Harry Partch is a name few would recognize, but if Playwright Conrad Alexandrowicz has anything to say about it that is about to change as his new show, The Boy Who Went Outside, premieres in Vancouver May 26-30, 2010.
Partch turned the music establishment on its head with his dismissal of the standard musical tuning system used in most Western music and in the development of a variety of unique instruments of his own design. Partch led a life both on the fringe of society and the music establishment and despite a somewhat colourful life continues to remain somewhat obscure. It was in this relative obscurity that Playwright Alexandrowicz saw as an opportunity.
“I had the idea years ago to write a piece about how music stirs emotions,” explained Alexandrowicz. “I wrestled with how to do that for some time. I had learned about Partch years ago and began to research his life and discovered he was gay, had been a hobo for ten years in the 30s, a migrant farm worker, and never settled down with anyone.”
And it is actually the process of writing about Partch that forms the basis for this new work.
“The Boy Who Went Outside, is the story of a woman trying to write about Partch,” continued Alexandrowicz. “She struggles with crafting the play realizing that Partch’s story is both impossible to capture and impossible to tell. As she writes, the characters in her play begin to talk to her and she develops a relationship with Partch that is somewhat fantastical”.
This concept of telling this impossible story is explored in even greater detail by Alexandrowicz by having all of his actors, except the playwright, play Partch. At the time of our interview, Alexandrowicz and his designer were working on how that would translate to the stage and how to show Harry through these characters.
But more than just a story about Partch, Alexandrowicz sees an artist’s obsession with their work as another of the underlying themes.
“I wanted to explore that obsession,” continues Alexandrowicz. “Is it true that artists are one step away from being crazy people who obsessively pursue their goals even to the detriment of themselves? It is also a critique of how artists live because of what they do.”
Billed as a play-with-music, Alexandrowicz is quick to point out that Partch’s music and the instruments he created are not actually used in the piece due to copyright issues. Instead, the music within the play is composed “within the musical catalogue that Partch created”.
“Partch created some 25 different unique musical instruments,” said Alexandrowicz. “But because they are one-of-a-kind it would be impossible to actually use them to create the music in the play”.
Another theme Alexandrowicz explores is the concept of free speech.
“We live in a time when free speech is more and more under attack and Partch represents someone that had a rebel perspective on the world,” he explained. “Partch took the contrary view and beat his own path”.
Along with the addition of music, Alexandrowicz’s company, Wild Excursions Performance, has a stated mission of integrating movement with text. According to Alexandrowicz The Boy Who Went Outside will definitely follow that mission with plans on staging the play in a very physical way. Given his choreographer’s background that shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise.
The Boy Who Went Outside
Performance Works, Granville Island
26 – 30 May 2010
An original play-with-music exploring the impossible enterprise of a writer attempting to write an impossible play based on the life and struggles of an impossible artist. Tickets are $15-$20 available at http://www.brownpapertickets.ca or 1-800-838-3006.