The Interstitial Arts Foundation
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The Interstitial Arts Foundation is a not-for-profit organization dedicated to the study, support, and promotion of interstitial art: literature, music, visual and performance art found in between categories and genres – art that crosses borders. Find out more!

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Interview with Bobby Previte
by Deborah Atherton | January 19th, 2014 | No Comments »
Bobby Previte

Bobby Previte

Interstitial Arts is excited to bring you this interview with composer/performer Bobby Previte. Bobby has worked with for/with creators as diverse as John Adams, Terry Adams, Robert Altman, Johnny Copeland, Lejaren Hiller, Charlie Hunter, Lenny Kaye, John Lurie, Sonny Sharrock, Michael Tilson-Thomas, Tom Waits, Victoria Williams, and possibly Iggy Pop (though he can’t quite remember that.) He has recorded on Sony, Nonesuch, Palmetto, Gramavision, Enja, Thirsty Ear, New World, Ropeadope, Veal, Spacebone, and received the Guggenheim Fellowship. He’s in the midst of creating a recording of his highly interstitial work Terminals, and took a few minutes to speak with IAF Board member Deborah Atherton about it.

1)  Can you introduce yourself and give us a little background on who you are and what you do?

I am a performer/composer. My “instrument” is the trap drums. I’ve been performing since the age of 13. I got my start  playing all of the bars, clubs and after hours joints in my hometown of Niagara Falls, New York. I  fashioned my first drum set out of garbage cans and whatnot, and I learned how to play on the street and from my comrades-in-arms. Later I went to the University of Buffalo and studied percussion with Jan Williams, which was incredible, but I don’t think I learned as much about playing or writing music there as I did about how to listen. And listening is everything.
2) Please talk about your latest project, Terminals.
Terminals is an attempt to marry two profound influences in my life: my time in the percussion department, and the entire 40 years afterwards, where I was lucky enough to stand on stage next to some of the greatest improvisers in the world. I never seriously considered being a classical percussionist (nor could I have been, starting much too late), I was a drummer through and through. But Buffalo in the 70s was the epicenter of new music in the US, and as a young rock/soul/r&b drummer, passing John Cage, Morton Feldman, Lejaren Hiller et al in the hallways was transformative. I mean, I had no idea who these people were.  I was totally clueless. Then, I found out.
Terminals Part One at Merkin Hall

Terminals Part One at Merkin Hall

After school I immersed myself in the life I pretty much lead now – traveling the world, writing, playing, performing, recording music. I forgot about percussion music really. Then one day I was on one of those long flights, and, completely bored, I picked up the in-flight magazine and came upon the Airport Terminal Maps you see all the time, graphic representations of physical spaces. Suddenly I saw them as percussion set-ups. Circle hubs became bass drums, long hallways became chimes, like this. Now I had always been fascinated with airports. As a child I would arrange random objects as airports and cities, and my friends and I used to climb the fence of the Niagara Falls Airport, sneak on to the runway (can you imagine such a thing now) and  lay down on the grass as the planed boomed overhead. Aside from certain hearing loss and probable brain damage from jet fuel contamination, it was exhilarating.
In any case, I decided then and there to write a Percussion piece. I mean, on the plane looking at the maps.
But I wanted to incorporate the rest of my life experience into the work, so I hit upon the idea of writing concerti for improvising soloists and percussion ensemble, where the percussion group takes the role of the orchestra in a traditional concerto. First, I wanted to get SO Percussion on board. Luckily they agreed. I’m not sure I would have even attempted it without them. Then I had the pleasure of deciding who amongst the many many people I had played with I would write for. In the end I wrote five concerti, one each for the harpist Zeena Parkins, the vocalist Jen Shyu, the turntable artist DJ Olive, the keyboard maestro John Medeski, and one for myself on trap drums.
Each of the Terminals is very tailored to the solo instrument of course: John’s concerto had a lot of big forces in it to match his power on the Hammond, while Jen’s uses a lot of  ‘vocal quality’ instruments like the talking drum, the whistle, and and the cuica. The drum set concerto is all about the experience of playing the drums, from dropping your stick, to the “rock count-off’ to even setting up the set:  within the piece we set up and soundcheck on stage in real time a second drums set. This satisfies one of my biggest fantasies – having the soundcheck during the gig!  If only. This bit of theater is appropriate, as the trap drums have a history of theatrical presentation (here I could go on about my  ’super rock costume’ which my 14 year old girlfriend made me, but I will spare your readers).
Bobby Previte in Performance

Bobby Previte in Performance

3)      How has being the creator of interstitial work (i.e. work that falls outside recognized easy genre or marketing categories) created difficulties for you? (I know I’ve heard you talk about the challenges of finding venues and audiences for new work—this is a good place to talk about that.)

