Now at the Uncertain Hour
A mosaic of memoirs derived from interviews conducted throughout rural America, the program is a theatrical dialogue of these stories and original music for live performance, streaming video, and broadcast radio in which the characters give pause in an ordinary world in an effort save what is nearly gone.
The project’s creative team includes director Charles M Pepiton, playwright Damon Falke, musician Camilla Ammirati, and artist Wes Kline with support from New York Council for the Humanities, Shechem Press, North Country Public Radio, and St. Lawrence University. The show premiers at 7:00pm on May 9 2014, from the historic Edwards Opera House, in Edwards, NY.
For more information about the project’s key collaborators, please view the support document.
The project is further supported by a team of humanities advisers which includes: Dr. Adam Harr, Visiting Assistant Professor of Anthropology at St. Lawrence University; Dr. Cassie Falke, Fulbright Professor of English at the University of Bergen; Hannah Harvester, Program Director & Staff Folklorist at Traditional Arts in Upstate New York (TAUNY); and Jackie Sauter, Program Director at North Country Public Radio (NCPR).
The program features characters speaking from both historical and contemporary perspectives, live music for clawhammer banjo and modular synthesizer, and projected video. The piece is a multi-format experience, to be simultaneously seen and heard by a live audience at Edwards Opera House in rural Edwards, New York, by listeners of NCPR throughout the North Country and Adirondack regions of the state and into southern Ontario and western Vermont, and worldwide through streaming online video.
Part of the development process for the project will be to devise an apparatus by-which the varied live audiences – on-sight, radio, and online – can engage with each other in real-time to contribute a collection of their own stories to be preserved as a record. The project seeks to reach into areas where such interactive arts and humanities opportunities are rare. The multi-format structure and rural focus will help accomplish this goal.
Writer Damon Falke has spent a lot of time listening. Having been a boy in the south and grown into manhood in the west, he has heard many men and women asking themselves in different generations, in different dialects, and from different landscapes, “What can I take hold of that will go on?” Now at the Uncertain Hour will never claim to answer this question, but it will encourage listeners to ask it.
Turning listeners in on themselves, this work prompts a process of meaning-making that is fundamental to the humanities, but which has been threatened philosophically, and technologically. This is the process of storytelling. As Jerome Bruner has argued extensively, “we organize our experience and our memory of human happenings mainly in the form of narrative – stories” (“The Narrative Construction of Reality” 4). Consequently, storytelling is an essential process of identity construction. Throughout his published work, Falke’s characters engage in storytelling to do just that. We see them struggling to pull places, characters and events together to create a narrative of their lives that they can hold on to. As citizens of post-modernity, we have learned to question the authority of a single narrative – and Falke’s work with its many heterogonous voices questions this too – but too often we have lost even the process of creating narrative, a problem this project aims to address. Additionally, our facility for storytelling has suffered as technologies have taught us to emphasize the present over the past, the superficial over the substantial, the transitory over the eternal. Pictures stand in for scenes, and phrases for conversations. In contrast to this trend, early sketches for the project remind us that “if you look long enough in a place, what there is will start to draw you out.” This piece would show us how to look long.
Through its unique dialogue between the spoken word and live traditional American music and its innovative multi-format approach to live performance, which attempts to transcend time and place, Now at the Uncertain Hour would compel us to listen and not only to wonder about ourselves and our own stories, but to wonder about other people’s stories. This too, is a fundamental gift that we can receive from the humanities. What were our grandfathers like as young men? Did seeing new country feel the same to them as to us? What became of the women who taught us to sing? This piece will remind its listeners of the wealth of lives on every side of us – the memories, practices, places and outlooks that will vanish as people pass away. We miss so many opportunities to hear these stories, but Now at the Uncertain Hour would model pausing to hear them and provide a means for listeners to contribute. Another early sketch directs listeners to “[T]hink about what happens when you believe your life has been a gift,” and the program involves us in the answer. This awareness of gift entreats us to listen and to add, as audiences of this production will do, to the stories of those around us.
Ultimately, the program calls us to look, to listen, to speak, to be creators and caretakers of our own and others’ stories, and in doing so it would make us aware of how fragile our passing moments are. Photographs, scraps of paper, lights in windows, smells of specific fields ground us in place and time but only to the extent that we are awake to them. Now at the Uncertain Hour would wake us up and enable us as meaning-makers by laying the fragments of the performance out, in spoken word and music and through multiple channels of communication – live, streaming video, and broadcast radio, in a kind of performative and dialogic collage, and leaving the audience with the task of deciding what to hang on to and how to add our own ordinary yet vital voices to the mosaic.*Many thanks to Cassie Falke for contributing to this project synopsis