Seth Premo makes an archway for the set of “The Devil’s Tale”.
The Devil’s Tale: Why Making Art is Important
by Kristen Demaree
I am working on a new project “The Devil’s Tale”, composed and written by James Stephenson. Christopher Huls, a PHD conducting student at the University of Colorado asked me to direct and choreograph this premiere of the full work for one of his graduate recitals. A sequel to Stravinsky’s “Soldier’s Tale”, Stephenson wrote this piece after playing “Soldier’s Tale” as a trumpet player for over a year. This piece came to be as an outpouring from Stephenson’s saturation in Stravinsky’s score as if from an unconscious dream space. Emerging through the cracks of modernity, there is a whimsical and nostalgic tone towards our own modern condition. As a palindrome, it is a mirror image of Stravinsky’s work that brings us in conversation with the past and the precipice of either repeating history, or making better choices in our future.
This experience has challenged me in many ways that I did not expect. I am humbled and encouraged to know that at the end of this project, I will be a better person for it. As we are a few weeks from our premiere performance, I wanted to reflect on this experience. Making art is hard, and it is brutal, and I have been doubting why I chose to embark on this project. I am being honest here, because as a single artist, with no other support save my own willful choice to take on a project, I often feel very alone, and sometimes totally insane. In an attempt to save my sanity, I write and reflect…
What we do is important. I’m not just talking about the “we” of artists, but of all humans. Our actions are important. It is important in the sense that every choice we make has an action, and it has a reverberating effect on the world that we may not see directly. Sometimes we are made aware of such repercussions such as the entrails of birds filled with plastic, their demise is that they starved to death eating our plastic trash. Our choice to consistently eat food that is contained in plastic because it is convenient, is important.
Gregory Gonzales is playing the part of the Devil in “The Devil’s Tale”. He is an impeccable performer and artist. He arrives on time, and leaves on time. He is true to his word and promises. He comes completely prepared and is always kind and supportive to the other cast members. He is a true example of what it means to be a working artist, dancer, musician, and actor. He has chosen to make his life meaningful, vibrant, and generous through honing his craft.
I have known Daniel Perkins, who is my narrator for the project, since I was 8 years old. He worked with my mother for many years at Boulder’s Dinner Theater. When I was a kid, he asked me to show him how to play the violin for his role as the fiddler in “Fiddler on the Roof”. Forty years later, I re-connected with “DP”. As I had always remembered his beautiful speaking voice, I asked him to join me in this project. He is a survivor who spent the last 5 years retraining his body to walk again after a near-death experience. He comes to each rehearsal with humor and insatiable joy for theater.
Elvira Stewart plays Hannah, and she has been a longtime friend and collaborator for many years. She works full time in a medical software company, kayaks, snowboards, and raises Tibetan yaks. She brings complete integrity and soulfulness to her role as Hannah, transforming the character from a needy showgirl, to a modern suffragette. She brings a love for performing that is contagious to others. Elvira is as daring on the stage as she is flying down the rapids in her kayak.
Danae Patterson has been in every project of mine since I started creating my own works during my graduate studies. She has beautiful technique, a fantastic memory for movement and a generous spirit. She has partnered with me in experimenting with new ways of creating and collaborating in a more democratic way between choreographer and dancer. She also works in the Bursar’s office at the University of Colorado, where she helps families and students navigate the terrifying world of paying for college.
Chelsea Vonu has been in my previous projects and brings rogue spirit to her performances that you would never know from seeing just classwork. She is the kind of dancer who brings a sense of urgency to the stage that makes you want to hang on and pay attention. She is strong, willful, and kind. She is a budding lawyer working in family law, helping people every day in the most difficult and stressful times of their lives.
Peter Strand is a world traveler, photographer, dancer, opera singer, and actor. He brings a wealth of experience to the stage with a generous spirit and constant desire to question, improve, and explore. He is a person that anyone can be around and feel welcome and comfortable, as well as being wildly entertained. Peter plays the role of “Joe” in this project. He was the first person I asked to join me in this, and because of his positive support and eagerness to do this premiere performance, everyone else jumped on board too.
These are the people I work with to create this new project “the Devil’s Tale”. We all agreed to it, not knowing how hard this project was, and how much it would ask of us. No one has backed down. We come back to every rehearsal with our battle axes ready to get it done.
I wanted to take a moment to reflect on why this important.
There is a horrible storm in Texas, and no one in charge of FEMA. There is a president who sits in his gilded office and takes vacations, claiming that he is good at business. He has cut all funds to artists, because he thinks they are not important.
Artists show up. They keep their word, and they make something out of nothing. They take a silent room and fill it with meaning, motion, and music. They can transform who they are into something else, so that others can benefit from the experience. They do nothing for themselves. They do everything for others, and to simply bring meaning, beauty, compassion and joy to others.
When we create work as artists, what we are really doing, what we are really trying to say is that we as a human race are capable. We are saying that it is not acceptable to sit in a palace in a remote island while others are being brutalized by police. We are saying that there is more to humanity than greed and segregation. We are resisting the couch potato mentality that others can decide for us what our destiny should be. We put our bodies in a space and do crazy, weird, soulful, terrifying, daring acts in front of others, so they won’t be afraid.
Making art is hard. It is democratic. It is important. It shows us that we have creative power to make the changes in this world that need to be made. Making art is our best selves.
The show will be at the University of Colorado, Grusin Hall at the Imig Music Building on September 7, 7.30 pm.
If you would like to donate towards “The Devil’s Tale”, click HERE.