Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Genesis Ensemble premiers 
at Chicago Fringe Festival!


Phenomena is a devised investigation into the intersections of science, spiritual faith, and UFO sightings. Structured by the convention of a congressional hearing,  the ensemble embodies the personas and believes of scientists, theologians, theorists, witnesses, and themselves. Mashing choreography with sourced text, pitting the theoretical against the hypothetical, and examining both the personal and the universal, Phenomena is an encyclopedic exploration with poetic license. 

Come out to Jefferson Park to join us for an amazing Fringe Festival! And, join us for a drink after the show at Fischmans!

Chicago Fringe Festival
Spilled Milk Stage, 5320 W. Giddings
at the Congregational Church of Jefferson Park

Thursday, August 29th at 10pm
Friday, August 30th at 7pm
Sunday, September 1st at 2:30pm

Directed by Lindsey Barlag Thornton
Dramaturgy by Libby Hladik with Erika Schmidt
Choreography by Kristyn Hegner

Featuring Alexis Atwill, Amanda Dunne Acevedo, McKenzie Gerber, Ellen Girvin, Sergio Soltero

Sunday, July 14, 2013

More from our music man....

Here is Part II of our interview with Uptown Opera's composer, Phil Maniaci!  

Q: Who would you name as your greatest musical inspiration?
A: The people in my life who feed me creatively and spiritually.  People who have stuck by me through the tough moments in my life. Like my friend Bob Ness, who just invited me over for a drink the week before he moved. Those people.

Q: What is your favorite Bluegrass song?  Why?
A: There is a track on “The Bristol Sessions”, an album from 1927 my buddy Joe gave me. It’s called “Witter’s Fox Chase” recorded by Henry Witter playing harmonica and howling and yelping into it as he plays. It so perfectly captures the fusion of Irish Reel and Cherokee wildness that I like in Appalachian music. Very unique piece of American music, and for the time, and a great recording.

Q: What is your favorite song in the Opera thus far?  Why?
A: Tough to say. I’m still getting surprise songs out of nowhere. I think that something is just going to be a transition, and then it develops into a fully realized idea with a good melody and lyrics that I don’t hate!
Right now I love “Big Ol Train” – I think most of us like that one – when Sally leaves Appalachia and comes to Chicago. There is so much optimism and hope in that song. That will probably be the most produced track on the album as well.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the musicians you've been working with to create the music? What has it been like working with Zebulun Barnow and Jordan Lewis?
A: Two very talented dudes. Zeb and I play in Blue Man together and have know each other since 1988 (sorry, Zeb) he’s played in his bands - The Sentinels, and his Tom Waits band called B1G T1ME as well as a host of others. Jordan was one of the first we auditioned for mandolin and we liked him right away. He’s a Columbia student (like Zeb and I were) and came in really enthusiastic about the project, which the directors and I couldn’t help but respond to. He’s studying film scoring too, so I felt a kinship with him there, as well. They are from very different backgrounds, which I think only makes the product we are making for this even richer and more layered. There is no shortage of ideas in that room for sure!
One thing I love about the band so far is that none of us is a bluegrass musician by trade so we’re all learning the vocabulary together. I didn’t want a bluegrass band, as such. I wanted rock, jazz, classical music, too. These are all genres that were very much alive at the time and I wanted to reflect that.

Q: How would you describe the process of jamming and writing music for Uptown Opera? 
A: I have written most of the material for the opera on my own in my studio. There have been some jam sessions for the songs where I brought in Zeb and/or Jordan to play through with me and some things developed from that which could later be used. We’ve just started getting into the group devising process we will use for writing the incidental music – we just wrote 2 scenes together and they turned out great!

Q: What is your usual process to write?
A: Get direction. Look at my ideas I get in the first 20 minutes. If they suck, move on to sourcing from the best possible places. Throw it all against the wall and see what sticks, maybe check in with someone who I’m talking to about it, whose opinion I value.
Then, I open up ProTools and Word and work…and work...and work.

Q: Since you’ve began working on this project,  what has been an unexpected musical discovery you've made?
A: That I actually LOVE restrictions. I always knew that they help in getting started on any project, because they help bring the big picture more quickly into focus. But they have been especially helpful in this project.

Q: What do you do in your free time?
A: I’ve heard of the concept.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Grateful. Thankful. Inspired.

