Let Me Answer Some Questions: Interview with Joseph Keckler
Joseph Keckler is a multi-talented performer, with an astute comic sensibility and three-octave vocal range. (Just check out his “Shroom Opera“.) For the 2019 Fringe Festival, he brings these talents to Let Me Die, a medley of operatic death arias, interspersed with original music and commentary. The world premiere features a roster of talented singers performing songs and snippets from classic opera, along with
FringeArts talks to Joseph Keckler about his absurd, yet affecting piece.
FringeArts: What inspired Let Me Die?
Joseph Keckler: I was attracted to the scenes in part because of the paradox they present: often the deaths in opera are the most virtuosic displays. So although these moments depict bodily failure they are in reality great vocal, great physical, feats.
I’ve been circling the idea for a while. I’ll talk more about the origin of the show within the show itself.
FringeArts: Other than death, what themes and qualities do you see running through the operatic death scenes?
Joseph Keckler: The scenes are alternately, or sometimes simultaneously sublime and absurd—that’s my jam.
FringeArts: How do you frame the different segments?
Joseph Keckler: I don’t want to give too much away, but as I’m creating the piece I am negotiating interpretation vs. doing, showing vs. telling. I want the piece to be navigable without being overarchingly didactic, and part of what I’m doing in the fragmentation is to pull moments out of their narrative context. I’ll introduce a lot of ideas very directly within the piece.
FringeArts: How are you selecting and ordering the compositions? What are some criteria for your decisions?
Joseph Keckler: A certain categorical progression underpins the main collage sequence and within those categories I’m essentially using free association to move from one to the next. Some cut up, some trains of thought. There are a lot of aspects to consider in assemblage—we could lump all the self-immolators together, unite the poisoned and gasping, devote an episode to stabbers and stabbees. Love triangles. But there are concepts to consider as well: the sealing of fates, death as relief, and so on. There are gender dynamics to be reckoned with. We could have ordered the scenes according to chronology, beginning with Baroque era works and zooming towards those of the early 20th century—everything is in the public domain—in service of some historical time lapse effect. And on a purely musical level we have to create variation in pace, balance textures, create a sense of tension and release, and think about every little transition.
In the end (no pun intended) those are my considerations, the organizing principles I’ve identified; I’m negotiating all of them rather than submitting to the tyranny of one.
There is no way for me to know how people will experience this yet—it’s truly an experiment. I suspect the tone will shift somewhat nightly, that certain moments could veer comedic or cathartic.
FringeArts: What do you hope audiences take away from Let Me Die?
Joseph Keckler: Nothing. To the contrary, I hope they leave something behind.
— Introductory text by Seth Boyce
What: Let Me Die
When: September 21–28, 2019
Where: FringeArts, 140 North Columbus Boulevard
Created by Joseph Keckler
Photos by M. Sharkey (featured), Frans Franciscus