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Entries in Dixon Place (2)

Friday
Nov032017

Call Answered: Michael Harren: "The Animal Show" at Dixon Place

Michael Harren at Tamerlaine Animal SanctuaryWho doesn't love a good cat or dog video? I love animals...well, not all animals. I hate rats and mice, but other than that, I love animals. When I read about Michael Harren's residency at Tamerlaine Animal Sanctuary, where he created his show The Animal Show, I knew this is an interview I needed to do.

The Animal Show, blends humor with candor to convey the importance of keeping all animals safe from harm. Through stories, music, and video from his residency at Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary and activism on the road, The Animal Show is a thoughtful exploration of humans’ relationships with non-human animals.

The Animal Show returns to Dixon Place (161A Chrystie Street) on November 8 & 9 at 7:30pm. Click here for tickets!

For more on Michael be sure to visit http://michaelharren.com and follow him on Facebook, TwitterInstagram and YouTube!

Michael Harren and his orange organ1. Who or what inspired you to become a composer and performer? I wanted to be a performer for as long as I can remember. As a kid in the '70s I used to put on little performances for my family, playing songs I learned by ear on this florescent orange horrible sounding chord organ I got for Christmas. My mom always encouraged me to pursue my musical dreams, but it took me many years to develop the courage to start creating and performing my own work. There are so many messages we get in our culture that being an artist isn’t a "real job" or should just be a hobby. It was especially hard for me to get over that, but I am so glad I did!

2. When did you become an animal activist? I went vegan in November of 2010 when I realized that eating and otherwise exploiting animals didn’t fit with my desire to live a non-violent life. I learned so much about what we humans do to animals, I realized that being vegan wasn’t enough and I needed to hit the streets if I wanted to be able to live with myself.

3. This November you return to Dixon Place with The Animal Show, a multi-media experience of your time living and volunteering at the Tamerlaine Animal Sanctuary. First, what made you want to go live/volunteer at Tamerlaine? How long after you were there did you go, "Hey, this experience could be turned into a show? It actually worked in the reverse of that. I had the idea to do the residency because I wanted to create an experience that I could potentially turn into a show about animals. I had just wrapped up the album and book based on my previous show, Tentative Armor, and in the midst of my wondering "what next" I visited Woodstock Farm Animal Sanctuary, and had the idea of doing a residency at a sanctuary. Soon after I met Tamerlaine co-founder Peter Nussbaum on my vegan running team, and the rest is history!

4. What are you most looking forward to about this return engagement? What do you hope audiences come away with from seeing this show? I’ve been wanting to add a video component to the show since I first conceived of the idea, but I just didn’t have the skills to get it together. Finally (after hours of YouTube study), I have some new pieces in the show that feature video, most of which I shot myself at a Los Angeles Animal Save vigil and a dairy farm I visited while on tour this summer. I’ve expanded the ensemble to a full string quartet, which really makes a huge difference in the sound of the show.

I hope people come away from the show with a different understanding about how we all relate to animals. The biggest thing I realized during my time at Tamerlaine was that every animal is an individual who wants to live. It’s such a simple concept, but even as a long time vegan activist, I didn’t internalize that understanding like I do now. Really, though, I’d like for everyone who sees the show to instantaneously go vegan, but I’ll settle for the "animals as individuals” thing. For now.

Michael Harren and his siblings with their pup Corky5. What did you learn about yourself from your time at Tamerlaine Animal Sanctuary? I’m way more resilient than I thought. Part of the "fun" of this project was that I pretty much hate the outdoors, and I knew by putting myself in a situation that made me very uncomfortable, I would have some interesting experiences to write about. It turns out that I liked doing the outdoor work way more than I thought I would. Even tasks like deep cleaning a chicken coop can become a meditative practice during which I have time to think. I don’t get a lot of that time in my regular life. I toured this summer and wound up in some pretty…rustic settings. One of the sanctuaries where I volunteered had me in a tent, with no electricity or plumbing nearby, I literally had to poop in a bucket and cover it with peat moss each time. One morning as I unzipped my tent I had a strange realiziation - "holy shit. I’m enjoying this." I never knew I was outdoorsy…sometimes.

