Ken Roht is a Los Angeles-based artist, most recently commissioned by Center Theater Group to create a song and dance spectacle using Tchaikovsky's score of The Nutcracker,currently in the workshop phase (next workshop is March 22-April 2, 2010). He is a recipient of a 2010 COLA grant from the Los Angeles Department of Cultural Affairs. The grant is for the creation of a musical, one-man piece, excerpts from it to be performed at Grand Performances at California Plaza, in June 2010. In January 2010, Ken directed and choreographed the highly successful The Good Soldier Schweik for Long Beach Opera (he choreographed three previous shows for LBO). He is the creator of the yearly holiday musicals co-sponsored by the 99c Only Stores, now in its seventh year. Ken directed and choreographed an evening of Offenbach one-acts for Bard Summerscape in New York, and his one-act opera Last Resort opened REDCAT's first Workshop Festival. He was the recipient of the 2003 Audrey Skirball Kenis TIME Grant, awarded to only five others in the country. Ken has been granted and/or commissioned by Rockefeller Foundation, Durfee Foundation, Dance Theater Workshop, California Arts Council, and Bootleg Theater. Ken also choreographs for other directors, notably at the Getty Villa (PEACE by Culture Clash, 2009), Oregon Shakespeare Festival, Mark Taper Forum, Dorothy Chandler Pavilion, South Coast Rep, Ohio's Great Lakes Theater Festival and Lookingglass in Chicago. As a performer Ken has worked with Bill Viola, Paul McCarthy, Reza Abdoh (for whom he was also a choreographer for seven years), and he sang the principle tenor role in a micro-tonal opera by composer John Eaton (Eros, Pumped Fiction), with members of New York City Opera. Ken can be seen in a feature length silent film that accompanies the piano/violin concerts of composer David Soldier. Other performance experiences include a rock opera with Grace Jones and Billy Zane, singing Ancient Hebrew and Egyptian texts as part of the Tut/Egyptian antiquities exhibit that is touring the world, and soloing America The Beautiful for 5000 members of the Elks Lodge. Follow this link to Ken’s website.
Clips of echo's hammer, among other things:
Ken Roht interview with Joshua Fardon
You’re known for being extremely gifted at a lot of different things. When you put something like this together, do you start with a script, then add the music, then add the choreography, then the direction, or do you conceive it all at once?
I write it as a complete vision. I think “this is what I can do with that writing” and if “we add a song here, it’ll pick up the pacing” and “this will be a good visual or a juxtaposition to what had just come before.” And I see a lot of the numbers, how they’re going to work in the space.
You see them as you’re writing?
Well, as I write the lyrics. I write the lyrics and melodies with a particular goal in mind and that goal is related to whatever needs to happen at that particular point in the script.
Like when the characters Pon and Deedo dance/fight?
Yeah. That’s more linear, even, so it needed to happen according to the script. But for some of the more abstract pieces, it’s just in the collage. Like, I’ll think, “you need a big dose of red right there, and tap dance is red, so it’s a tap song, okay a tap song, that’s probably swing, okay, swing lyrics.”
You once told me you collect visual images before you start a show.
Definitely. My favorite thing is Opera News Magazine. I just start cutting out the pictures of things I never would have thought of.
And they’re in Opera News Magazine?
(laughs) Shut up. It’s sort of a shortcut, because they’re doing some of the work for me. You know, I’ll see a boar’s head and then I’ll come up with some comparable image onstage. There are some really cool things onstage that inspire me to do other things onstage. And it inspires me to see how there’s actually money to be had for design. And then, of course, I have to think of the really cheap ways of doing those really fabulous things.
What was the catalyst to write Echo’s Hammer?
I was reading Beckett at the time. I love that he’s so simple and abstract and so beautiful. It just made sense to me. I was writing another piece called He Pounces that was about sexual conquest. And I was dating someone and I wanted to address our relationship in a way that explored an alpha male. I was dealing with sexual politics and relationship power dynamics and it related to Echo’s Hammer. It came out very fast. And also, there’s the insecure and ungrounded motivations that you have when you’re learning to be a megalomaniac. There’s so many familial reasons and so many catalysts for you to act out and if you can act out in a way that’s artistically viable…
…which is what Pon and Deedo are doing.
And Pon’s the megalomaniac.
Yes. His motivations aren’t healthy, whereas Deedo has a very healthy relationship to creating art. It’s very sensual, very organic and it’s made from love. He wants to spend that time with Pon and create it with him.
Pon and Deedo almost seem like two sides of one conscience. It’s the struggle one has with one’s self in the act of creation.
But they die when they finally complete the piece of art they’re creating. Then they come back to life and disassemble it.
