Ellen Maddow with Talking Band / by Declan Maloney Drummond

 Photo by Suzanne Opton

Photo by Suzanne Opton

What is Fusiform Gyrus - A Septet for Two Scientists and Five Horns about, and what drew you to this story?

Fusiform Gyrus is a music theatre piece which celebrates the resilience of friendship, the power of music to make us feel like anything can happen, and the rigorous tradition of scientific discovery in a world where scientific truth is often challenged.

The characters are Dr. Fred Decker and Aiden Grey, PHD, two eccentric scientists in the throes of an intellectual romance. They pass ideas back and forth like chocolates. They are curious, questioning, obsessed observers of the natural world.  They work side by side, finishing each other’s thoughts, blissfully leap frogging from epiphany to epiphany. 

They are accompanied by a quintet of horn players - tuba, trumpet, trombone, baritone and alto saxophone. When the musicians begin to play, they become one being - a ten-lunged organism, brassy and brilliant - and we experience the push, thump and echo of sound waves moving through space, the power of big sound up close, intimate and live.

I have been lucky to have been invited to attend a number of workshops in Banff, Canada that are a gathering of scientists and mathematicians who make art, and writers who write about mathematics and science. I am interested in the way that scientists see and interact with the world. I also read about the relationship between Daniel Kahneman and Amos Tversky, in the book, The Undoing Project by Michael Lewis. I was struck by the image of their colleagues overhearing them alone in a room laughing uproariously. I loved the idea of two people whose minds connect and generate brilliant ideas. I wanted to write a play with a relationship like that. I am interested in the different ways people can love and inspire each other.

What was the writing process like for this show?

I am always experimenting with the event of live theatre in this time when most art is experienced on a screen. What can live theatre do that is exciting and different? So I got the idea of writing music for five live horn players to be performed in a small space. The DOT theatre at HERE is the perfect venue for this visceral experience.

I was also interested in exploring and celebrating scientific thought, especially what we can know about the interface between our brain and the world. So while I was writing I read a lot of books. Some of the most influential were - Naming Nature by Carol Kaesuk Yoon, The Gene by Siddhartha Mukherjee, I Died For Beauty by Marjorie Seneschal, At The Existential Cafe by Sarah Bakewell, Behave by Robert M. Sapolsky. And of course the play is strongly influenced by what happens in the rehearsal room - the input of the actors, Paul Zimet, and Tom Nelis, the director, Ellie Heyman, and the five endlessly creative and talented musicians - Chris DiMeglio, Lathan Hardy, Sam Kulik, Jessica Lurie, and Peter Zummo.

 Photo by Suzanne Opton

Photo by Suzanne Opton

You’ve been described “a cornerstone of New York City’s avant-garde theatre community,” since 1974. How did Talking Band develop and strengthen its voice as a company?

The first couple of years of the Talking Band we would work on performing poems and songs and then invite a bunch of our friends over to drink wine and listen to us.  People were very enthusiastic, and so we kept it up.

Now we try to constantly challenge and re-invent ourselves - to try to see things in a new way, to expose ourselves to different ways to generate theatrical ideas. We do exploratory labs on different topics such as - photographic imagery, the paintings of Caravaggio, melodrama, puppetry, ancient Greek theatre, etc., and we try to work with talented younger people, such as Ellie Heyman who directed Fusiform Gyrus.

How have you seen the avant-garde theatre scene in NYC change over the years?

It’s definitely more challenging.  There is less funding for the arts and its increasingly hard for younger artists to support themselves since the cost of living is so much higher (especially rent!). But there are a lot of talented theatre people out there still making amazing new work, as well as groups like ours that have been around for a long time such as the Wooster Group and Target Margin.  I love to go to the theatre and be inspired by people’s limitless energy imaginations.

alking Band’s world premiere of Fusiform Gyrus - A Septet for Two Scientists and Five Horns, written and composed by OBIE Award winner Ellen Maddow, and directed by Ellie Heyman (Director in Residence at Joe’s Pub, Jason Craig & Dave Malloy’s Beardo). Fusiform Gyrus runs from February 7 - 25 (opens Feb. 13) at HERE (145 6th Ave.) in NYC. For more info visit http://TalkingBand.org