6. Which animals were your favorite to be with? Which ones were you most afraid of? I love chickens way more than I thought I would. In fact, when I realized Tamerlaine Farm would be the best place for my project, I hesitated because most of the animals they had there at the time were chickens. I mean, what would I write about dumb 'ol chickens?? To my surprise, the stories about chickens are the heart of the show, especially one chicken I had the opportunity to rescue. Chickens are so social and cuddly. YES, cuddly! If you sit down in a yard of chickens, they will gather around you, hop in your lap, nuzzle under your arm. They are lovely and loving beings. I adore them now. Roosters, are a little bit scary though when they get all territorial, and I am especially terrified of a pig at the farm named Clara. There’s a story about her in the show.

Michael Harren at Tamerlaine Animal Sanctuary7. Did you encounter any moments similar to the show When Animals Attack and if so, what happened and how did you handle yourself? I don’t want to tell too much because this particular story is in the show, but let’s just say that even though I don't want to eat animals, that doesn’t mean that animals don’t want to eat me.

8. Which animal do you consider to be your spirit animal? Oh I don’t know, maybe a cat? A sloth? Yeah, that’s it. A sloth.

9. There are so many songs out about the welfare of animals. Off the top of my head, Olivia Newton-John has "The Dolphin Song" and "Pony Ride", two songs about the preservation of dolphins and horses. If you were to write a song about saving one kind of animal, which animal would you write about and what would you name the song? That would be a tough one, and forgive me for getting all vegan-y but the song would have to be about encouraging a consciousness of compassion for all animals. It would be called "We Are Us" and I think you just gave me an idea for a song to add to the show. I wonder if I can write it in just a week?!

Michael Harren and Sandra Bernhard10. My last question, is going to deviate from this specific show because I just love this artist so much that you play with. When not creating your own work, you tour with the one and only Sandra Bernhard as her pianist. What have you learned from working with Sandra and what is one hilarious story you can share about your time on the road with her? Working with Sandra transformed me as an artist tremendously. When I first started working with her I had these beliefs about myself as a pianist, and really as a human, that I had to let go of FAST if I wanted the gig. I was really intimidated when I first started playing with her because I came from more of a classical/theatre background where music was rehearsed and perfected, and I was expected to show up at sound check, ready to go and just do it. Working like that really loosened me up as a musician, and it has changed dramatically how I show up in my own work. I’m not so married to things being perfect, or a big deal, it’s performing and fun and we all, audience and performer, are supposed to have a good time and connect.

I think my favorite moment ever with her was not only getting to play "Me and Mrs. Jones" with her in Provincetown, but the moment she changed her iconic line to "..me and my vegan piano player. You know how we people get along so well…"

Michael Harren, Photo Credit: Diana BezanskiMore on Michael:

Brooklyn-based composer and performer Michael Harren combines elements of classical composition with experimental electronics and storytelling to create hypnotic, bold, and intimate work. He is an artist-in-residence at Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary where he created The Animal Show. Michael Harren tours as a pianist with Sandra Bernhard and serves as the musical director for Cabaret for a Cause. Michael has performed at Dixon Place, (le) poisson rouge, Joe’s Pub, Judson Memorial Church, The Laurie Beechman Theater and numerous venues around the country.

Monday
Dec072015

Call Answered: Paul Hufker: Snowed In: An Imagining at Dixon Place

Paul HufkerIt's always exciting when somebody contacts me on social media about an interview. That's how I found out about playwright Paul Hufker. He came on my radar after Tweeting at me. I took a look at his show, liked what I read, and thought it could make for a good interview. I hope you all will agree. 

Paul's latest play, Snowed In: An Imaging is a fictional take on what it would be like if former CIA employee/government contractor Edward Snowden were to be trapped in a Russian airport. Snowed In will have a reading at Dixon Place (161A Chrystie Street) in NYC on Monday, December 21 at 7:30pm! Click here for tickets!

For more on Paul be sure to visit http://www.paulhufker.com and follow him on Twitter!

For more on Dixon Place visit http://dixonplace.org and follow them on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!

Paul Hufker in "Ten Little Indians" at The Repertory Theatre of St. Louis, Photo Credit: Bruce Summers1. When did you realize you wanted to be a playwright, actor, and director? What order did your evolution take place? I realized I wanted to be an actor around age 7. No one could stop me from stealing the spotlight, so I suppose it was innate all along. In terms of writing, I saw a production of The Homecoming by Pinter in 2008 on Broadway of all places and was so moved that I went home and stayed up all night writing the first draft of what would become my first play. Someone had to direct, so I did that, too.

