The fall season at Bard College’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts kicks off with a performance by Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra on September 5 and 6. Even for an institution renowned for adventurous, cutting-edge programming, Palmer and her group, who will be performing music from her album-in-the-making, Theatre is Evil, will break the mold, ushering in a new era. A Boston-based performer who started her solo career five years ago, after the cult cabaret band she formed, Dresden Dolls, disbanded, Palmer is the inaugural visiting artist for Live Arts Bard, the college’s new performing arts residency program.
During her three-week residency, which started in mid August, Palmer is onstage shooting a music video for her new album, recruiting lots of Bard students, according to Gideon Lester, Bard’s new director of theater programs. The album will be released in November. Palmer is also preparing her stage show for her international tour, which kicks off in November at the college.
Next spring, Palmer will return to Bard for an acoustic concert with her husband, novelist Neil Gaiman; and in the fall of 2013 she will develop a new musical with Bard students. “We have a long-term relationship with her,” said Lester, who described Palmer as a “very charismatic performer and great singer/songwriter. My hope is that she and other artists see us as a testing ground.”
But it isn’t just Palmer’s performing style and multiple projects – which will provide students with the rare opportunity to experience firsthand how an artist develops her material, as well as participate in that process – that are establishing a new paradigm for this institution of higher learning. Two years ago, Palmer dropped her label and began self-producing her art. She recently raised $1.5 million on Kickstarter and has effectively deployed Twitter and other social networking media to develop and nurture her fanbase. “She’s got a completely new model,” said Lester. “She’s living her life in public, and hundreds of thousands of people are following her.”
Palmer epitomizes the new breed of artist whom Lester is seeking for his program. “I’m looking for entrepreneurs – artists who are pushing the boundaries of their artform and helping us to think about the world we live in in new ways,” he said. “I’m interested in research and development, just as if we were running a science lab. I’m interested in transformative ideas, of how we use the stage and engage an audience, of new relationships between art and democracy. The common thread is entrepreneurship and innovation.”
Lester, an artistic director and dramaturge, formerly taught at Columbia University’s School of the Arts. He also worked at American Repertory Theater, based at Harvard, for 13 years. In his new job he is chair of the undergraduate performing arts program, as well as curator for the program of professional performances at the Fisher Center; central to his role is bringing the two together.
The College was motivated to start the residency program in part because of the dearth of opportunities for artists to develop their work. The current economic crisis has hit artists hard, making venues in New York City and State just too expensive, said Lester. The result is that “Increasingly, we’re losing lots of artists to Europe, which is a huge loss for both audiences and communities.” Besides students, Lester said that the new program will also benefit the public: Audiences will have the opportunity to gain insights “on how really interesting artists develop their work. You can see them at the workshop stage, and then a couple of years later experience the fully fledged project at Fisher Center.”
The performances by Palmer will feature her 1980s-influenced synth/rock and Brit/pop pieces, such as “Do It with a Rockstar,” as well as ballads such as “Trout Heart Replica” and “Grown Man Cry.” The Grand Theft Orchestra features Michael McQuilken, Chad Raines and Jherek Bischoff.
Palmer will be followed by the Grammy Award-winning Carolina Chocolate Drops on September 15 and the American Ballet Theater on October 5 through 7. For a full schedule of performances and upcoming artists, visit www.fishercenter.bard.edu.
Amanda Palmer and the Grand Theft Orchestra will perform Theatre is Evil at Bard’s Fisher Center for the Performing Arts on September 5 and 6 at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost $35. To book, visit www.fishercenter.bard.edu or call (845) 758-7900.