Well as an Italian promoter (and good friend) once told me, “Bobby, I love you, but you are so hard to book. I’m never sure what you will bring. An electronica project? All acoustic? A metal band? Jazz?” Myself  I hear all these things, to me they are all just part of my world. However it does make it hard for people. Folks get very nervous when they can’t define. We all feel if we can name it, if we can find our exact GPS positioning, we’re ok (it’s an illusion, but whatever). Nobody likes to be lost, even a little bit. Which is somewhat of a shame, don’t you think? Because isn’t that really what’s at the bottom of the whole experience of art, of life? I mean, there’s a place, a very needed place, for stability, familiarity, etc., but if you always know what’s gonna happen next, who cares? Art is one of the few areas in which  you can take a risk, precisely because it’s not  real life. If you make a mistake what will happen? You’re probably not going to be knifed in an alley or smash into a telephone pole with your car or lose your entire fortune or overdose on some exotic drug. So why the hell not take a chance?  You might actually find something. But it’s just really hard for us. We work too-long hours,  beaten down at our jobs every day, and then it’s just enough to escape back home and anesthetize ourselves with a beer and some moving images. Forget it all. Tomorrow’s another day. In this environment, who wants to be asked more questions?
This isn’t really an answer to your question, but it’s a good rant, no?
 4) What strategies have you used to get around this? What advice would you give to another artist in a similar position?
Oh that’s tough. Strategies are for golfers and hedge fund managers. Would I point them to what Basquiat said?  Something like, “You want to be famous, successful? OK, find one thing that the world accepts. And then, repeat it ad-nauseum for the rest of your life.”  Theres a lot of truth in that. Branding is no joke. Simple, understandable work that can be easily branded is rewarded – complexity, hmmm, not so much. Maybe I would say, ‘make your reputation and then you can do anything.’  (though I don’t really work that way, I’m not built for it).  I haven’t followed this advice, and sometimes, believe me, I wish I could, but, there it is. Probably I would demur giving advice at all because I don’t think it’s constructive, and it can be downright dangerous (look at “universities’!) – what works for one person is an unmitigated disaster for another. That’s what I would say. No matter what anyone else tells you, there is not one way (or two, or three) but many, many ways. Which is right for you? Time will tell. But it really depends on your motivation – why  do you want to be an artist in the first place? Because it ain’t for sissies. It’s really a hard life if you are expecting worldly riches, and you had better love it. No, you don’t have to love it, you just have to be stuck with it. By that I mean it has to be the only thing you can possibly do with yourself. If it isn’t, if you can be just as actualized doing something completely different, I would say you’d better give that other thing some serious consideration.
 5) One Wish: If you could change one thing about your current situation (i.e., getting this recording done or really whatever you would like to talk about!) what would it be?
I would love to be specific here and say, hey everyone, I would like to finally record Terminals, and I’m having a pledge drive to do just that, and here’s where you can donate, http://www.pledgemusic.com/projects/terminals (ha ha, see what I did there?)  but that seems such a silly, small thing. I mean, isn’t everyone’s next project just silly as compared to the grand scheme? Or is it just part of the scheme? Well, to stop skirting the issue, I will say I would love to not have to get on a plane anymore, and I would love to not have to talk about my work anymore (although this has been fun Debbie). One gets (or should get) tired of it always being about oneself. Unfortunately (for most) that’s part and parcel of the life of the artist – self absorption. It’s not exactly healthy, but that’s what it is. Somehow I would like to get away from that but you see, if you don’t talk about yourself, post on facebook, and do the ten billion little things you need to do to remain relevant, the world will (usually) not let you do the one thing you really want to do – in my case, make music. Ask any filmmaker. They don’t really make films. They are professional phone bank operators, constantly scouring the globe for funds. This, yes indeed this, is what I would change if I could.
Nice talking to you.

Charles Wright
by Deborah Atherton | September 7th, 2013 | No Comments »

Written by Ron Bass

Charles Wright was born in 1933 and published three books within a decade: The Messenger (1963), The Wig (1966), and Absolutely Nothing to Get Alarmed About (1973).  All are riveting. The first book is a relatively conventional novel. The second is an alternative present novel and a scathing satire that is definitely interstitial. The third, which is the topic at hand, is nearly unclassifiable, although I think it reads like a novel.

Charles Wright cover

The book flaps of Absolutely Nothing to Get Alarmed About contain blurbs from Kay Boyle, Anthony Burgess, Ishmael Reed, and Clarence Major. Burgess writes: “It would diminish Charles Wright to call him merely an important black writer. Such talent as his transcends race: his concern is with the human condition.” Reed writes: “Charles Wright is the aristocratic poet-in-residence of America’s seamy side. He doesn’t flay so much as he haunts.”

Wright lived until 2008 but didn’t publish any other books. His New York Times obituary described him as an important literary talent who “vanished into alcoholism and despair.” In 1976, as Wright was “spiraling into oblivion,” his former editor Jan Hodenfield offered him a place to stay for a few weeks and he stayed twenty years, leaving just before he turned 64; according to Hodenfield: “He was a second father to both my children.”

Absolutely Nothing to Get Alarmed About is constructed from Wright’s columns in the Village Voice between 1967 and 1973.  Some pieces have been edited. Other material has been added. The individual segments are not dated, and there is no reason to believe the pieces are assembled in chronological order. The book feels timeless or perhaps it is taking place in waking-dream-time in a region of hell that feels like Manhattan crumbling into the nastiness that took full shape in the late 70s and 80s.

The book starts with a precisely described wallop, in a cubicle in a Bowery flophouse: “In the half-world of sleep where dreams and consciousness collide, I turned on the narrow, sticky plastic mattress. The brilliant ceiling light seemed to veer toward me.  But with less than four hours’ sleep, fourteen shots of vodka, six twelve-ounce bottles of beer, two speed pills, one marijuana cigarette – I chuckled in my pale yellow cubicle. The stone floor had a fresh coat of battleship-gray paint. After less than a week the old terra-cotta paint was surfacing. The armless bentwood chair functioned as a night table. Narrower than a standard clothes hanger, the wardrobe was doorless. The new opaque window was jammed. Unlike other residents, I never came upon rats or snakes. What unnerved me were the goddamn arrogant cockroaches.”

 

Starting from a series of home bases of this kind, Wright describes his travels around downtown Manhattan and the people he encounters in lowlife haunts such as Bowery bars, an abandoned East Village apartment being used as a heroin shooting gallery, “Chinese Park” near the Manhattan Bridge where alfresco sex acts (one involving Wright) were performed, and a VD clinic in Chelsea.  Encounters with the police are not infrequent.

 

Wright’s relationships with women are complicated and compromised by his lack of money and job prospects. He was temperamentally unable to play the suck-up game to obtain a sinecure that would have provided him a measure of financial stability. He insults a female journalist who is interviewing him in the Cedar Tavern. He berates a city bureaucrat at an Upper West Side party hosted by a member of the black bourgeoisie, and the bureaucrat later prevents him from being hired for a writing job in the city government. Apart from freelance journalism and royalties from two well received but poorly selling novels, he works as (and writes amusingly about being) a  flyer distributor and a dishwasher in the Catskills and bar mitzvah halls in New Jersey.

Around these activities, Wright always comes back to his notebook and the stack of books he is reading. Hemingway, who is referenced four times, is his most constant touchstone. For Wright, who served in the army in Korea, Manhattan was a different kind of battle zone, one in which race relations played a key part. He also references Malcolm Lowry, Nathaniel West, and Norman Mailer (hard drinkers, all).

