"Call Me Adam" chats with composer James Barry about writing the music for SMASHED: The Carrie Nation Story which will be in the 2014 NYC International Fringe Festival from August 9-15 at The Celebration of Whimsy (21 Clinton Street, between Houston and Stanton). Click here for tickets!
For more on James be sure to visit http://www.james-barry.com!
1. From August 9-15, SMASHED: The Carrie Nation Story will be playing in the NYC International Fringe Festival. What made you want to compose the music for this show? SMASHED wasn’t written specifically for the Fringe Festival. We applied, and were accepted into the festival. The show was written for the local Brooklyn dive bar opera company Opera On Tap. Its formal premiere was at the HERE Arts Center in April 2013, and we brought an immersive version of the show to Freddy’s Bar in Park Slope in November 2013. I had the idea for an opera about Carrie Nation, a drunken opera of sorts, and thought it would be the perfect marriage of art and mission for Opera On Tap and the perfect leading lady role. So I pitched the idea to Anne Hiatt, the general managing diva of Opera On Tap at a beer hall. She said, "Carrie Nation? I wrote a report about her in high school. Let’s do it!"
2. How did you and Timothy Braun come to work together? Tim is a close friend of Anne Hiatt’s, husband Chris. I’d never met Tim before. He sent a few samples of his writing. I immediately related to his style, his humor. So we moved forward on the project. And, as luck has it, turns out we have a damn good working relationship. His stroke of genius was to consider the book for the show an "exquisite corpse." This gave all of us involved the flexibility we needed to mold and shape the show.
3. What do you hope audiences come away with after seeing the show? That this opera is fun. They enjoyed themselves, laughed, and experienced a show that was unlike what they thought they might see at "the opera."
4. How do you feel the Fringe Festival will help nurture this show in a way another festival might not? Not to sound cliché or presumptuous, but this show sits at the border of opera. When it’s been included on opera showcases that feature contemporary opera, it sticks out like a sore thumb. In a good or bad way, is up to the individual. But for me, it feels out of place because of the subject matter and the music is quite accessible. The spirit of Fringe Festival feels more inclusive. I’m looking forward to experiencing the show in this community of creativity.
5. What excites about working with this cast? This cast is AMAZING!!! I saw Krista Wozniak, our Carrie Nation, in a production several years ago. So I asked for her specifically – I wanted her beautiful voice, her musicianship, her comic acting. David Schmidt, our new male lead, was involved in a workshop scene early on, and he is the perfect voice for this role. Huge, powerful, and his comic acting and dancing for a man standing 6’5” is something to see. Lynn Berg our narrator; he owns the show every night! He’s infectious, and his improvisational skills are unreal. The show has two choirs: Seth Gilman, Patricia Vital and Evan McCormick are the Uncle Jimmy’s Liquid Courage Brigade & the Carrie Nation All-Stars are Christiana Little, Cameron Russell, and Jocelyne O’Toole. All of these individuals are so talented, stars in their own right, and bring so much to this opera. Our director, Jenny Lee Mitchell is beyond amazing and inspirational with her vision. The assistant director Daniela Hart is equally awesome, and is the designer of our ridiculously awesome sound cues. Mila Henry, our music director, who has been with us from day one, is a godsend. And we have a red hot band in Ezra Gale, Harvey Valdes and Adam Feldman. Ramona Ponce and Chris Weston are back with us again providing superb costuming/props and lighting that create the stage for this show. All of this is supported behind the scenes by the fabulous Anne Hiatt, Sara Noble, and Gabbi Coenen. Speaking for myself, every night I leave rehearsal in awe about what has happened in the room, what I’ve learned, how lucky I feel to be surrounded by these folks.
6. Who or what inspired you to become a composer? I might have been hardwired to write music. When I was a kid, I found a guitar in my parents closet while they were out one night. I opened up the case, pulled the guitar out, and wrote a little song, "Chickens in the Yard." Ever since that day I’ve needed to write music. That said, I give all credit to me being a "composer" to Jim Lewis, my first composition teacher. I bumped into him one summer while trying to register for Fall classes and he told me, you should be a composer because the composing writing exercises you did for my class last semester were very good. I didn’t even know being a composer was a thing. In all seriousness, this random occurrence changed the course of my life.
7. What's the best advice you've ever received? I’d say the best advice I’ve ever received was actually criticism. After a performance at a music festival, a local university professor made his way to me, introduced himself, and said: "this piece – the audience must have enjoyed it." It was certainly meant to be rude. But in an instance I realized I had really offended this man with my music. And that made me happy. So from that day forward, I’ve always written the music in my heart, that an audience would hopefully enjoy.
8. What have you learned about yourself from being a composer? You have to have confidence and believe in yourself. And you have to have thick enough skin to know not everyone will like what you do. Sometimes that hurts. Learn from that. You don’t have to accept all criticism as "you" failed. That negative comment might be the thing you aspire to do.
9. If you could have any super power, which one would you choose? Could I choose them all???
10. If you could be any original lifesaver flavor, which one would you be? If memory serves me, LifeSavers used to give me a headache when I was a kid. So I’m pretty sure I would have preferred the cherry, and found a way to "drop" or throw out the other flavors. Who am I kidding, I likely spit the cherry one out too. HA!
11. How do you want to be remembered? I could die any day I suppose. :) I’m too modest to answer a question like this. Though I’m sure I could point you in the direction of a composer or two who might provide you with volume 1 & 2 of their answer to this!!!
The music of New York City based composer, James Barry has been described as "immediately engaging and distinctly American," "an emotional roller coaster," "truly moving," and, well, "quirky." A recipient of the Charles Ives Scholarship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters his opera, orchestra, ballet, dance, theater, and chamber music scores are heard across the US each season. James has been the recipient of numerous awards, prizes, and commissions: ASCAP, Meet The Composer, American Music Center, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Dayton Ballet’s New Music for New Dance, Opera On Tap, Holyoke Civic Symphony, the Chicago Ensemble, Auros Group for New Music, Left Coast Chamber Ensemble, Jacksonville Symphony Orchestra’s Fresh Ink, the SCI/ASCAP Student Composition Commission, The Commission Project, CASE Arts Group, Xoregos Performing Company, and CelloSpeak among others. Over the past few seasons James’ music has been premiered and performed by numerous groups and organizations: FringeNYC Festival, OPERAtion Brooklyn, OPERA ELVIS: A Lament for the King, Opera Grows in Brooklyn, Lafayette Symphony Orchestra, Oak Ridge Symphony Orchestra, Owensboro Symphony Orchestra, Sacramento Youth Symphony, Tallahassee Symphony Youth Orchestra, Tennessee Tech University Orchestra, Northeastern University Concert Band, Florida State University Symphonic Band, Kutztown University Concert Band, Society for New Music, Sirius String Quartet, Esterhazy Quartet, Opera on Tap’s New Brew Series, Reizen Ensemble, Le Nuove Musiche, Forecast Music, Iktus Percussion Quartet, Brandon High School Orchestra, Heartland Community Flute Choir, Make Music New York Festival, North American Saxophone Alliance Conference, National Flute Association National Conference, and the College Music Society National Conference.