Ashley Tata hopes her mixed media adaptation of Weimar-era creativity will teach students about art making and offer audience members an emotional experience that resonates beyond an hour. The TDM show s.i.n.s.o.f.u.s. runs Dec. 6-9 at Farkas Hall.
By OFA Communications Coordinator Mariam Syed
A diptych of works by Weimar-era writers, s.i.n.s.o.f.u.s., the fall production for Theater, Dance, and Media, takes the Kurt Weill/Bertolt Brecht ballet chanté Seven Deadly Sins and pairs it with female-driven pieces by from the Mahagonny songspiel and writings from women, such as Marieluise Fleisser, from the same era.
Ashley Tata, a New York-based director of contemporary opera, multi-media performances and immersive experiences, is director in residence at Harvard this fall -- and director of the show. We asked her to discuss her experience of directing this production; a condensed and edited version of our interview follows. The show runs December 6-9 at Farkas Hall. Tickets are free and can be reserved here.
I originally wanted to do an adaptation of Fassbinder's I Only Want You to Love Me. When I proposed this and spoke to the students about the "why" of that material, the conversation was about an exploration of capitalism and materialism on emotions and relationships and how buying things gets confused with love. The Fassbinder estate didn't grant us the rights. Years ago, I had put together a proposal for The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny, and since Brecht doesn't shy from criticizing capitalism in his work, I figured we could make something with this material that spoke to similar themes. But we couldn't support the 60-piece orchestra that the full opera requires. The Weill estate suggested the songspiel Little Mahagonny and the ballet chanté Seven Deadly Sins, but after realizing we couldn't find all the singers for both pieces, we cut Mahagonny and added text from a female contemporary of Brecht's, Marieluise Fleisser. I wasn't aware of her before and it's been pretty great to explore her work. She and Brecht traveled in the same circles and including her text sort of makes an imagined conversation between the two of them in a way. And it all comes full circle when one considers that Fassbinder directed Pioneers at Ingolstadt in the beginning of his career and her writing had an influence on a number of German playwrights of his era.
What do you focus on with Harvard students?
Making the thing.
This work has been through a lot of changes throughout the process. Even to a couple weeks ago when we found that we weren't able to integrate the Fleisser text into the Weill in the way I was hoping. So in working with the students the entire team and I have really focused on being present to what is in the room right now and making what we can with that material.
What do you hope Harvard students and the community will take from this production?
I hope that the audience will be open to the experience. I'm excited by how we're playing with the different media and methods involved from hyper-stylized/expressionistic performance to a more naturalistic mode of delivery, from live feed cameras to pre-recorded video from electronic music to the acoustic stripped-down sounds coming from two pianos and a percussionist – we're really playing at the ends of spectra. My sense is that we’re all accustomed to hyper-linking, and styles and history and time have collapsed in on themselves in our way of perceiving them. My hope is that this won’t be so disconcerting, but just kind of interesting. And that the meaning of the thing is an emotional response that may not surface until after the 60minutes of the performance. That it will kind of sit with people for a little bit. If nothing else, some of the tunes are ear worms that will stay for a minute.