The book ends with a letter to Nathaniel West at “First Comfort Station/Purgatorial Heights”, that begins: “Por favor—forgive the delay. True, it has been almost six years. Hope that it has been less than a day in your particular hell. It began in our New York and followed me through the small transient rooms of all your depressing hotels. Now Absurdity and Truth pave the parquet of my mind. The pain is akin to raw alcohol on the testicles. But I’m not complaining. Life’s eyedropper is being sterilized with ant piss. Hallucinations? Joshing? West—I-Am-Not-Spaced-Out, despite the East and West Village rumors. Slightly skulled though. Celebrating the Day of the Dead.”

Despite its journalistic source material I would, not without some reservations, shelve this book as a novel, as I would the books of Hunter S. Thompson and Carlos Castaneda.

 

Ron Bass

Ron Bass

Ron Bass is a regular contributor to the IAF blog, with periodic  posts on rediscovering lesser known Interstitial writers.

 

 

 

 

 

 


The Language of Cats
by Deborah Atherton | June 14th, 2013 | No Comments »

Written by Ron Bass

This is the second in our series on rediscovered interstitial works by writer Ron Bass.

Although not capable of being subjected to any kind of quantitative test, I have no doubts about the accuracy of the following proposition: After the death of its creator, an interstitial work of the first rank is more likely to be lost to future generations than a work of equal rank that resides within a clearly-defined genre.

Spencer Holst (1925 – 2001) was a writer whose interstitial works were widely appreciated during his lifetime; but only a dozen years after his death they have nearly fallen off of our collective cultural radar screen. Although Holst’s stories were published in many literary magazines, and were collected in books, he was known primarily as a storyteller who performed in front of live audiences.

Spencer Holst

During the late sixties and early seventies Holst conducted a double series of weekend performances at Doctor Generosity’s, a poets’ bar on the Upper East Side, and St. Adrian Company, a demimonde hangout in the West Village. He also performed at St. Marks Church-in-the-Bouwerie, Judson Church in Washington Square, and at St. Peter’s Church in Chelsea, and on the radio on WBAI. (I once saw him perform on the Columbia campus. He did not read his stories. He recited them.)

The Language of Cats was first published in a hardcover edition in 1971. Holst’s stories seem to have appealed more to poets than to fiction writers, a sure sign of their interstitiality. No fewer than five well-known poets are quoted on the dust jacket of the hardcover: Diane Wakoski and John Hollander on the front flap; and Allen Ginsberg, Muriel Rukeyser and W.S. Merwin on the back cover. Hollander said of Holst’s stories: “These are routines – something like fictions, something like jokes – of a stand-up tragic. Transcriptions of a spoken voice, their cadences linger beyond laughter.”

Holst’s epigraph is, perhaps fittingly, given the macabre edge in his stories, taken from Edgar Allan Poe: “… that, in general, from the violation of a few simple laws of humanity arises the wretchedness of mankind – that as a species we have in our possession the as yet unwrought elements of content – and that, even now in the present darkness and madness of all thought on the great question of the social condition, it is not impossible that man, the individual, under certain unusual and highly fortuitous conditions, may be happy.”

The collection consists of twenty pieces ranging in length from a single paragraph to seventeen pages. In many of the stories the “unusual and highly fortuitous conditions” under which happiness is possible do not exist.  Some of them have two or three possible endings, and Holst presents these without specifying which one is most likely to be true.

In “The Santa Claus Murderer” the serial killing of forty-two men dressed as Santa Claus indirectly brings about world peace. In “The Language of Cats” a savant who speaks a hundred languages and is employed by the government as a code-breaker learns to speak to cats, and is ordered by his Siamese to present to his fellow humans the demands that must be fulfilled or else cats will wipe out the human race. (Spoiler: The human race survives.) In “Miss Lady” a three-year old girl wanders into the hideout of a gang of bank robbers, who dote on her. She stays with them for eight months, after which she wants to go home, and they send her home by train. She eventually goes to Vassar, but afterwards she pursues an unconventional and frowned-upon career directly as a result of her search for these companions of her childhood.

Many stories use the traditional fairy-tale opening, although the content is often considerably less traditional. For example: “Once upon a time a millionaire playboy burned his face off in an automobile accident.” Or: “Once upon a time there was a real Henry James tea party.” Or: “Once upon a time a big blond bat sat down next to a bartender.”

I think one test of whether these stories work as literature is for the reader to experience whether engaging with them on the printed page triggers the kind of shivery reactions that being in the presence of the uncanny and the otherworldly can and should provoke. For me the answer is an unqualified “yes”.

The most recent edition of The Language of Cats is an Avon paperback edition published in February 1973. Searching online I noticed several copies available for as little as twenty-three dollars.

Ron Bass

IAF blog contributor Ron Bass will be writing a series on forgotten interstitial works.  Photo courtesy of the author.


Interfictions is Live!
by Felice | May 28th, 2013 | No Comments »

Interfictions OnlineInterfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts is up!

[I'm reading it now. It's like a box of chocolates. The pieces are so different, absorbing, and consumable. I can't stop.]

Congratulations and thanks again to Editors Christopher Barzak, Meghan McCarron, and Sofia Samatar, Executive Editor Delia Sherman, and webmistress Tara O’Shea.


New Interfictions journal Table of Contents announced!
by Felice | May 21st, 2013 | No Comments »

Interfictions OnlineThe Interstitial Arts Foundation is so pleased to announce the launch of the newest installation of our Interfictions series: Interfictions: A Journal of Interstitial Arts, edited by Christopher Barzak, Meghan McCarron, and Sofia Samatar, with IAF Co-Founder Delia Sherman as Executive Editor.

The new, bi-annual online journal seeks to push the boundaries (of course!) of what it means to publish on the web. To that end, the editors have gathered pieces from wildly different corners of the writing, visual arts, and music worlds in order to showcase weird and wonderful work that falls outside conventional categories. The results are truly fascinating. We’re immensely proud of this inaugural issue, and we can’t wait to share it with you in less than a week!

Note: If you will be attending WisCon 37 in Madison, Wisconsin, please join us at our LAUNCH PARTY on Saturday, May 25th at 9 pm in Room 607. Enjoy mixed drinks, create interstitial art, and win prizes, including signed copies of Christopher Barzak’s new collection, Before and Afterlives, and Sofia Samatar’s debut novel, A Stranger in Olondria.