I want to be punished for acting badly. I had a tiff with a producer on something I was working on. It was with me the whole next day. And I was like “Ken why can’t you be bigger than that? What is in you that holds that experience in such an unhealthy place?” So, it’s a necessary death and rebirth and I hope that it’s Pon learning that thing. You know, the death of that whole consciousness, of his old way of doing things. Of course, Pon would probably go back to his bag of tricks, because that’s the archetype that he is. You see men getting cancer and they find God, and then they get better and slowly and surely they go right back to who they were before. And Pon is one of those characters. It’s a sensitive artistic world, but he’s pretty hardcore in his convictions of selfishness.
Why is he so mean to Nancy?
I think in the world of spiritual and interpersonal archetypes, we all have the little girl inside us. And I just thought it would be cool to have a mute character who’s also a witness. I’m always putting witnesses in my stuff.
Why is that?
It’s a great theatrical device. And it’s just another fractured aspect of my consciousness. It’s the part of me going “I wish I wasn't doing that.” And Pon is serious about putting that spiritual archetype, that feminine goddess, in her place. A lot of women are abused. And that’s what’s wrong, that we keep beating up the little girls.
In the stage directions, you describe Cheryl and Frank as being “the inane collective consciousness.” What do you mean by that?
You grow up being an artist and you have these stupid people trying to tell you who you are, telling you how it’s supposed to be done. They’re people who have oppressed me and made me feel unworthy. Frank is less strong than Cheryl. There’s a little bit of my grandparents in them. But mostly it’s how that energy permeates the work.
But at one point Frank reads this really sincere poetry…
Frank and Cheryl are permeating the studio and Pon and Deedo’s consciousness. But I thought it’d be interesting if there was a little bit seeping out the other way, if Frank has an inkling of artistic consciousness.. So Pon and Deedo are working with wood and Frank reads “the touch of the wood.” He gets it through osmosis and it cultivates that part of him. And because he’s weaker, he’s more susceptible to that sort of poeticism.
You staged this at the Boston Court Theatre.
Right. Michael Silverblatt [of NPR’s Bookworm] came on to dramturg it. He was very helpful in talking with me about it. He would talk about the overall integrity of it. And I saw I could push it in different ways that made more sense. The design of it was so exciting. The sculpture that got made…
Which is described a kind of car in the script.
Yeah. It was twelve pieces of metal and it got put on a structure that fit together in a geometric way and we put big seats on it and a big sail that got projected onto. We could see a video of Pon and Deedo’s future.
The actual impact of watching this sculpture being assembled in pieces onstage is not necessarily something you get on the page. The act of it coming together and growing adds a sense of linear progress to the show. And then at the end, the climax, when it’s completed, it’s a visual, musical explosion.
Yeah. At the Boston Court, Deedo was played by Bill Celentano, who’s an amazing commedia gymnast. The piece has three bicycle wheels of different sizes and in the finale, he would go underneath it. He would let it run him over, then get up and try to dodge it – as a metaphor for how all-consuming this thing is.
You worked a great deal with Reza Abdoh. Could you tell those of us who don't’ know much about him who he was and how he influenced your work?
Yeah, Reza was one of the most brilliant theatre artists we’ve had in the last few decades. He was half Italian, half Iranian, was at RADA, did his first King Lear at age 15, came to Los Angles and did theatre here while working as a hustler. He contracted AIDS and most of his professional career was spent dealing with AIDS during a time when it was a major physical and political plague. So a lot of his work dealt with all of that. He was a collage theatre artist who had really sophisticated musicality. He pulled together a lot of freaks who could do the same thing over and over again, which means that they had some technique. And he created these really dense theatre pieces, which you needed to experience three or four times to really get. But then, once you did, you were a changed man. We understood each other really well. First of all=, he was a big fan of American Musical theater and that’s where I was coming from. I was in the Young Americans…
The Young Americans singing group?
Yeah. And I had my own production company making industrial entertainment, just real straight-out musical theatre reviews for conventions at hotels ands stuff. And that was my aesthetic, that’s what I did. When I met Reza, I had no idea what experimental theatre was. And as I started to understand the musicality of what he was doing, I started choreographing for him. It worked out really well for everybody.
Do you have anything coming up?
I’m writing a one-act opera for the California Plaza’s Grand Performances series. It’s my response to the anti-gay sentiment that’s happening because of the gay marriage push.
All Connotation Press plays are presented online to the reading public. All performance rights, including professional, amateur, television and the rights of translation into foreign languages are strictly reserved. If you are interested in seeking performance rights to a specific work contact the Drama Editor, Joshua Fardon.
In order to preserve the artistic arrangement of the writing, this piece has been created with Print2Flash.