Piece tackles natural disasters at Knockdown Center

Photo Cred: Michael Yu

‘This Takes Place Close By’ is the fourth collective opera for musical ensemble thingNY. In their performance, the group explores the various reactions of an urban community who are affected by a weather disaster in different ways.

Generally, thingNY’s performances feature an organizing theme that relates to broader society. This piece is no exception.

Composer Dave Ruder explained that while the performance isn’t particularly about the performers’ own experiences with natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy, it’s more focused on the reoccurring problem of either society choosing to not prepare or having no way to prepare for these situations.

Furthermore, the performance looks at the aftermath and how it affects people differently depending on economic backgrounds as well as how society fails to communicate. The stories range from trivial matters to life-threatening situations.

Rather than using their instruments to portray the storm as a physical event, the ensemble hones in on the emotions of the characters.

“We’re not doing something like many composers have where our main focus is trying to depict a storm in music,” Jeffrey Young, violinist and composer, said. “We’re much more interested in the people who are dealing with the storm than trying to depict the storm itself.”

For instance, there’s a character who sees the warning signs of the storm but doesn’t take it seriously. And yet, there’s a tale of a person who is being crushed underneath a building. Meanwhile, another story features a man who was spared by the storm but still wants to help those affected. The opera also illustrates the mental breakdown of a call center worker.

Lastly, there’s an archivist collecting letters from victims and a character looking for their loved one lost in the storm.
“Our own suffering was very nominal if anything at all,” Ruder said. “Part of what we are trying to explore in ‘This Takes Place Close By’ is looking at the storm from a place of guilt and privilege and as onlookers.”

We ask the question of comparing magnitudes of tragedies and also one of the things we grapple with is how one neighborhood can be just completely fine and twenty blocks away could be completely decimated.”

Crafting the performance together over the past few years, it wasn’t until the ensemble took up residency at the Incubator Arts Project in Manhattan where things started to fall into place. To edit their pieces, they’d perform live and use lessons learned to mold the whole thing together.

Performing at the 50,000 sq. ft. Knockdown Center will prove to have its challenges. The performance was originally done within small, confined studios.

“The music has been set for a while, and because we are all improvisers and composers in the piece, we can adjust things to the acoustics,” Paul Pinto, composer, said. “This is a very different acoustic but with all the challenges, it also presents so many incredible design possibilities and the architecture is just so captivating that it has more benefits than challenges.”
It’s almost its own character to have a space this big.”

During the performance, the audience will be moving around the center along with the ensemble.
The performers hope to use different parts of the space to pull the audience around in a natural way in order to get them to experience sound and light sources. They hope the space allows the audience to get a better understanding of the emotional and physical distance in relation to victims of storms.

“It’s going to be an usual theatrical experience,” Young said, “We are really trying to use as much of the space as possible and that means the audience is going to have to be a bit adventurous as we are.”

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