Live Art Magazine: A stage show designed to entertain and spark ideas

  • Acrobat/actor Hayley Brown, of Double Edge Theatre in Ashfield, is one of several performers for the Oct. 20 presentation of Live Art Magazine in Northampton. Photo courtesy of Amanda Herman

  • Acclaimed violinist Michi Wiancko has composed a soundtrack that she’ll play live for a showing of a film on Antarctica by photographer Maria Stenzel. Photo courtesy of Amanda Herman

  • Poet and essayist Ocean Vuong, whose poetry collection “Night Sky With Exit Wounds” won multiple awards last year, will read new work at Live Art Magazine Oct. 20. Photo courtesy of Amanda Herman

  • Drawing by Maggie Nowinski Werner from a past Live Art Magazine session. No filmming or photography is allowed at the event; instead, a team of artists draws images that are collected and posted online. Image courtesy of Amanda Herman

Staff Writer
Thursday, October 12, 2017

Here’s one formula for mixing it up artistically: Take people from several different mediums, ask them to come up with a new work of art (either on their own or in collaboration with another artist), and have them debut it before a live audience.

It has to be something short and sweet, too, a performance — a poem, a dance, a piece of music, a film clip — that runs no longer than 10 minutes and is part of a continuous run of vignettes designed to unfold one after the other, like the pages of a magazine.

No surprise, then, that these mini-performances are all part of what’s known as Live Art Magazine, a stage show that’s designed to entertain but also to spark ideas about artistic collaboration, for performers and audience members alike. 

The brainchild of Amanda Herman, a Northampton photographer and educator, Live Art Magazine is celebrating its fifth anniversary Oct. 20 with its latest “edition” at Northampton’s Academy of Music. On the bill: a poet, a circus artist, various musicians, an astronomer, a music historian and a lexicographer, among others.

Herman, who started the program in 2013 with her partner, Eliza Wilmerding, says the format has stayed the same over the years. Performances are tight, between about three and 10 minutes, and the schedule is “very strictly monitored,” Herman added, so that the whole program wraps up in a hour and a half. Like magazines, which usually open with short pieces before moving on to feature articles, Live Art begins with shorter performances followed by the longer ones.  

The show “is all about doing things in a unique way,” said Herman. “You have artists presenting new work, in ways they might not have considered before, and collaborating in ways that might be unexpected but can be really exciting. You’ve got emerging artists and established ones… it makes for a good mix.”

This year’s program, for instance, joins Salman Hameed, an astronomer and professor of integrated science and humanities at Hampshire College, with a Sufi music ensemble, Falsa, from Philadelphia. Hameed, who’s know as “Mr. Universe” from his talks on WRSI-FM about the cosmos, is working with Falsa on a multimedia production involving images, text and sound.

The details of that segment and most of the other parts of the Oct. 20 program will only be revealed at the show. Herman, who works with an advisory board to identify artists for inclusion in Live Art Magazine and to mount the production, says she requests a basic proposal from participants on their presentations; later she’ll meet with them in person to get some more details, but often she may not know the full scope of the presentation ahead of time.

“Sometimes they want my involvement, but I’m also confident in people presenting their ideas on their own,” she said. “The show is really about taking risks.”

Film, music, poetry and more

Herman says each edition of Live Art Magazine has been built around general themes — this year it’s “Ideas” — and has generally featured different artists, with some repeats. She notes that the Sci-Tech Band, the group that’s been credited with increasing attendance and graduation rates in recent years at Springfield’s High School of Science and Technology, has become “kind of our house band in the last few years.”

This year, Herman added, “I’m really excited about the artists we have” — including some she has been trying to get for some time.

Hayley Brown, for instance, is part of Ashfield’s Double Edge Theatre Ensemble, a former gymnast who recently has studied at the New England Center for Circus Arts.  Brown will be doing some dramatic acrobatics for her presentation: “I just met with her rigger the other day,” Herman said with a laugh.

Poet and essayist Ocean Vuong, who won multiple awards last year for his debut poetry collection, “Night Sky With Exit Wounds,” will, like Brown, also make his debut at Live Art Magazine this year by reading some new work. Vuong, who was born in Vietnam, now teaches in the MFA program for poets and writers at the University of Massachusetts Amherst.

Two other first-time contributors are collaborating on their performance. Michi Wiancko, a celebrated violinist and composer, has created a soundtrack for a short film about Antarctica made by Maria Stenzel, an award-winning photographer for National Geographic Magazine and other publications.

Wiancko, who with her husband, composer Judd Greenstein, moved from Brooklyn to a former dairy farm in Gill a few years ago, said Herman approached her earlier this year about taking part in Live Art and suggested she might want to work with Stenzel. In fact, Wiancko said during a recent phone interview, her father, Eugene, had been an arctic explorer in the 1950s and later became a documentary filmmaker.

“When Amanda suggested I work with Maria, I thought ‘This is so up my alley,’ ” said Wiancko.

She and Stenzel began, through phone calls and emails, discussing the idea, and Stenzel later sent Wiancko some drafts of her film so that the violinist could begin developing the music — on solo acoustic and electric violin — she’d use for the accompanying soundtrack.

Stenzel, who became the manager of photographic services for Amherst College a few years ago — she wanted to spend more time in one place after spending years traveling the world to take pictures — says she liked the idea of not having to develop a detailed explanation of the film, like the kind she would typically need to produce for her photographs for magazine articles.

Her film, which includes footage of a fjord on the Antarctic Peninsular, also showcases the work of several scientists there and includes some of their conversations, as well as the sounds of nature, like ice falling into the sea. That, plus Wiancko’s soundtrack, hopefully will make for a different kind of experience for viewers, Stenzel said: “Let’s see if we can present something that’s more than just eye candy.”

Though she has given lectures and slide show presentations before, this is the first time Stenzel has taken part in this kind of an artistic ensemble performance: “I think this going to be a great experience,” she said.

And Wiancko, who with her husband has started a concert series, Antenna Cloud Farm, an artists’ residency program at their Gill property, says she’s also happy to be making additional artistic connections in the Valley: “I really like the concept,” she said of Live Art Magazine.

As in previous Live Art Magazine programs, no photos, recording or filming of the presentations is allowed, but a separate team of artists will be sketching during the show to document it; those drawings will later be compiled for an online record of the program.

Herman said she hopes the show, whose co-sponsors  include New England Public Radio and Easthampton’s Idea Collective, will spark ideas for even more artistic collaboration in the future. “Let’s keep the conversation going,” she said.

Steve Pfarrer can be reached at spfarrer@gazettenet.com.

For more information on the Oct. 20 presentation of Live Art Magazine, visit liveartmagazine.corg.