To whet your appetite, here is a preview of our first issue from the editors:

In this first issue, we’ve assembled an exhibit of fiction that remixes and re-imagines form, genre, and voice. Jedediah Berry’s “The Thing Under the Drawing Room” mixes an homage to adventure narratives, especially those of Conan the Barbarian, with a mannered tale of intrigue. Kiini Ibura Salaam’s “The Taming” inhabits the perspective of a captured wolf. Keith Miller’s “The Tale of Robin Duck” mixes text and illustration in a slideshow format to create a different kind of reading experience. And Janalyn Guo’s “Acting Lessons” presents a play-within-a-story that examines, and perhaps expands, the roles we play in life.

Our nonfiction and poetry offerings broaden the field of the Interfictions anthologies, allowing for even more innovation and genre play. In nonfiction, Sunny Chan’s “a Collection of things arranged in order” uses lists to link the personal essay to a range of preoccupations: literary, cultural, and environmental. Dan Campbell’s “Codex to Weave a Spell Unspoken” responds to the work of J.R.R. Tolkien in both words and images. And Brit Mandelo’s “Gonzo: The Real, the Surreal, and Hunter S. Thompson,” examines the roots of the outrageous blend of fact and fiction known as gonzo journalism.

In poetry, Rose Lemberg’s “Bone Shadows” mingles the literary with the speculative, and the personal with the magical. Gwynne Garfinkle’s prose poem “Ginnie and the Cooking Contest” works in the spaces between genres, forms of experience, and continents. Paul Jessup’s “all the houses on sesame street are haunted houses” echoes children’s rhymes to express adult loss. And “A Pentatonic Moon” combines words and music: these original translations of five Tang dynasty poems, by Emily Jiang and C.L. Jiang, have been set to music by Emily Jiang.

All of our offerings contain elements that make them hard to classify. The categories “fiction,” “nonfiction,” and “poetry,” should be taken with a healthy dose of salt. Never prescriptive or closed, they are intended as signposts, as question marks, and as a challenge.

The IAF would like to thank Delia Sherman, Christopher Barzak, Meghan McCarron, and Sofia Samatar for their hard work and brilliance, as well as Interfictions webmistress Tara O’Shea. We hope you love Interfictions as much as we do and will consider submitting to our next issue!


The Butterfly Kid
by Deborah Atherton | April 22nd, 2013 | No Comments »

by RON BASS

Chester Anderson’s entire career was nothing if not interstitial. Born in 1932, he was part of the Beat Scene in Greenwich Village and North Beach. He published three books of poetry and several little magazines. He performed as a musician, playing two-part inventions with two recorders simultaneously. He wrote rock criticism for and later edited several issues of Crawdaddy! Prior to writing The Butterfly Kid, he co-authored Ten Years to Doomsday with Michael Kurland. In Haight-Ashbury in 1967 he was one of the co-founders of The Communications Company, the publishing arm of the Diggers, and wrote extensively about what was going on during the Summer of Love. (Joan Didion wrote about her unsuccessful search for Anderson in Slouching Towards Bethlehem.) Later he moved to Mendocino County and published several more volumes of fiction.

The Butterfly Kid, which was nominated for a Hugo for best novel in 1968, is itself interstitial – it’s a science-fiction novel, a detective story, and a comedy of manners (or lack thereof) that depicts Greenwich Village undergoing a psychedelic sneak attack of unknown origin. The visuals are quite vivid and in places potent enough to trigger a contact high.

It begins with a teenaged boy sitting in Washington Square Park, generating hordes of wildly colored and patterned butterflies by rubbing his fingers together. The first-person narrator of the novel, a fictional Chester Anderson who plays electric harpsichord in the band Sativa and the Tripouts, observes and befriends the teen. Shortly thereafter he observes a halo above the head of his porn-writer friend Andrew Blake. Someone, it turns out, is distributing what come to be known as Reality Pills.

At a party that weekend Reality Pills are mixed into a blue drink concoction everyone imbibes. Anderson’s hallucination that night conjures up a period orchestra playing Handel’s Water Music: “Authentic livery of purple watered silk and plum plush with lots of lace, authentic instruments like serpents, recorders, krumhorns, sackbuts, oboi d’amore, cornets, brasses without valves and woodwinds without keys, two almost Turkish kettledrums carried by two husky ‘prentices each, all absolutely authentic and brand new and being played by virtuosi.”

Anderson observes: “The pill was obviously a brand-new drug, we decided, some kind of projective hallucinogen. You have the hallucinations and everyone gets to see them.” Riots erupt as the effects of the hallucinations multiply, and the National Guard is called in.

The source of the Reality Pills turns out to be the despised Lazlo Scott, an inept coffeehouse poet and conniver who embodies the comedy of manners (or lack thereof) aspect of the novel. Scott’s: “major joy was to bring trouble and discomfort to everyone he encountered… He once caught a social disease and spread it broadcast, especially among the naïve and virginal, for upward of six weeks, until it got too uncomfortable even for him.”

Anderson and his friend and roommate, a fictional version of the writer Michael Kurland, decide they have to save the planet from this menace. They try to solve the mystery of who is supplying the Reality Pills, but they prove to be inept (Anderson) and feckless (Kurland) detectives. Anderson eventually tails Scott to a warehouse on Canal Street, where he winds up being imprisoned and tortured by Ktch, the leader of a phalanx of a dozen six-foot tall blue lobsters who employed Scott to distribute the Reality Pills as the first stage of their plan to take over the earth. Although Anderson proves to have some ability to blunt the will of the lobsters by singing to them the Sativa and the Tripouts song “Love Sold in Doses,” they eventually leave him bound up in the warehouse, and drive upstate to Croton Reservoir, into which they are planning to pour billions of doses of the Reality Pill.

Kurland and associates eventually free Anderson, and the race is on to round up a van-full of Greenwich Village Irregulars to drive upstate and foil the lobsters before it’s too late. The intrepid band does not have any weapons. But then Anderson remembers they have hundreds of Reality Pills he rescued from the warehouse. They are faced with the challenge of creating hallucinatory weapons and warriors to combat the monsters doing the bidding of the lobsters. The battle scenes at the end of the book are alone worth the price of admission.

The Butterfly Kid was last in print in 1980. Copies can be found on Amazon and Abebooks starting at around fifteen dollars.

