Wednesday, May 25, 2011

SoloNOVA Festival Interview - Joseph Keckler of "JOBZ"

By Byrne Harrison

Joseph was born in Michigan, and grew up in one of several tiny towns that begin with the letter P and slowly orbit the relative metropolis of Kalamazoo (completing a full circle once in a human lifetime.) Joseph spent his early life inside his mind, before moving out of it as a teenager to wander the aisles, late-night, of the local 24hr Walmart, and lollygag in the basement dwellings of self-proclaimed warlocks, waiting in vain for them to levitate scraps of paper.

He attended the University of Michigan, where he trained as a painter and an opera singer, graduating at the top of his class. He immediately moved to New York City to establish himself as a singer, performance artist, and avant-monologist.

What is your theatrical background?

I studied visual art, and I also trained in voice. In calling what I do theater I feel that I'm an impostor -- as though my mask will be pulled off at any moment, like a Scooby Doo villain, and that I'll be revealed as... well, I don't know what. I will say that I have been writing for performance for a number of years, using performance as a laboratory and party zone in which I can combine different artistic elements in whatever way I see fit. I've written a number of plays, and a lot of solo pieces, both short-form and full-length.

I've done quite a bit of acting as well. I've been in operas, plays, and even done commercial work.I love it, but again, I didn't set out to be an actor.

How did you get involved in the solo format?

I studied both performance and writing under Holly Hughes. I might not be performing original text if it weren't for her. I found myself particularly drawn to the form, and to the way Holly presented it, because of a certain deep sense of inclusion -- the notion that anyone could be a performance artist, and that any medium could be brought into performance.

I continue to use myself in my work because I'm portable, available, somewhat reliable, and cheap. I've trained myself to do the things I want done on stage. Reciprocally, I've tailored my work to my strange and diverse set of skills.

Who are your inspirations?

I admire all sorts of artists, dead and alive. Truthfully, I am most strongly inspired by intense, dramatic singers. Screamin' Jay Hawkins, Marian Anderson, David Bowie, Bessie Smith, Jimmy Scott, Poly Styrene...

Tell me a little bit about your show.

The subject matter is low-level day jobs I've held in the New York arts world. I've worked in a gallery, a museum, a music bootleg operation... The show is about being a young artist in New York, identity formation -- don't worry, I won't say "finding yourself". It's a mediation on fantasy in daily life, the creative impulse, and the desire to escape -- from a job, a body, a situation. I named the show JOBZ, because I got a kick out of how awful and absurd it sounded to me. Now I'm trapped in it, which is sort of like being trapped in all those day jobs and having to find a way to exist within them.

The show is made up primarily of storytelling and monologue, with some sung sections also. Dan Bartfield plays fantastic live violin in the show, and my director Josh Hecht and I have been working closely with sound-wizard Rob Kaplowitz, who designed FELA! and many other things, to create an intricate score for the piece.

If you could get any person (living or dead, famous or not) to come see your show, who would you choose?

Someone from the middle ages. They would be sure to be blown away, if only by the sight of electricity, and the power point cues in my show.

What's next for you after soloNOVA?

I'm premiering a new piece, A Voice and Nothing More, in Amsterdam in September and working on music projects and a collection of stories.

Written & Performed by Joseph Keckler
With violinist Dan Bartfield
Directed by Josh Hecht

MAY 21 and 24 at 7pm
MAY 22 at 2pm
MAY 26 at 9pm
MAY 28 at 4pm

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