Ticket to the Freak Show Part II


Talea ensemble members Ryan Muncy (saxophone) and Rane Moore (clarinet) on performing Takasugi's Sideshow

Talea ensemble members Ryan Muncy (saxophone) and Rane Moore (clarinet) on performing Takasugi's Sideshow


This interview follows my earlier conversation with Steven Takasugi on his theatrical work Sideshow.


Kevin Zhang: Broadly, what was the process like in bringing Sideshow into existence? How much contact did you guys have with Steve in the composition and rehearsal process?


Rane Moore: Steve was with us the entirety of the rehearsal process which was wonderful because he's such a fun, kind person and imperative because his vision is so specific. We all worked with him individually before the group rehearsals making sure everything in our parts worked. We received the scores completed, but he did make some changes after seeing the piece physically realized by the group.


Ryan Muncy: He's been working on this for years, so as far as him knowing the instrument, he didn't have to get my opinion too much. As you know, the piece involves fictional playing as well. So the question of technique wasn't too prominent. I think what was more prominent was him figuring out a way to get the players to physically engage in a way involving 100% physical commitment without making any sound.


KZ: Were there any idiosyncrasies in your role of the performer in Sideshow that stood out as particularly interesting and memorable to you?


Moore: I enjoy breaking the fourth wall, interacting with the audience and observing their reactions. I also love seeing my colleagues ham it up! The audience is not supposed to notice we're using a click track, but it's crucial to the coordination of the piece. Often having a click ends up being a crutch and limits a performer's ability to listen fully and interact. In this case Steve's intricate track with directives and descriptions actually frees us up to look away from the music and align events precisely without cueing (it also doesn't hurt that he has a wonderfully soothing voice!).


Muncy: I remember I had my one-on-one meeting with him in New York the day before our first ensemble rehearsal. There's this point in the piece where in my part it says "Solo. Saxophonist lip synchs maniacal laughter on the tape part." And I remember looking at him, and saying: "Steve...what exactly happens here? I don't understand." And he looks at me and says "Ryan, I wrote this part for your face!"


KZ: I know exactly the part!


Muncy: I would love for the day to come when this piece becomes a part of the repertoire that other groups play. I would be first in line for tickets to watch that.


KZ: There's definitely a show-in-a-show situation. This is a piece very much about the idea of performance itself, and you guys are of course performers yourselves, but you're also performing characters in a show.


Muncy: Definitely a challenge in the sense that I'm not used to playing characters for so long. The performers are the performers in the show, and the audience is the audience in the show. And everyone has their role, and everyone is implicated in this recreated thing that happens, and I find that dramaturgy interesting. But what was even more challenging and more terrifying as a performer was that the eight of sense generally can't look at each other a single time (except for those moments when specifically instructed to do so). So to able to make music, chamber music, and to do my thing, without seeing each other is, not only difficult, but requires a level of courage that I've never had to need in music. You know, when you go to do a big sideshow grin, you're sort of putting faith in fact that everyone else is doing it too. There's maybe a little voice that creeps into the back of your head that's asking "What if everyone else is not doing it? What if it's all a trick on me?"


KZ: In my talk with Steve yesterday, he made an interesting point about how once this thing went on the road, from city to city in the US, the local audiences all picked up their own local reception and topics of discussion. For example, in Austria the Karl Krauss connection was what everyone was interested in, while in New York it was Coney Island. For you, did approaching the performance of the piece change as the tour went on?


Moore: Not for me. I try to give my best performance every time and like any piece of music the more we perform it the more it becomes our own.


Muncy: Steve is probably more aware of that in a way more than us. Of course, when you do a piece, it develops over time: some things easier, some things harder. The pure adrenaline of that first performance that we did can never be recreated. At the same time, that's probably not the kind of thing that can be good to happen every time because it was so intense. It was also less refined than it was four months later in Los Angeles.


KZ: It's also interesting that there are four roles: the literal performer, the performer character, the literal audience, and the audience character. Three of these always stay the same, but only one (the literal audience) changes.


Muncy: It's interesting to me which audiences are more keen to embrace their role as the audience in the show. I think they all get it, that they're all part of an audience in a show-in-a-show, but the intellectual types of listeners will try to separate their experience of it and deconstruct it in way where they don't have to go that far in the actual moment.


KZ: And finally, what does it mean for you to be getting to do this show again now in Darmstadt? Have the few months off between the last performance caused any particular challenges?


Moore: We took a lot of time initially preparing this piece and with such a memorable score coming back to it after some time off was like riding a bike - albeit a creepy, fantastical bike that will only take you to Coney Island.


Muncy: I feel like we've been building towards this moment. I watched how much Steven is adored here as a person and a composer, and I think he is making an incredible influence on composers now, in their 20s and early 30s, and he has much more influence than he's ever had in his career, and I think this piece is special and unique enough to be a memorable part of this festival.

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By Kevin Zhang