Genesis Ensemble wants to say THANK YOU to all of the people that helped us reach our goal on our Indiegogo fundraiser!  We had 74+ funders that helped us raise $3,640.  We feel so fortunate to be creating art we love, with people we love, in the city we love.  Thank you to all of the online donors, everyone that attended our Hoedown, and everyone that posted our Indiegogo link on Facebook and Twitter.  Your generous spirit, kindness, and endorsement are inspiring.
Thank you to...
Anonymous (6), Amanda Dunne Acevedo & Chris Acevedo, Danny Ahlfeld, Alexis Atwill, Frank & Sandy Barlag, Ara G. Beal, Heather Grover Bella, Jay Berger, Susan Bowen, Rachel Buck, Sarah Butke, Kate Cares, Michael Carnow, Jake Carr, Kelsey Chigas, Sarah Corner, Dean Corrin, Casey Cunningham, Missi Davis, Andrea Dennis, Amy Diller, Lara Dossett, B. Scott Dunne, Eric Evenskaas, Taylor Fenderbosch, Abigail Ford, Claire & Gary Ford,  Amanda Frank, John Gawlik, Lisa & Pat Gerard, Justin Gerber, Hannah Gomez, Kelly Gregory, Lawrence Grimm, Polly Heinkel, Andrew Hinderaker, Stuart Hoffman, Jennifer Leininger, Julie Lemieux, Elizabeth Lovelady, Elise Mayfield, Cecilia Miller, Karie Miller, Rebekah Mock, Michael Nameche, Keith Neagle, Patrick De Nicola, Nicole O’Connell, Kat Paddock, Ruthie& Jeff Paddock, Annie Perry, William & Julie Perry, Regina Potenza, Isaac Ramsey, Sam & Ashley Roberson, Casey Lee Ruberg, Sophie Scanlon, Erika Schmidt, Justine Serino, Allison Shoemaker, Lisa Stern, Brian Thomson, Rita Thornton, Dietrich Tullos, Catherine Turco

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Get to know our music man!

Recently, we got to take a quick break from the process of creating UPTOWN OPERA, and had the pleasure of interviewing the Composer and Music Director, Phil Maniaci.  This is part one of our two part conversation with him.  

Genesis Ensemble: How did you come to be in Chicago?

Phil Maniaci: I was born at Edgewater Hospital, a few blocks away from where our opera is set.

GE: When did you start writing music?

PM: Around 9 years old. I grew up hearing all these great songs my parents played in the house on the piano (in my mom’s or uncle’s case) or on the stereo (in my dad’s case) or in the car – The Beatles,  The Stones, The Beach Boys, The Kinks, Jimi Hendrix, Chopin, Jean-Pierre Rampal, Tchaikovsky, Steely Dan, Carole King, Chicago, David Bowie, Elton John, The Police – I heard all of this stuff and kinda just got the bug. I figured “Man, I want to do that. I want to make someone feel the way these songs make me feel!” In the beginning, it must’ve been very interesting for my mom, who was home most of the time when I was. I think I played the same things over and over, put them on my little reel-to-reel my step dad gave me until I found a new thing, and then that would be in rotation for the next week.
Like, constantly, when I wasn’t practicing.

GE: How many instruments do you play?
PM: I sing and play piano, organ, bass guitar, string bass, guitar, harmonica and Blue Man Zither – a strange, cool, electric instrument we use in the Blue Man show.

GE: Which is your favorite instrument and why?
PM: Probably the zither, because I haven’t completely figured it out yet!

GE: What is it like operating your own music production company, Central Park Sounds?

PM: I think of that old Army Commercial: “It’s the toughest job you’ll ever love.” It’s the hardest and most fun job I ever had. There are some difficult clients who don’t know what the hell they want, which can be a little frustrating. 80% of people have some sort of intimate relationship with music because of just simply liking/loving it. But the problem is this doesn’t give them any of the vocabulary necessary to describe things in musical terms. This is the double-edged sword for me.  

I hate talking about music - other than when I’m in the room with the people I’m producing it with.
And sometimes the music budgets for some of the TV and video projects I do aren’t the best. I scored a film for a friend (pretty much for free) and spent a lot of time and energy on it only to find out a year later that it won’t be released. So there are challenges and let-downs.
And then, once in a while, it all comes together like magic. The creatives tell me what they want in language that I can use. We agree on a fair price. I hand it in. They’re happy. The client is happy. And they pay on time. This is rare, but it’s great when it happens.    

