Always Coming Soon: interview with BRAT Productions’ Jess Conda
This weekend, May 16–18, BRAT Productions continues its tradition of rock cabaret with Always Coming Soon: The Future at the Performance Garage, 1515 Brandywine Street, Philadelphia. Set to songs by Peter Gaffney, the piece features “derelict clowns, aggressive barkers, and little old ladies [who] tell the truth about the days to come and the future that is always coming soon.” For a deeper look into this wild show, we caught up performer and BRAT’s artistic director, Jess Conda.
FringeArts: What was the inspiration for Always Coming Soon: The Future?
Jess Conda: A few years ago, my friend and composer Peter Gaffney wrote about 50 songs under the title The Future. The music has been staged in various cabaret contexts over the past few years, mostly in concert form or with his former company Cabaret Red Light in a monthly series that touched on all of the music over a long stretch of time. Since that time, Peter and I have been interested in staging a condensed version of the music. As my work making and rock and roll cabaret at BRAT has evolved, my desire to stage original music has grown more urgent. So it felt like a no brainer to ask Peter to go into the room with us and create an evening length piece using The Future music. We chose nine songs for this piece and created a new world around them.
We really like the idea of playing with the passage of time in this cabaret; the “Always Coming Soon” is us poking at that idea, toying with the title in the way that we hope the show toys with time.
FringeArts: What’s the show all about?
Jess: We’ve been joking that the show is “rock and roll Samuel Beckett” and there’s actually a lot of truth in that. The prominent exploration in this cabaret is the absurd promise of the passage of time itself–that the next thing or moment, or stage in your life is guaranteed to be better . . . if you can just get through this moment. There is also a satirical ingredient present about predicting the grand and grim things that will happen in the future . . . but rather than telling that through something dead on, like putting characters through a time machine ala Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, we explore it through the art of carnival barking–all pitch and no promise.
FringeArts: Can you give us the run down on some of the performers?
Jess: Peter Gaffney is the composer and lead artist and Scott Sheppard is directing through BRAT’s Resident Artist Program. This is Scott’s first time directing a piece that he is not also performing in, which gives him the opportunity to flex a new muscle in his professional development. Myself, Justin Rose, Tabitha Allen, and Rob Cutler are the performers. The band is Peter, Rolf Lakaemper, Andrew Nelson, Andrew Morris, and Adam Vidiksis, who will be doing live mixing, filters, and effects during the show. We’re super excited about this element of the musical performance.
FringeArts: What has been the process in creating this show?
Jess: This is my first season as artistic director at BRAT, and my first year fully present in the Philly performance community after graduating from Pig Iron’s APT [School of Advanced Performance Training] program. This show is in many ways the result of when those two worlds and styles collide. It is both precise and messy; calibrated and guerrilla; it has the honesty of clown and the bravado of rock and roll. The clown component of being with the audience and sharing every moment goes hand in hand with cabaret storytelling. We are always live in the room with you sharing whatever is happening.
This show is a devised rock and roll cabaret—the music was already written, but the world, actions, and collages of physical storytelling all stem from the ensemble devising process—improvising from the body and setting based on what comes from that.
FringeArts: What’s your role?
In this show I play a woman who receives a promise that in the future she will be able to live forever. And of course, that’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Aside from performing, my role has also included assembling the creative team and honestly that’s the thing that tickles me the most–there’s this private joy that I feel when I see artists stretching their craft and making new relationships at BRAT. I love the feeling when collaboration puts likeminded artists in a room together for the first time and they start to bond and build a rapport with each other. So far there’s been a lot of good synergy.
FringeArts: Why explore the future through circus-themed satire?
Jess: The thing that excited us the most about circus is actually not the circus at all but rather the sell, the pitch that surrounds the circus. The excitement of “the circus is coming to town.” There’s a build up, an anticipation that proceeds its arrival. We wanted to make a cabaret that lives in that feeling of anticipation, the moment when expectation is high and hopeful, regardless of the outcome. That led us to explore circus barking, advertising and the tease of “the pitch.” Another ingredient that peppers the stew is bouffon, which is a style of performance that I studied with Scott and Justin at APT [Pig Iron School of Advanced Performance Training]. It is centered around societal outcasts who use extreme mockery to reveal unbearable truths. These bouffons are clowns in their own specific way, but don’t expect the carnival, big top variety of clowns in this cabaret.
FringeArts: What does physical theater bring to this cabaret performance?
Jess: Physical theater is a great vehicle to generate non verbal storytelling. It can really be in service of the “music video” kind of staging that we generate a lot when making rock cabaret. Also, it can make work that is unexpected–if the music is the script, physical theater techniques allow us to explore interpretations of that script so that every moment isn’t “mickey moused,” one to one with the music.
Thanks Jess, looking forward to the show!
ALWAYS COMING SOON: THE FUTURE
Composer and Lead Artist: Peter Gaffney Director: Scott Sheppard, BRAT’s 2013-2014 Resident Artist Performers: Tabitha Allen, Rob Cutler, Justin Rose, and newly minted BRAT Artistic Director Jess Conda Musicians: Rolf Lakaemper, Andrew Morris, and Andrew Nelson, Adam Vidiksis
Friday, May 16 through Sunday, May 18, 2014
Performances begin at 8pm
1515 Brandywine Street
Tickets are $20, buy them here!