From poets to punk bands: Variety is spice of ‘Live Art Magazine’ at Academy of Music in Northampton

Last modified: Thursday, October 31, 2013

In the past, it might have been called a variety show, and the idea behind it is roughly the same: Bring together a number of performers on stage, from comedians to musicians to jugglers, for a night of live performance and entertainment.

But the organizers of a new show that debuts next week, Nov. 1, at Northampton’s Academy of Music have updated the variety show for the 21st century.

“Live Art Magazine” is a stage show that brings together artists of all stripes — poets and writers, musicians, photographers, dancers — for an evening that’s designed not just to entertain but ideally to stimulate cross-disciplinary ideas among the presenters and the audience alike. And the lineup spans many ages as well, from venerable Pelham poet James Tate to the 20-something Northampton punk band Potty Mouth.

The idea, says principal organizer Amanda Herman, is to have the evening unfold like the structure of a magazine, with a general introduction, followed by short literary readings and then longer features, from music to dance to film and theater. And — perhaps most importantly — all the artists will present new work.

“We want artists to take some risks, to give them the opportunity to try something they haven’t done before,” said Herman, a Florence photographer and educator who’s the principal organizer and “editor” of the Nov. 1 event, which features some 15 performers or groups and lasts about 90 minutes. Most though not all of the artists are from the Valley.

“The idea is to present some new art in a live format, something’s that’s really designed for the moment — put creative people together in this sort of rolling narrative and see what happens,” Herman added.

Because all the work is new or in progress, no filming or photography is allowed. However, a team of illustrators, headed by Julia Handschuh of Northampton — she’s also one of the performers — will make a series of drawings of the events, which will be compiled for a zine, online and in print.

Shorter presentations last three minutes; “features” are eight minutes long, and time limits will be strictly observed, Herman says. There’s a bit of mystery to the event, she added: She has a basic sense of what each performer will do, but the finished presentations “are something I’ll be seeing for the first time along with everyone else.”

Live Art Magazine features a truly eclectic group of performers/presenters that you wouldn’t expect — ever — to see together, from academics, to a composer of ambient music, to a klezmer clarinetist, Ilene Stahl, who will perform with Rebel Base, a “sci-fi” heavy metal band from Greenfield.

Tate, who won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1992, will read two new poems. He’ll be followed by, among others, Wendy Woodson, an Amherst College professor of dance and theater who is also a choreographer and video artist. Matthew Glassman, the executive director of Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, will perform a monologue, while the punk-groove band Bella’s Bartok of Northampton will debut a song, which will also have a “theatrical element,” said Herman.

Tate, 69, who’s taught English and poetry for years at the University of Massachusetts Amherst, says he’s intrigued to be part of the lineup for Live Art Magazine. “It’s a new venue and an interesting event,” he said.

Herman says she’s especially interested in some of the collaborations that will be part of the show. Northampton writer and journalist Nell Lake, for instance, will do a reading alongside a classical pianist. “That’s something she’s never done before,” said Herman, “and I’m glad she chose to do it with us.”

Bay Area roots

The idea for Live Art Magazine can be traced to San Francisco, where Herman and her partner, freelance writer Eliza Wilmerding, formerly lived; the couple relocated to Florence last year, in part to be closer to family, as Wilmerding grew up in the Boston area.

When they lived in San Francisco, the couple say, they became big fans of what’s known as “Pop-Up Magazine,” a yearly live magazine event with a structure similar to that of “Live Art Magazine,” joining filmmakers, photographers, writers and others on stage to share stories and new work.

“We loved it,” said Wilmerding, who assisted Herman in organizing the Northampton program. “There was always something new to see, some really great ideas and collaborations. When we moved here and realized the area had such artistic heft, we starting batting around ideas of how we might do something similar here.”

Herman said she met many Valley artists through her work and other channels during her first several months here. But when the idea of “Live Art Magazine” began to crystallize, she enlisted the help of a small, informal group of advisers, including Josh Silver of Northampton, the founder of the clean elections nonprofit group United Republic, to help identify a wider group of potential participants.

“The idea was really to find some way to bring some of the talented artists here together,” she said. “I was interested in getting a better sense of this community I’d become part of.”

Herman says she originally envisioned the format having a more literary feel, with a higher number of writers, but now is happy with the roughly equal balance of writers, musicians, photographers and video artists, and dancers and theater personnel. When selecting the lineup, she initially asked each participant to submit a brief description of a proposed act, then worked with artists to develop the ideas more fully.

“My role has really been as an editor, to give suggestions, to say, ‘I’m not sure that’s going to work’ or ‘Why don’t we think of adding this?’ ” Herman said. “But I really trust [the artists] in what they’re doing — they’re all taking big risks by doing something new.”

Financially, Herman and Wilmerding have lined up some sponsors for the program, including Flying Object, an arts organization/publisher in Hadley, and Gleason says a number of volunteers have helped with issues such as promotion. Organizers say they hope to cover the rest of their expenses through ticket sales, enough that they can make “Live Art Magazine” a yearly event, bring in more sponsors, and pay participants.

“No one is getting paid for this, which we’re very grateful for and which we’d very much like to change,” Herman said.

The show will also offer some food and drink, particularly at a pre-program party at which the audience is invited to meet the artists and discuss the events.

Wilmerding says she’s hoping that not just the show’s variety but its format, with short presentations by each group or artist, will attract a good crowd.

“If you don’t like what you’re watching,” she said with a laugh, “just wait a few minutes and you can see something different.”

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at

“Live Art Magazine” takes place at Nov. 1 at 7:30 p.m. at the Academy of Music, 274 Main St. in Northampton. Doors open at 7 p.m.

Tickets cost $10 and can be purchased in advance from the Academy at For news about the pre-show party, held from 6 to 7 p.m., visit and sign up to be on the mailing list.


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