GE: Where do you draw inspiration from when composing music?

PM: I have a great circle of friends with great taste in music and great record collections. My girl friend has really great taste in music and a really good feel for what is right for a project. If I don’t get enough direction, she’s helped me get unstuck on more than one occasion. My friend, film-maker Joe Losurdo, used to own a record shop and has a massive collection of vinyl. He helped me gather the material for the opera to cull from. I didn’t know much about bluegrass and Appalachian music. But he had these great records I ripped to mp3s and just started listening to and shared with my musicians and our cast.

GE: Do you consider Chicago home?

PM: I grew up in Park Ridge (once we left the city proper - when I was little) which is just a few blocks outside of city limits. So Chicago is part of who I am on a very genetic level. My friends and I would go into the city to places like Medusa’s on the weekends and get drunk, take psychedelics, chase girls and do all that typical, mid-80s-suburban-pseudo-counter-culture Chicago teenager stuff…wear black…you know. So I had a pretty typically local upbringing for the education I had and the scene I was in. Chicago was the backdrop for all of that.

GE: What fascinates you about Uptown Chicago in 1957?

PM: I never knew about the “hillbilly migration” that happened here from the 30s – 70s that gave Uptown its bad reputation until I started reading about it for this project. I’m amazed by how an industrial and urban place like 1957 Chicago could still have an enclave of these wild people who did things their own way.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Port of Entry: aka, we're making an Opera!

Hi.  Welcome to Uptown.  I’m glad you are here.

This is what I expect to be the first of many updates on our latest project, Uptown Opera.  First though, please allow me introduce myself. My name is Annie Perry and I am coaching the process of creating our Bluegrass score and libretto.  I am a company member with Genesis Ensemble and with each passing day the details of our story become more and more exciting!  But...I don’t want to give away too much, too soon.

Back in October I approached Phil Maniaci, one of the most amazing composers and musicians I have ever known and had the pleasure of working with, about this project and here’s what I told him about what we want to accomplish with this process.  I said, “Hey Phil, man, I want to do something that is eye opening and inspiring.  How would you like to sonically tell the story of Appalachian migrants to Chicago somewhere in the time from 1930 to 1960?  Mostly bluegrass music, but we’ll definitely want to have some rock and roll in there.”  And you know what he said?  “I’m in.”  And that is really how all of this began.  

We have been guided often by what feels like providence in our research and I will let Phil tell you in an upcoming blog about the composing process from then to now, but suffice it to say that when we originally picked 1957 as a year to begin researching as a potential year in the world of this play we had no idea that over and over again we would be shown that historically, this is a super pivotal year for change in consciousness in the U.S. and the migration habits to Uptown particularly.  Due to mechanization of agriculture and coal mining industries, shifts in the the economy, generally, along with the lure of a better life, many white southern migrants began moving North to industrial cities such as Detroit, Cincinnati, and Chicago. Often southern migrants encountered many difficulties adapting to urban life. It is these difficulties we have begun to explore.

This subject is particularly near and dear to my heart as I am a Southern transplant myself from Knoxville, TN and when I moved to Chicago in 2007 my first apartment was on Buena at Broadway, in Uptown.  I had followed in the footsteps of so many others and not known it until I began reading an article in the Encyclopedia of Chicago, which can be found here.  

It is now March and we are two weeks into rehearsals and crafting the libretto (or script) of this opera. It is so very exciting to work with cast members Ali Delianides, Claire Biggers, Dennis Frymire, and Pete Navis.  To hear them sing together is a pleasure and to watch them take huge artistic risks in the rehearsal room so early tells me that we really have something on our hands.  Libby Hladik, Genesis Ensemble’s newest company member is providing divinely timed dramaturgical support and feedback in the process and Artistic Associate Sergio Soltero absolutely asks the best questions in rehearsal as assistant director/process coach.  Check back in on the blog to get their perspectives on the process of crafting this musical love letter to the neighborhood and Chicago.

So Welcome, again, to Uptown and Uptown Opera.  I look forward to writing you again.