mass-hypnosis. I made solo live-action, lip-syching, singing, cartoons. Now he makes duos and I make nothing.
Another difference between us is that he had Philip Glass for a mentor and proponent. I did not. But that's because the one time I met Mr. Glass, I just said hello and stood there awkwardly in the Green Room trying to think of something to say that wouldn't open a worm hole into epic fail. You see, I know the kind of disasters I can create while greeting famous people when I open my mouth, so I opted for silence.  John on the other hand famously palmed the fucker a cassette tape in the middle of Kansas and scored a guardian angel with an operatic vorpal sword as well as Allen Ginsberg's home number. (Mr. Ginsberg was highly featured in Mathew). As Mark Twain said, "All you need is ignorance and confidence and the success is sure." I seem to have neither at the right times and both at the wrong times.
Sadly, after John got his 6th show "Book of The Dead/Second Avenue" produced at (finally) a bigger venue, (The Public Theatre) he just disappeared.  For like 7 years. In some ways that reminds me of me. My last show was at LaMaMa... 7 years ago. I stopped making work for the stage without telling anyone I was going to stop.
The difference is, I went to LA to sell out and have failed miserably. Whereas John went to Europe, failed, came back to New York, went a little crazy and a little homeless, but here's the important news. JOHN MORAN IS BACK. AND HE'S COMING TO CALI.
If you haven't head about Philip Glass' new new music festival "Days and Nights" (because it seems no one has), here's a link. It's an amazing 3 week festival in Big Sur, CA. This is it's inaugural year. I'm not going to miss it. And John will be performing an evening length duo with Saori. Here's a piece about it. And at the bottom of this post is a video of one of his more recent pieces. But as with all great theatre, this video conveys none of the power of seeing it live. In fact, because of the lip-synch technique he uses, it just looks off. Meanwhile, you have no idea how seeing it live can absolutely transport you into an alternate reality.

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