IAF Blog Contributor Ron Bass


Stand-Up Tragedy
by Deborah Atherton | April 14th, 2013 | No Comments »

This week, the play Stand-Up Tragedy opens in the East Village in Nativity Church, the actual church where the final scene takes place and where the playwright Bill Cain, who is also a Jesuit priest, once ministered. The concept of both play and production is interstitial—using the idea of stand-up comedy, but standing it on its head, telling a fact based story of a new teacher in a Lower East Side Catholic school where “You can tell the new residents of the neighborhood by how high they jump when a gun goes off.” The young priest has ideas of “starting a new religion…. One that doesn’t use a dead young man as its logo,” but encounters challenges in reaching out to the students to whom he is striving to connect. The play moves beyond genre, drawing not just from stand-up comedy, but from hip hop music, comic book art, and a variety of dance traditions to create an entirely new work which nonetheless has deep roots in the community.

Interstitial blog readers might be familiar with the work of comic book artist Rick Veitch, who is doing the illustrations and poster art for the play. When artistic director David G. Schultz first contacted Veitch, he said, “I really want to work on this show because I was that kid with the rotten family who was making comic books to escape.” Schultz said, “Rick actually sent us sketches of work he’d done when he was a kid, and it was very much on the themes of the kid in Stand-Up Tragedy. His comic book was called ‘Hero!’ and this one is called ‘Saga,’ but the same theme—the hero saves his family.  What was amazing about him, aside from the great work he did, was that he said, ‘Find me a student from the school,’ and he made that kid’s work the centerpiece of what he did.”

When I spoke to the director of Stand-Up Tragedy, Nicolas Minas, he also elaborated on the theme of apprenticeship—using students in the production.  Minas, who first studied Acting at Pacific Conservatory of Performing Arts in California—a regional theater with a training program—believes the future of the arts lies in apprenticeship  “It’s the history of where we’ve all come from in the arts, and especially in theater. It’s the strongest way of training.”  It was at the Pacific Conservatory he first saw Stand-Up Tragedy.  “I had no idea theater could be modern, I didn’t know it could have hip hop music, I didn’t know so many things about it.  It changed my idea of what theater could do and how you could tell a story.”

Like many interstitial artists, Minas, who ran his own theater company for ten years in Chicago, has found he had to create his own opportunities. “If I want to do something, I’ll find a way to do it, raise the money and find people passionate enough about it to make it happen. We weren’t—I’m not—interested in doing a genre of theater, being a community theater or experimental theater.  People kept asking us, what’s your niche, what’s your niche? But it actually took us years to figure out, and what we figured out is that we don’t have one.”

When working as Arts at Education Director at the arts center of the Chicago YMCA, he saw potential in an unused dance space, and the opportunity to create an apprenticeship opportunity, bringing kids and professionals together for a production of Stand-Up Tragedy. When both he and David Schultz, who had acted in the Chicago production, met again in New York, the idea of doing Stand-Up tragedy came up again, and were excited to do it in the space where Bill Cain had once said mass.

“David has a mission to bring theater into space the community already has a relationship to and say, “What can we do to develop new audiences for the theater? So that has led to us being here in the actual corner of the world where many scenes take place and to have a relationship with LaSalle Academy—many of their students play students in the production, as well as professional New York actors. And there’s a larger apprenticeship going on—just like the kid who helped created our poster actually got to work with the comic book artist who created the artwork for the show. A student who is interested in music is working with the sound designer and musicians to create some of the beats that we’re using for the hip-hop sections of the show. So there’s a bigger thing going on here, bring kids in to do the things they are interested in, not just acting on stage.”

One of the most interesting aspects of the production, in addition to the many sources it draws on, is how the director, actors, and musicians, are using the space to enrich the work. As Minas said, “Just walking into this space, you fill the history of this space, and the energy here. And that the final scene, the graduation scene—they actually did do graduations here.  This room is such a big part of the community, and of where this story took place.”

Stand-Up Tragedy will run April 15 through 20, April 24 through 27, and May 1 through 4 (there will be two shows on May 4, one at 2pm, another at 8pm). Friday and Saturday performances at 8pm; all others at 7pm. Tickets are $18. At Nativity Church, 44 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10003. You can purchase tickets at: http://standuptragedy.brownpapertickets.com/For more information please go to: http://categoryseven.org/.


by Deborah Atherton | January 28th, 2013 | No Comments »


Sometimes genre cannot hold an artist, and their gift for telling a story spontaneously overrides the confines of traditional form. William S. Yellow Robe, Jr., is just such an artist, and on Friday night an excited audience jammed Space on White in New York City to celebrate his work.

Many of us in New York spend any evenings of our lives in readings of work in progress, whether it is poetry, fiction, music, or theater, and once in a while you walk into something exciting just because it is so unexpected. I attended an event called W’anishi (Thank You in Lenape), produced by The Eagle Project, a very new theater company dedicated to exploring the American identity through performing arts and their own Native American heritage, and this particular reading and celebration was being held in support of their future production of the play Wood Bones by Mr. Yellow Robe.

Mr. Yellow Robe, an enrolled member of the Assiniboine tribe of the Assiniboine and Sioux tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, is an energetic and exciting artist, and introduced his work by reading two poems and a “Facebook rant,” before yielding the stage to a performance of a scene by from his new play Wood Bones. What made the half hour, and perhaps the entire evening, interstitial in my mind, was the lack of boundaries between the forms as presented by the playwright/performer, a master story teller. He began with two poems, written for his late wife as she was dying from cancer; his told their story and the poems were incredibly moving, both on their own, but even more so because of the context he had given He moved directly to the poems to a “Facebook rant” (he described Facebook as the cheapest and easiest form of publishing) about the difficulty of creating and producing theater work in America. This provided a segue to the scene from Wood Bones.

We only saw a few short scenes from the play, but they were powerful, moving, and mysterious, exploring issues of the loss of both personhood and culture.  The actors, in their short moments on stage, were extraordinary; Veracity Butcher as 121, conveyed the pain of being invisibly chained and deprived of her memory with wonder physical movement that drew you into her agony; Albert Ybarra portrayed Leroy, who seemed to be a kind of caretaker/jailor/potential liberator.  Director Bob Jaffe, who has been working for a decade will the playwright on a variety of projects, clearly has an understanding of the work, and helped convey, in a few short moments the depth of its message.