2. You have been a playwright for the past decade. What playwrights inspire you today? What actors do you hope to get to write for in your career? There are loads of talented people writing today. Many of them are in Brooklyn, either getting their MFA at Brooklyn College, or writing for the various arts spaces popping up all over. To name a few: Mike Mikos (who’s in my reading), Eliza Bent, Sibyl Kempson, Alexander Borinsky, Clare Barron, Morgan Gould, and so many others. Of course Erin Courtney and Mac Wellman – both masters and wonderful teachers. Sheila Callaghan.

3. Your latest play, Snowed In: An Imagining, is a fictional take on what it would be like if former CIA employee/government contractor Edward Snowden were to be trapped in a Russian airport. What was it about Edward Snowden's story that made you want to write this show? The play came together in a weird fashion. I was (and am) fascinated by the holographic principle in science. It’s a relatively new theory that asserts that the universe is essentially a 2-dimensional projection. This fascinated me deeply. To add to that was this notion of privacy and what we trade to have it. But I started wondering what privacy mattered if the makeup of our universe is in fact drastically different than we at first imagined. If those rules have changed, then where does that leave privacy? Anything at all? For some reason, when the Snowden world merged with the science world, something magical began to form on the page.

4. This incarnation of the show is a one night reading at Dixon Place. After you write a show, what's it like to have a reading and present it in front of a live audience? How do react to what the audience laughs at and what they don't react to? How do you decide which reactions make you go back and make changes and which ones you just feel you need to leave as is even if it didn't go over well? A one-night reading is essentially a sales pitch. I try and pull every string I have to get anyone that I have an industry relationship with to attend, in the hopes that they might want to work on it or buy it.

In terms of an audience reaction, there will no doubt be a tremendous amount of things I see and hear in the script on the night of the reading that I need to go back and look at. Those moments will hit my ear (via my brilliant cast) and will stick in my memory. I’ll go back and make the necessary changes later. I probably won’t change more than what my own ear tells me, except if the audience gets exceptionally antsy all at once in any certain place – then perhaps I’ll look at it.

The Real Edward Snowden (former CIA employee)5. What do you think Edward's reaction would be to Snowed In: An Imagining? I honestly think he’d like it if for no other reason than a good deal of the story focuses on Snowden as a person, not a "figure" and what it must’ve been like to sit and wait those agonizing days and weeks in that airport while the whole world hunted for him.

6. In the description of your show, it notes that as Edward Snowden is trapped in this Russian airport making-up a world of his own, there is a black cloud or black hole beginning to swallow the world outside. If there were a black cloud or black hole swallowing the world, how would you spend your last remaining moments? I gave up alcohol one year ago. I’d probably get drunk. Hard.

7. Since the show is set around being snowed in at the airport, what's your favorite part of having a snow day where you can't leave your apartment? Not drinking anymore, unfortunately. I suppose the unfettered ability to know there’s nothing more I can do in a day. The ability to rest.

8. When you see the first snowfall of the season, what feelings or memories come up for you? Oh, gosh. It snows a lot where I’m from (Missouri) so I’m sure something childhood-y comes up. I don’t know what, though.

9. If you could have a snowball fight with any celebrity, who would you want to go up against? Bob Dylan because I’ve always wanted to meet him and he’s 72 so I’d surely win.

10. If you could meet your playwrighting idol, what advice you would ask from them and what advice would you give them? I’ve been lucky enough to meet a good deal of my living idols (I don’t have many). I offered them no advice, but instead like a sponge, soaked up every ounce of their wisdom I could retain. My advice to Pinter would probably be "stop smoking" because that’s what killed him. Other than that, I don’t have the right to tell these giants a thing.

Paul HufkerMore on Paul:

Paul has been a playwright, AEA actor, and director in New York City for nine years. He was a 2014 Jerome Fellowship Finalist, 2014 Princess Grace Award Semi-Finalist, 2011 Eugene O'Neill Prize Semi-Finalist, and was awarded participation to the 2011 Sewanee Writers' Conference.

He is currently an MFA candidate in playwrighting at Brooklyn College under Mac Wellman and Erin Courtney. His plays have been produced at/by The National Comedy Theatre (NYC), Manhattan Repertory Theatre, Variations Theatre Group (NYC) -- where his play The Horses in Central Park won Best Ensemble, Audience Favorite, and Best Actress (Mallory Hawks) -- Emerging Artists Theatre (NYC), The Drilling Company (NYC), The Dramatic Question Theatre Company (NYC) -- where he is a Fresh Faces 2012 recipient.

He is a proud graduate of Webster University where he received a BFA in theatrical performance.