Tales of Power

Tales of Power was originally performed in 1976 at the University of Delaware.  It was scored for the U of D dance theater company under the direction of Debra Loewen.


Tales of Power poster 01, 1983

The NIU poster was based on photos from the original U of D production

Tales of Power was later re-created at Northern Illinois University in 1983 by the Neoteric Ensemble under the direction of Tim Blickhan and myself.

The score was conceived as an episodic timeline spanning the rise and fall of a fictional character along with his allies and victims.

The story is built around Lenny, a charismatic Italian-born tailor that aspires to bring significant art to the world.  The character of Lenny is theatrically realized in triplicate—3 lithe actors wearing black plaited pants and white shirts with oversize black-framed glasses and slicked-back hair.

Lenny is a composite character—part Carlos Castaneda as apprentice to Don Juan, part young Adolph Hitler as frustrated artist and political aspirant, and part Italian immigrant earthy artisan.  Ambitious for public attention and personal aspiration, Lenny is charming and politically colorful.  He also represents an unwitting misogynist political leader that does not see the implications of his social instincts.

Lenny is nurtured and supported by a chorus of Italian Mamas—a group of black-shrouded women with white aprons.  The chorus was initially conceived for the U of D dance theater company role and Debra Loewen devised the original chorus choreography.

The Italian Mamas are nurturers of Lenny but they are among his many victims as well.  They were intended as a Greek chorus with familiar character and theatrical characteristics.  An implicit reference is to the chorus of women in The Bacchae.

Another enabling character is the Bassoonist-Pope who is seen as a world-wide political benefactor (and apologist) to Lenny as his fortunes rise.  Loosely modeled on Pope Pius XII, this character blesses a male-dominant political agenda with a controversial role in subsequent Fascist policies.

The audience is invited to play a role as well—they are the ‘good Germans’ who can cheer or jeer at the events.  A suggested interpretation is for ushers to seat people in politically active sections of the audience and to provide them with cheers and confetti and leadership during the performance of the show.

Lenny has a mentor, a mysterious Don Juan character that encourages Lenny’s flights of fancy and humbles him with topical mysticism.  The Don Juan character was introduced by the actor Dana Smith (aka Dick Uranus) in Delaware and was utilized as a pair of characters:

  • the sombrero-hatted Don Juan advising the supplicant, and
  • the saluting Martin Bormann adjutant when Lenny is politically in ascendance.

Lenny’s mentor stimulates him with the heroic myths of antiquity and the magic of personal discipline.  The character of Don Juan represents the enabling forces of education and radicalization on a politically astute popular icon.

The story of Lenny is seen in theatrical scenes:

  • humble tailor imagining creating great art
  • nurtured by the Italian Mama culture
  • radicalized by the teachings of Don Juan
  • politically charismatic, he attracts functionaries and parasites
  • arrested and imprisoned for artistic ‘sedition’, a public trial is sensational
  • resonating message revolves around popularization – palatable new music
  • returns from prison hardened in philosophy and a popular political entity
  • becomes a powerful political polarization figure
  • women rise up and war ensues world-wide
  • Vatican is the core of male international military leadership
  • war becomes obsessive world-wide, women dominate completely
  • Lenny acknowledges his failure and commits suicide in a bunker

The highlights are theatrically presented loosely in sequence, but with simultaneous or duplicated episodes staged around the theater.

The score calls for a proscenium theater to have a 3-4 foot ramp crossing the middle of the theater seats with a crossing ramp mid-way—basically a stage-ramp crucifix in the middle of the audience.

Moreover, a life-size marionette is scored for the ‘trial of Lenny’ scene as the prosecutor.  Theatrically, the prosecutor marionette should be in the heart of the crucifix-stage (the theatrical middle of the performance space).  This was technically accomplished by running marionette strings through rings in the ceiling and allowing a puppeteer to manipulate the prosecutor from a theater-balcony.

The Lenny character on trial uses a (ventriloquism) puppet to interact with the prosecutor.

The use of puppets and marionettes is for the purpose of exposing the political nature of such trials and this one in particular.  As Hitler survived a trial and conviction and jailing , he became a popular political force. In large part, it was because his statements and publicity were lionized and published.  Lenny’s staged trial and imprisonment follows this model.

The Italian Mamas form a prison—by tying their apron strings together and creating a barrier around Lenny—a nurturing family connected with outside news-media.  They not only imprison him, they can provide the special perks desired by imprisoned powerful people.  As well, they can interface with the press-world on Lenny’s behalf and provide clips and comments.  They become spokeswomen for  his cause.

The overall piece is an evening’s length theatrical event.  The theater is modified to extend the stage throughout the audience seating and create a ‘theater-in-the-round’ effect within a conventional proscenium.  The audience therefore is packaged into sections and the composition provides roles for the ‘ushers’ to be team-leaders for these sections.  In this fashion, the sections of the audience have a role to play (or not) and this is loosely within the context of enabling voters or poll-respondents.  They can cheer or boo the policies and political travails of the characters.

