Daniel's Art Party: 'It's like a circus'

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GREAT BARRINGTON — The sublime will meet the ridiculous at Bard College of Simon's Rock this June.

Dancers and actors will move lightly around a 1901 antique car with patent leather fenders and one of the first piston engines ever made. James Warwick, who has performed in the West End and on Broadway, will speak quietly as Matthew Arnold, the British poet laureate who wrote about his death as he was dying. Twenty four hours later, Warwick will conduct a choir — for the first time in his life — with the backing of a beaver called Barney who talks with a West Country accent.

Ken Roht, a theater, film and opera artist from Los Angeles, is the artistic director of the month-long festival, Daniel's Art Party. Some 40 artists will appear in seven wide-ranging performances — the first time the college has ever produced its own shows outside the academic year.

Roht and Sandy Cleary, director of the Daniel Arts Center, are old friends. They share a background in experimental theater, they said. They have immersed in performance as an active and unexpected experience, in the tradition of Iranian-American director, actor and playwright Rezah Abdo — a blend of modern thought and musical theater and playfulness.

Cleary offered Roht the arts center to dive into, and he has spent six months turning it upside down. He has brought in performers and directors he knows across the country and he has met and created a network across the Southern Berkshires.

He is getting students involved, Warwick said, and recent alumni, faculty and staff, regional actors, musicians and artists, farmers and cheesemakers. The culmination is this festival, a community-wide celebration of theatrical expression.

"Ken has a unique ability to draw people out and get them to join a community," Warwick said. "Artists tend to stick together for safety He has the opposite view, all-encompassing, all-embracing."

For example, Ed Harvey, a member of Simon's Rock's security staff, is a second-generation firefighter and the Blandford fire chief, and he takes photographs of the blazes he tames. He will lead a conversation and present his images to the music of a newly formed string quartet.

"Ken is my most favorite collaborator and friend," said immersive theater artist Michael Counts, by phone from New York. "He is one of the great creative talents of his generation. A lot of people don't know that — but they will."

Counts creates theater that lets people go on a journey — as he recently staged an adventure across New York City inspired by Dante's Divine Comedy. At Simon's Rock, he will turn the campus into a kind of escape room for a crew of shipwrecked aliens.

"We're all visitors here," he said, " on this rock traveling through the galaxy, encountering new perspectives."

He will turn the campus into a vast stage with a team of actors, and masks from Huck Elling, a Berkshire fiber artist who crochets fabulous monsters and invents translucent sculptures from melted crayons.

"Huck is incredible, beautiful, smart, wild," he said, warm in his praise of her costumes.

He invites teams to solve puzzles and explore the college: a door in the middle of a field, trees and walks.

"Central Park is my favorite art installation," he said. "I love it when someone takes time to think about pathways. ... I love campuses. They're places with a human ecosystem of movement. People live in a place where they're working and studying."

On the same afternoon and later in the month, Chris Wells will invite the community to the stage. Wells is a writer, actor and Obie-winning artistic director of The Secret City, a community arts organization with live performances in New York City, Los Angeles and Woodstock, N.Y.

He will bring Secret City to Simon's Rock in a curated variety show of local performers. The college's vice president, Ba Win, will read Burmese poetry, and Alan Franco, an instructor with Berkshire Salsa in Pittsfield will perform in the show and follow it with a free dance party.

And that night Warwick will open his act as Maestro Doolally. A daft and comedic conductor who will lead the Cantilena Chamber Choir in "Awakening" by Joseph Martin.

Warwick and Roht created the character of the maestro together. As they got to know each other, Warwick said, he began to tell stories of his childhood in Sussex, in Bognor Regis, on the south coast of England. Barney the beaver is a puppet he has had conversations with since he was a boy listening to classical music on the BBC. And the stories took on a personality.

He and Roht invented Doolally from the English expression, which means "potty, off his rocker, unhinged, a screw loose, wacky ... "

He and Cantilena, and their director, Andrea Goodman, will work with pianist and Simon's Rock alum Xindi Zhang, an international artist in her own right.

"We're all putting ourselves on the line," Warwick said. "There's no safety net here. It's not tried and true. It's like a circus."

If you go

- The Elgar Variations Tour — A pop-art ballet with 14 installations, June 12 to 14 at 7:30 p.m., June 15 at 7:30 and 9:30 p.m. and June 16 at 8 p.m.

- Scavenger Hunt — A high art / technology adventure with theatrical clues, June 16 and 17 at 2 and 5 p.m.

- Maestro Doolally and the Choir — June 17, 19 and 24 at 7:30 p.m.

- The Secret City: A Revival Celebration in Praise of Art, June 17 and July 1 at noon with free salsa dancing 1:30 to 3 p.m.

- Leatherheads: Berkshire Firefighters Tell Their Stories with Fire Chief Ed Harvey and the Danju String Quartet, June 20 at 7:30 p.m. and June 24 at 3 p.m.

- Danny's at the Fair — Agricultural Variety Show with Moon in the Pond Farm (and real live goats and chickens), June 22 and 23, free 6 p.m. fair and 7:30 p.m. showtime. Dominic Palumbo at Moon in the Pond Farm and Jaynie Smith from the Sheffield Fair are collaborating on a country fair on stage, inviting farmers, chefs and food producers to compete for prizes for best honey, best pie, best cheese, most charismatic goat.

- Orange Star Smasharoo — A Country Western Musical Farce: The college dining hall will serve a barbecue dinner to accompany Ken Roht's musical comedy starring Broadway actor and musician Lauren Elder, June 27 to 30 at 7:30 p.m.

Information: simons-rock.edu/student-life/campus-experience/daniel-arts-center/daniels-art-party

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