77 Dream Songs (1980)
77 Dream Songs, subtitled An American Wayang, was my graduate thesis project. Based on the Pulitzer-Prize-winning poetry of John Berryman (1914 - 1972), the Dream Songs provided an opportunity to explore a variety of themes about identity, gender, racism, and personal ethics as manifested in American culture. The performance mode throughout was highly stylized. The performers did not play specific "characters," rather the main character of Henry was identified by the person wearing glasses and holding a briefcase (in essence, identity by accessories). The other recurring character, unnamed by Berryman but recognizable as one of the "end men" in a minstrel show - he addresses Henry as "Mr. Bones" so that would make him "Mr. Tambo" - is likewise identified by a black face mask and signature hand gestures. This use of costume and gesture to define characters was derived from the Indonesian wayang orang performances, where live actors mimic the motions of shadow puppets. All the scenes were accompanied by music, played by a live three-piece jazz ensemble, who worked closely with the performers so that the spoken texts would gradually settle into "musical" patterns. In this way, the texts became like songs, closely accompanied by music, but never actually sung, with the exception of Dream Song #40, which was sung as "Henry's Blues." These images convey some of the key scenes from the work, which lasted 90 minutes, and also included video, film, and recorded sound components.