Albert Ybarra and Veracity Butcher in Wood Bones

Earlier in the evening, we were tantalized by several brief scenes from other productions this very young theater company has been working on.  Waaxe’s Law by Mary Kathryn Nagle is a play about an early law suit in Oklahoma that fought to improve the legal position of Native Americans. Tyree Giroux as Chief Standing Bear and John Mazurek as General Crook made unlikely but effective comrades as protestor and defendant. The scene from In the Boneyard by Ian McDonald showed two brothers fighting over whether to exhume their mother; Ryan Victor Pierce, founder of the company, directed both scenes with a sure hand, and offered a very amusing performance as

Playwrights Vicki Lynn Mooney and William S. Yellow Robe, Jr.

“Doom,” one of the brothers, in the second, playing opposite Tony Torn as the outrageously obstreperous “Gloom.” as the second. “Broken Heart Land” by Vicki Lynn Mooney managed to be both entertaining and deeply upsetting, as it portrayed the terrifying wedding night of an innocent and unprepared bride in the 19th century. There was a brief performance by Mariah Gladstone, who engaged the audience in a touching call and response song.

Of course, you can’t really review theater or concert readings, which only offer a glimpse of art which will be fully realized later, but I was so knocked out by the story telling and beautifully framed communication which leapt over traditional boundaries and yet was rooted so deeply in tradition that I wanted to share.  Congratulations to The Eagle Project on their remarkably productive first year, and I sure everyone who was there can hardly wait to see what they will produce in their second.

All images and photos supplied courtesy of The Eagle Project. You can also find them on Facebook – The Eagle Project.



A Letter from IAF President Larissa Niec
by Felice | January 3rd, 2013 | No Comments »

I’m delighted to share news of the Interstitial Arts Foundation’s movement and growth this past year. With your help, we were able to lend our support and promotion to more artists, reach wider audiences in new locations, and begin an exciting new project. As we head into 2013, I invite you to join us by renewing your membership and coming to one of our salons or town halls (or hosting one!)

The Interstitial Arts Foundation (IAF) is a non-profit group dedicated to the study, support, and promotion of art that crosses borders, working to break down the many barriers—commercial or creative—that force artists into categories and genres.

In 2012, you enabled us to:

  • Offer salons and town halls open to all interstitial artists in New York, Boston, and Indianapolis
  • Introduce the new work of exciting interstitial artists to others on our blog and Facebook page
  • Help our friends and supporters achieve their crowd-funding goals through publicity boosts and sharing of their ideas
  • Continue sales of our groundbreaking international anthologies, Interfictions and Interfictions 2
  • Publish Interfictions Zero, a rolling online anthology of interstitial criticism on interstitial texts

And in particular:

The upcoming, bi-annual Interfictions is a new and critical direction for us. Beginning as an online literary anthology, it will grow to include all kinds of art—visual, performing, interactive—that transcends boundaries and refuses to be kept in a box.

Interfictions and Interfictions 2 were revolutionary anthologies at a time when genre-bending fiction had difficulty finding a market. Thanks in part to these anthologies, many forms of interstitial literature are now practically mainstream. Five years later, the online Interfictions is a major step in our ongoing goal to support visual and performing arts and literary criticism as much as literary art. I’m tremendously excited about our new anthology and will keep you updated in 2013 as the project continues.

The Interstitial Arts Foundation, unlike many other nonprofit organizations, is entirely run by volunteers. We don’t have a physical building, but meet mostly on the phone and online to create the results you see. But it still takes money to maintain our Web activities, organize meetings and salons, and promote the ideas and dreams of the artists who we support. We rely on contributions from members like you, so please consider renewing or joining us today.

To become a Friend of the IAF in 2013, we ask for a gift of $25 (although if you could give a little more, it will help pay our professional rates for contributions to Interfictions). We’ll list you on our Web site, and you’ll be the first to hear about upcoming salons, town halls, and other local and national activities. The IAF is a nonprofit 501(c)3 organization, so your contribution will be fully tax-deductible. But more importantly, your gift will help today’s most innovative artists continue their work by breaking down outside definitions of how and what they should create.

The easiest way to contribute is through our donor Web site. Or mail your contribution to P.O. Box 35862, Boston, MA 02135. If you include your URL, for donations of $25 or over we will link your name to your Web site.

Thank you so much to all of you who have donated in the past, and a warm welcome to those of you who are new to us—artists and art-lovers alike. The work we do at the Interstitial Arts Foundation is vitally important, but we can only do it with your help. I hope you will be able to join us for 2013, which promises to be a wonderful one for Interstitial Arts!

All the Best in the New Year,
Larissa Niec
President


What Must Be Said
by Deborah Atherton | November 15th, 2012 | No Comments »

By Deborah Atherton

Last Saturday, one of the hottest tickets in Manhattan was for a concert presented by the contemporary chamber music group Ensemble Pi at the cell, a diminutive theater on 23rd Street that did not have room for the people lined up outside the door. The lights had only gone on downtown a week ago, and the gasoline shortage has emptied the streets of cars. But people were lined up in Chelsea to hear an interstitial presentation of some diverse works of art, all of which had an element of contemporary chamber music. Within an hour, we were treated to a beautiful piano/violin duo, a poem read in German but projected in English, sketches for an opera with an ensemble that included accordion and Apple laptop, and a moving puppet show.

The theme which united these elements, which could have been disparate but instead worked across genre boundaries and were enormously moving together, was What Must Be Said, taken from a recent poem by Nobel laureate Gunter Grass about the issue of nuclear power in Iran and Israel which sparked controversy all over the world. The concert was the seventh Annual Peace Project concert offered by Ensemble Pi, which “hopes to offer a dialog between music and ideas on the great issues of the day” (last year’s concert was on the environment.) Although the theme and ideas were serious, and the emotions evoked were sometimes profound, the presentation was inspired and often fun.

The first piece offered, Lament: The Fallen City by composer Susan Botti, was a duo for piano and violin. The powerful and passionate performances of violinist Airi Yoshioki and Idith Meshulam in this piece, which used the fall of the city of Troy as a metaphor for “modern cities that have experienced human-made or natural disaster,” had more than one audience member in tears. The emotional movement of the piece reminded me a little of the unfolding of The Trojan Women. The violin felt like a human voice, at first furious, enraged, and inconsolable, then through reflective interactions with the piano, came to a kind of reconciliation and understanding. For an audience which had been through its own natural disaster in the last week, it resonated deeply.

