Paul Pinto answers questions about the collaboration between thingNY and PPL the TIME project, his process, and more!

A little while ago some of the thingNY and PPL people were sitting around, drinking some 25c espresso and talking about doing a co-interview, and we came up with the following questions, which thingNY founding artistic director Paul Pinto has answered!

For more slices-of-life from our collaboration process for TIME: A Complete Explanation in Three Parts, the blog we used can be read HERE (this first post you’ll see is actually this interview again…..)

***What skills, interests, and methods were you personally most interested in sharing with the entire group? What skills, methods, techniques, etc were you most interested in the two groups (PPL and thingNY) sharing with each other?

The thing I think about most in my composition and improvisations is form, so working on the initial flow of the work, before the notes and words, is very important to me. I have my clearest ideas during this time. As for thingNY, these guys bring a lot of energy to all projects. They’re all directors. They all have opinions about and enthusiasm for the works we create. thingNY has a great way of thinking of music beyond its musical qualities, and a drive to learn new ways of communicating these new qualities. They are not just violinist, saxophonist, soprano… they consider themselves performers.

Panoply is one of the hardest-working groups I’ve come across and they have the knowledge, references and skill to back up all the ideas they throw out there in the creation process. True multimedia-ists, they consider the implications to audience and society, as well as its aesthetic value, of the notes, words, movements and imagery they use. Since collaborating with Brian, Esther and Matthew, I’ve been inspired to start doing more of that in my own work. I bet the other thingNY kids have too.

What shared aesthetics do the two groups have?

Both groups work in a model of economy. Hand-made. Home-made. Do-it-yourself. The mixture of the raw material and “cooked” product.

What kind of audience are you expecting? How much does this play into your creation process? What about venue choice?

I guess a large part of our audience is made up of other artists. But I think that’s up to the individual. I like to write for non-artists, personally. Scientists! I write for scientists. If this plays into the creation process, it’s only in the way that we were all once non-artists, and I would like to have enjoyed this show before I became an artist. Venues are chosen after the piece is formed, so we choose venues if they have a shared aesthetic, a big audience, or are just open to anything.

What is the relationship between spoken and sung text? How is this decided collaboratively in the writing process? the composition process? the rehearsal process?

This is a big one for me personally.  My goal in writing vocal music, as with most composers of dramatic music, is to make the delivery of text “natural”. Sing when needed. Speak when needed. For my own music, text and the inflection (sung, spoken, register) are created simultaneously. In collaboration, the easiest way is to write a more flexible text and edit it together. Once that’s finished (or almost finished) we have a better idea of how the lines should be recited. That’s when the compositional decision is made to sing it or speak it. With this particular ensemble, it was a good experiment to have people improvise their own melodies. That was a lot a good way to see who fit which role best while serving as an inspiration for vocal melody writing.

How does this compare to “new opera?”

First it’s always fun to define the term “opera”. TIME is thingNY’s second opera. Panoply does them a lot. Esther sees it as dealing with the delivery of the text and the heightened performance, the use of the abstract and the ability to earnestly portray both of the Brechtian Dramatic and Epic theatre. I agree with her. I also think the idea of calling something “opera”, well, calling something anything, gives the audience an expectation. I think people still hold that old opera is a bit grand and new opera is a bit androgynous, especially with regards to “how much singing is going to happen?”. New opera is a mysterious genre. All the audience can be sure of is that there is music and it is theatrical… whatever that means.  I mean, think of it this way… “I’m going to see a new opera tonight” vs. “I’m going to see a new musical tonight”

Improvisation can be a useful tool for generating material (movement, words, music), but how do you feel about improvised performances of your devised works? What are some things you like your performers to improvised? What are things you feel should never be improvised? Is improvisation in theatre “experimental” in your opinion?

I don’t think improvisation is experimental. It’s just a tool for the creation. In good hands creators can determine what can be improvised and what they want to be more solidified or structured. Also, there’s a lot of improvisation happening all the time in music and theatre – certainly in new music, it’s no big thing anymore.

Specifically pertaining to the music in TIME, two things come to mind regarding sonic improvisation within a piece of theatre. One is my feeling that Brian or myself twiddling on the piano to accompany a scene or feeling is not necessarily improvisation even if the notes and rhythms are changing. Improvisation is about creating an essence in the moment. We just chose to have a bunch of unnotated, fairly free music. No different than an actor vocalizing the same words in slightly different ways each night. Secondly (and this is something I’m very proud that we got to do in TIME) improvisation as an aesthetic choice: either to portray chance on stage (in the case of the card game in Act I) or to give a scene or moment a feeling of rawness, or to enhance the feeling that this is a person speaking, not a character (as in the lectures which happen throughout the performance).

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