At Daniel’s Art Party, Simon Rocks!
Ken Roht, choreographer-director-writer-performer and all-around theatrical auteur.
By Sharon Smullen
Ken Roht has escaped from Los Angeles. The avant-garde auteur of progressive theater has left the land of films and face-lifts to travel east. Lucky for us he landed in Great Barrington at Simon’s Rock.
Roht’s calling card is “Daniel’s Art Party” (known as DAP). The new festival runs from June 12 to July 1 in the early college’s eponymous Daniel Arts Center, whose director Sandy Cleary is an old friend — they both worked with late Iranian-American experimental theater visionary Reza Abdoh.
It’s the first time Simon’s Rock has produced original work outside the classroom, says Cleary. Costuming will be lavish, she promises — her mom runs Shakespeare & Company’s wardrobe department, after all.
DAP is a smorgasbord of seven separate events designed to engage the community as audience and participants. Tickets are modestly priced; with a $50 pass you can have it all.
Roht describes them as offerings “that give a flavor of where we’d like to go conceptually and artistically in this space.” His tastes range from slightly off-color “Orange Star” dinner theater to revivalist spiritual salvation for the creative soul. Say “Amen” to that, brothers and sisters…
He has made theater for 35 years, as dancer, director, choreographer, actor, writer — doing it all and doing it well. Ten years ago he wowed the crowds at Bard SummerScape’s voluptuous Spiegeltent, creating an alt-cabaret series with top-tier performers. This guy has an eye for talent, and he’s bringing plenty of it with him to the Rock. His DAP tribe includes established troupes, Broadway performers, arts students, farmers, firefighters, girl scouts and salsa dancers.
Top: Actress Lauren Elder and fiber artist/sculptor Huck Elling. Bottom: Moving Arts Exchange’s Ellen Gorman and Andrea Blacklow, and actor James Warwick.
No theater can contain Roht’s imagination — it spills into the hallways and out to the far reaches of the campus. The first event on the schedule invites audiences to explore the Daniel Arts Center with Sir Edward Elgar, played by Shakespeare & Company’s scion Martin Jason Asprey, on a surreal pop-art ballet tour based on the Victorian composer’s Enigma Variations. “He wrote fourteen, one for each of his dearest friends including his dog,” explains Cleary.
Andrea Goodman’s Cantilena Chamber Choir gets a workout under the Victor Borge-esque baton of Maestro Doolally, alter ego of Brit expat James Warwick. The choral music is so moving and powerful, Warwick says, “then I get up and ruin it. It’s a clown show with classical music, going from the sublime to the ridiculous.”
Fiber artist Huck Elling’s kinda creepy animal masks become weird creatures skulking around the campus in an interactive scavenger hunt by Michael Counts, a crazy collision of technology and theater.
Hungry for more? “Orange Star Smasharoo!” is a country western musical dinner theater farce starring Broadway belter Lauren Elder and Victor Borge’s daughter Rikke. Eat dinner onstage while an over-the-top Wyoming family drama acts out around you.
Then there’s a Country Fair variety show, with cheese, pickles, a pie-eating contest and some adorable goats. Dominic Palumbo of Moon in the Pond Farm rustles up farmer friends for a harvest hoe-down, playing music till the cows come home.
On a more thoughtful note, local “Leatherheads” firefighters display their courage in a multimedia evening of powerful pictures and stories, with music newly composed by Julien Zotique.
On Sunday, worship at the altar of the Arts, courtesy of Obie-won Chris Wells. The Secret City Revival Show has celebrated creativity on both coasts for a decade with outrageous costumes, music, dance, poetry, you name it. Thanks to Roht, Daniel’s Art Party promises to do all that and more.
People don’t know who I am, says Roht. It’s safe to say that, after DAP, they will.
Daniel’s Art Party
June 12 to July 1, 2018
Daniel Arts Center, Bard College at Simon’s Rock
84 Alford Rd., Great Barrington, MA
Tickets: $10-$15, kids $5. All-Access Pass $50, kids $25.