We moved next to a reading of excerpts of Gunter Grass’ poem, What Must Be Said, which was read in German by Kai Moser, and projected in English on a screen. This is often done for opera in performance, and as it turns out, works really well for poetry as well. Idith Meshulam spoke a little first about the meaning of Günter Grass’ poem and his courage as an artist, who revealed, at the age of 85, after a distinguished writing career, that as a youth he had been part of the Nazi army. A few years later, he followed that revelation with this anguished poem, which questions whether Israel, and not just Iran, has become a nuclear power, saying what he felt must be said. As Ms. Meshulam pointed out, whether or not one agreed with his position, his courage in taking it was impressive.

Because the program was short (which is seldom a feature of contemporary music concerts, but ought to be) we moved without intermission to Three Character Studies by composer/soprano Kristin Norderval with text by Naomi Wallace. The piece (which will one day be an opera) describes the life of Argentinean architect Patricia Isasa, a survivor of Argentina’s Dirty War, who brought her abductors to justice 30 years later. It began with a radiant portrayal by Emily Donato of Isasa as a young girl, dreaming of becoming an architect—”I’m already a city inside. I feel the design just under my skin.” We next heard a song, delivered with appropriate chilliness by Daniel Pincus, from one of her torturers—”To keep the house clean there’s a small price to pay. . .Don’t point a finger at me.” And lastly we heard Kristin Norderval perform the adult Isasa: “Ask me of torture, I’ll spell it out clear. I won’t hold back details, I’ve long lost that fear. But why don’t you ask of love?” The ensemble which performed the music included an accordion, an inventive percussionist, and Ms. Norderval, who not only sang with tremendous emotional depth but created electronic accompaniment with her laptop as she performed. Although the subject was dark, the lively performances and music included humor and surprise, which brought out the humanity and dreams of Isasa, and did not limit her to a victim’s role.

Last up was Great Small Works, a theater collective that performed, with Idith Meshulam and Kristin Norderval, the lively songs and music of Hans Eisler, written with his collaborator Brecht. Although they are also known for their giant puppet pageants, the roots of Great Small Works work for the small stage lie in Victorian Toy Theater. They perform on a traditionally-sized puppet stage, which they call the Jewel Box stage, not with hand puppets or marionettes, but with beautifully, intricately drawn cutouts which are moved with little hooks and puppeteers hands’ across the small stage, and projected overhead on a large screen. Their interpretation of the song “Supply and Demand” was really fun, with occasional contemporary interpolations like a depiction of students struggling up a mountain labeled “One trillion dollars in student debt.” The images of the puppet show also reflected the tragedy of composer Eisler’s life, in which he first had to flee the Nazis in Germany because of his politics and artistic experimentation, and then was placed on the Hollywood Blacklist and deported for his early Communist party connections. The bent, drawn figures, moving through crazy cityscapes that reflect Depression-era art, evoked both the composer’s life and music. The songs were sung with humor and lilt by Kristin Norderval in her elegant soprano, and the excerpts from Eisler’s chamber works were played with deep understanding, spirit, and élan by pianist Idith Meshulam.

Contemporary chamber music is often known to take itself a little too seriously, and, had it been a traditional two hour, one intermission, performance of music alone, the topic of this evening could have easily led to a kind of depressing introspection. But instead, by abandoning the borders that separate art forms, by introducing new ways of presenting and performing, and by doing it in the tiny but lovely space that is the cell theater. Ensemble Pi said What Must Be Said with intelligence, humor, and compassion, and offered its audience, which had been through enough in the last few weeks, an opportunity for both reflection and inspiration.

The IAF is grateful to blogger/photographer James Wagner for allowing us to use the photos he took of this concert. All photos in this post are credited to him, with all rights reserved. Please check out his Web site at www.jameswagner.com.


Interview with Mike Allen
by Deborah Atherton | July 25th, 2012 | No Comments »

This is the first in a series of interviews with the editors, curators, and supporters of the Interstitial Arts – the people who help artists get their work to an audience.  Today we’re interviewing Mike Allen, long-time IAF member and editor of last year’s March Madness on our blog.

IAF:   Can you introduce yourself and give us a little background on who you are and what you do?

MA:  I like to say I wear a lot of hats. I write poetry and fiction, and I edit poetry and fiction, I record narrations for podcasts and occasionally act in amateur theater. To be more specific about a few things, my poetry collection Strange Wisdoms of the Dead was a Philadelphia Inquirer Editor’s Choice Selection in 2006, my short story “The Button Bin” was a Nebula Award finalist in 2008, and I’ll have my first collection of short stories, The Button Bin and Other Horrors, out from Apex Publications later this year. For fourteen years I’ve been editor and am now publisher of a little poetry journal called Mythic Delirium, and I’m also the editor of a a critically acclaimed and hard to classify series of fiction anthologies called Clockwork Phoenix.  

IAF:  Please talk about your latest project.

MA: I’ve talked about Clockwork Phoenix in this space before – it’s an anthology series that puts artistry above all else, and that actively seeks out stories that don’t fit into any predefined category. The series wound up without a home after the third volume came out due to the rough economic times, so my latest project has been to fire up a Kickstarter campaign to edit and publish a fourth volume myself.  Amazingly, from the time I started writing the responses to these interview questions, until now, as I type this sentence, the campaign has shot right past the $5,000 benchmark to be fully funded and now we’re pushing toward our $8,000 goal to secure payment for our writers at professional rates. Publishers weren’t interested in picking up this series, but Kickstarter gave me a means to take my problem start to the people, so to speak, and ask if they would help to make this happen. And I’m so glad I did. And of course, I must ask that folks come check us out, we still need all the help we can get.

IAF:   How has being an editor of interstitial work (i.e. work that falls outside recognized easy genre or marketing categories) created difficulties for you?

MA:   Well, the obvious difficulty is this one: I’ve created a critically-acclaimed anthology series that has showcased a number of stories that have gone on to land award nominations or reprints in “Best of the Year” anthologies, including pieces by Vandana Singh, Saladin Ahmed, Deborah Biancotti, Ann Leckie, C.S.E. Cooney, Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer, Claude Lalumière, Nicole Kornher-Stace and more, and yet once my original publisher could no longer publish it, it had no hope of finding a new backer as it’s just too weird.

IAF:   What advice would you give to another artist in a similar position?

MA: Kickstarter has been a godsend, though I’m lucky in that I was able to show I already had a track record of success when I launched the campaign. I think, addressing the unique position of an anthologist hoping for enough funding to be able to self-publish at a professional level, I’ve seen several other off-beat anthology projects turn to Kickstarter and end up successful. It’s definitely a viable alternative for those who want to work outside the mainstream. Just make sure you’re striking the right balance between keeping your goals realistic and yet setting an amount to reach that doesn’t end up shortchanging you when it comes time to actually put the book together.

IAF:   One Wish–If you could change one thing about your current situation as editor and publisher (or writer!), what would it be?

MA:  Well, I have a curious problem as a writer, which is that I’m known so extensively as a poet that people seem to forget I also write fiction, even though I’m a Nebula finalist. My first collection of short stories, The Button Bin and Other Horrors, is scheduled to come out later this year from Apex Books (the title story was my Nebula award nominee) will perhaps help. We shall see.

More generally, if I had the power to change the environment I’d work on, I’d ask for readers to be more open to things that are strange and different, and more curious in general. We’d all benefit then. Luckily at least a few of these ideal readers seem to have found me, at least enough to help support a new Clockwork Phoenix.

From the Editors: The Clockwork Phoenix project will be available on Kickstarter until August 9th.


How to Host an IAF Salon That People Will Actually Come To
by Felice | June 30th, 2012 | 2 Comments »

[Our recent New York City salon was so much fun that we asked host K. Tempest Bradford to share her wisdom. Want to host an IAF Salon in your city? Worried that no one will come? Read on!]

Since the IAF started doing salons we’ve seen a lot of interest from folks outside of NYC (where the salons started) who want to do salons of their own. I’m all for that, especially since I have such a great time at salons myself and want other people to have the same great time. Creating and hosting a salon isn’t hard, though it may seem so from the outside. And we often get the same questions from folks who are interested. So I thought I would share how I put our salons together. It’s actually easier than it looks!

Finding A Space

I spent a lot of time worrying over where we could have IAF salons because I wanted to find somewhere perfect that didn’t cost any money and would work no matter how many people showed up. Our first salon had around 70 people. Our second had 10. So flexibility had to be a big part of it.

However, I realized recently that I needed to shift my perspectives about how a salon would or should go, which then helped me find a great space to have them. Instead of thinking of a salon as an event where we needed to take over an entire venue, I realized it should be more like a get-together were you stake out a table in a bar or café and expand outward as needed.

I have a favorite café in NYC called The Vagabond Café that I practically live in, so I know the owners well. I also observed that Tuesday evenings are very slow because there’s no scheduled music. So I asked the owners if they minded if I planned an event that would bring a bunch of people in on Tuesday evenings. (Spoiler: they did not.)

Other than letting me take over the music selection for the evening, the employees didn’t have to do anything special for the salon. At Vagabond we have the option of doing a short reading or musical performance if we want (luckily the cafe has a setup for that) but these things are not at all necessary. Overall, we were pretty low maintenance and everyone left good tips, thus making all parties concerned happy.

We started out in just one section of the café, but as other patrons left we took over their tables as needed. We could have expanded into the entire café had we wanted to and if we had the numbers. And all of it happened organically.

This model for finding a location will also work outside of New York City. You don’t have to be on personal terms with the owner of a café to make it work, either.

You just need a space that fits the following general properties:

  • A place where people gather regularly for informal hanging out. Cafes, bars, bookstores, community centers, galleries, hacker spaces, hotel lobbies, etc.
  • A place that has weekday evenings or weekend times when business is slower than usual. If you don’t know from experience, don’t be afraid to ask the manager or owner.
  • A place where they serve drinks and/or food.
  • Somewhere easy to get to, especially in cities where most people use public transportation.

I’m lucky in that I live in a city where there are many cool indie cafes. You might not. That doesn’t mean you’re out of luck, though! Your local Barnes & Noble may be more willing to host a salon than you think. Even a Starbucks can work out if it has the right vibe. The most important aspect in that case is that you’re bringing these venues business — people who will eat or drink during times when there’s a natural lull. That appeals to the business end of things.

Getting The Word Out

For our most recent salon we used Facebook’s events feature to advertise, plus we tweeted and posted on blogs and stuff. Given the nature of a salon, word of mouth is probably the most effective tool you have for advertising your event.

Other methods to consider:

  • The new Google+ Events feature
  • Submitting the event to a local paper that artsy people read
  • Asking friends to post on their blogs, Tumblrs, Twitters, Facebooks and other social sites
  • Creating flyers and posting them in places artsy people hang out
  • Email announcement lists for artsy groups

At every salon you should have a mailing list sign up sheet specifically for the local salon community. This way it’s easy to remind people of future salons.

What If No One Shows Up?

One of the mistakes I made early on was expecting every salon to be like the very first one where we had over 50 people show up. Even in a big city you’ll have salons where only a handful of people will show. That’s perfectly okay!

Again, this going back to my shift in thinking about what a salon should look like. It doesn’t always have to be a large number of people milling around; sometimes it will just be an intimate conversation between a few people. It’s up to you as host to be prepared for either outcome.

Also keep in mind that the salon doesn’t have to be a one-off thing. We’re now doing them monthly in NYC. Holding salons consistently gives them time to grow. The group may be small at first but get larger as more people learn about it, regular attendees make new friends and invite them, and new folks move into the area.

Now Go Host!

Hopefully this answers some of your questions about how to run a salon. There’s also a more detailed How To available here. And if you have any questions about the ones we’ve done in NYC, ask in the comments!

K. Tempest Bradford[K. Tempest Bradford has been a core member of the IAF's New York City branch for years. She is an Interfictions author, the mastermind behind our Interfictions art auctions, and a fascinating example of an interstitial person. Her fiction has appeared in the Federations anthology, Strange Horizons, and Electric Velocipede and Sybil's Garage, amongst others.]