- December 20, 2022
OK, I’ll admit it. The headline is accurate, but misleading. The “Frankenstein” in question is a New Music New College happening. (Strictly speaking: “It’s Alive: A Monstrous Circus on ‘Frankenstein.'") It’s an avant-garde performance cooked up from a John Cage recipe. New Music New College (NMNC) first brought it to life in 2018. They’re doing it again in 2023. Simply put: Frankenstein’s Monster isn’t returning to New College; the “Monstrous Circus” is. There’s nothing to fear, my friends. Nothing to fear. At least according to Ronald Silver …
And he should know.
Silver is NMNC’s producer and interim director. He and Stephen Miles stitched the first “Monstrous Circus” together five years ago. According to Silver, “Our original iteration was in recognition of the 200th anniversary of the first edition of ‘Frankenstein.’ That was an anonymous, private printing. The second edition of 1823 credited Mary Shelley as the author — and it really had a profound impact. That’s what we’ll be celebrating this year.”
So how do you turn the first science-fiction novel into a cutting-edge concert?
Following the recipe of John Cage’s “Circus On,” the show’s creators transformed lines from the novel’s text into 256 “mesostic” poems. (These 12-line poems resemble acrostics, but go through different letters in the word “FRANKENSTEIN.”)
“The process of creating these poems is semi-random,” Silver says. “That pulls out many elements from the book that you might have missed. There are so many references to 'cold,' 'ice,' and 'storms.' We establish an atmosphere very quickly — and it’s all drawn from the book.”
Silver notes that the resulting “mesostics” flow in sequence from the novel. If you know Shelley’s original story, you can connect each poem to the narrative. If not, you might be lost. And many people who think they know the story don’t.
“There’ve been umpteen film adaptations of ‘Frankenstein,’” he says. “Most of us have seen one or more of them. But the movies are all very different from Shelley’s novel — and our ‘Monstrous Circus’ is rooted in the novel’s text. We’ve pulled everything from the book, and no other sources.”
Silver adds that the show’s creators also noted all of the novel’s references to sounds and music. They’ll also be part of the experience.
It’s an interesting theory and an interesting process.
But the show’s the thing.
The “Monstrous Circus” comes to life on March 4. More than two-dozen talents will give it life. These include New College students, faculty, and staff, along with people from the community. They’ll be reading their poems from the balconies of the Academic Center and strategic locations in Koski Plaza at New College. Their high-voltage happening will also include singing and instrumental musicianship, along with projected illustrations and sounds drawn from the pages of Shelley’s novel. (No peasants with pitchforks permitted.)
Each performer will carry a timer. Needless to say, it’s a precisely timed show. But it’ll be anything but monotonous. “At times, there’ll be only one event,” says Silver. “At other times, there’ll many events happening simultaneously — or moments of silence. The density will constantly vary. It’s going to be very immersive!”
Creating an immersive experience was John Cage’s original goal.
It’s Silver’s goal, as well.
He doesn’t want an invisible wall dividing the performers from the audience. This won’t be a show where you can passively watch and listen. There’ll be no barriers at all — and no place to hide. If you show up, you’ll be part of the “Monstrous Circus.”
And that’s the fun of it.
“It’s going to be a free-flowing event,” Silver says. “The performers will be free to roam around outdoors — and the audience can, too!”
With all that intermingling, how can you tell the difference between the performers and the audience?
“The performers will all wear white lab coats,” laughs Silver. “But they’re not only ones creating the show. The audience is equally responsible.”
As he describes it, different things will happen simultaneously and unpredictably during this show. What does it all mean? That’s up to you.
“Each person gets to shape their own interpretation,” Silver says. “Our ‘Monstrous Circus’ will give each individual their own John Cage-ean experience. It’s not for everybody — but many people really love it.”