Instructions for the team-leaders include the passing out of pencils and paper and the collection of comments on note-cards.  The ending of the piece calls for these note-cards to be torn and lofted as confetti over the images of Lenny preparing for suicide.

The staged imagery illustrates the core scenes of the timeline.  A centerpiece is the ‘trial of Lenny’ through puppetry, where his simple philosophy is revealed to popular resonance.

A procession of the bassoonist-Pope through the theater demonstrates the popular appeal of an archaic and male-oriented domination of politics.

Radio-play taped interviews with victims and participants in the Women’s War supply a context and detail to the imagined military confrontation between men and women.

Lenny’s diary-like demise is fitting, alone and adrift, a celebrity without understanding of his true impact, lost in his self-absorption, he submits and departs.

JP 28 March 2012

Posted in Neoteric Ensemble, Northern Illinois University, Performances, Politics | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Raising the barn

This post shares its title with the current task list over at dekalbowiki. My last two weeks have been largely devoted to the heavy lifting of whacking the MediaWiki installation into place, reimplementing the WordPress look and feel, and starting to upload the first content. Oh, and hacking my way through some css to implement the hoverable icon on the home page pointing to the Neoteric Ensemble “book” project.

Since I haven’t yet opened the wiki up (no robots.txt yet) or enabled Google stats the dekalbowiki site is spam free. I’m sure that won’t last long. The simple protections are in place, but there’s bound to be some door somewhere I haven’t nailed shut. The same goes for the blog pages, where I haven’t installed an Akismet key yet, so I’m expecting trackback spam any day. Still, everything is starting to gel.

There’s only one significant technical challenge left, which is figuring out how to do a common login between the wiki and blog pages. Maybe it’s enough to manage to allow users to create the separate entries in one shot, but I dream of a common database and single sign-on. Maybe when we get a real administrator…

I reckon in another month we’ll be ready to send out the invitations. Meanwhile if you have stumbled this far, check out the first collection.

—Cross-posted at wikigong.com 2012-01-20

Posted in Bands, MediaWiki, Neoteric Ensemble, Projects, Site admininstration, WordPress | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Ice fishing

It’s been quite a week here for re-creation: that is, I am relearning the lessons of getting wikigong.com launched, reconfigured, and launched again, as I apply them to dekalborama.com. Now that we’re in that site’s third trimester, it seemed a little attention was in order, so on January 1 I sawed a big hole in my personal timescape and plunged in to see whether I can remember MediaWiki administration. At first, they were pretty slow to bite, but now the memories are practically jumping into the hut with me.

There’s still much to do. Wiki mechanics aside, there’s the whole invitations business. It’s been twenty years since the last Neoteric Ensemble performance—OK, Future Fellow Contributors, that’s a gimme: if I’m wrong, leave a comment!—and yours truly was only along for part of the ride. Back then, there was barely an Internet. Now, we’ll be lucky to get snail-mail forwarding for anyone Google can’t find. But first, to compile the names and then put the six-degrees phenomenon to work:

I’m starting to scan and upload graphics this weekend!

—Cross-posted at wikigong.com 2012-01-09

Posted in MediaWiki, Neoteric Ensemble, Site admininstration, WordPress | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Hello world! (reprise)

We (re)moved the site in late June for a number of wholly pedestrian reasons. Here we are again!

Posted in Site admininstration, WordPress | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

Branching out

…in which we start a whole new venture with a friend, applying lessons learned.

Harking back to a decade spent—formatively—beyond the fringes of Chicago, we embarked this week on our second site-building romp with friend and mentor Joseph Pinzarrone: dekalborama.com is now rising up from the virtual cornfields of northern Illinois like the dust of a hundred combines marching across the horizon before a harvest moon. The site itself will be a paean to dust: we’ll dust off our archives, resurrect dusty friendships, transfer and convert mildewed recordings—analog to digital, obsolete digital to soon-to-be-obsolete digital—in a brief erection of memory.

We’ll try not to repeat too many of our wikiGong mistakes, at least those we recognize as such. Organization will be a bit cleaner off the mark—we have subdomains already!—and we’ll avoid editing defaults in place to make upgrades easier. There’ll be a wiki, but this time admission will be by invitation only: we know who we once were, and as many hats as we wore, none of them were embroidered with “Russian link-spammer.” And there will be some sort of editorial process, once Joe finishes ruminating on it (me, I’m just the mechanic on this little desert road trip).

Ah, the Past with a capital P. Ashes to ashes, bits to bits, the once-now into a memory now, but still a far cry from the Long Now. Who’s going to look at this digital empire in twenty years anyway, and in what form?

– Cross-posted @ wikigong.com on May 8, 2011 by gongmaster

Posted in Northern Illinois University, Projects, Raison d'être, Site admininstration, WordPress | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment