For most people who try to make their living making art of some sort, the old stereotype of the starving artist living in an unheated garret and spending one’s busking change on books or paints comes closer to reality than the images of jet-setting celebrities with which we’re daily bombarded. Such ragged characters have tugged at our hearts for centuries in countless novels and plays, operas, ballets and movies. And now, with multimedia performance art the rising artform of the day, artists are finding new ways to convey their ageless cris de coeur.
One of these is New York City-based singer/composer/playwright/filmmaker/multi-instrumentalist Cynthia Hopkins, known for shows like The Success of Failure (or, the Failure of Success) and This Clement World in which she draws connections between microcosmic personal struggles and macrocosmic concerns like global warming or the death of the Sun while dressed in a spacesuit, fright wig and pig’s nose – or nothing at all. The soundtracks of her stage pieces might involve her playing a musical saw in front of a string quartet or making up absurd new voices for people she interviewed on videotape but didn’t record properly. And always she sings, in a voice whose phrasing evokes now Natalie Merchant, now Billie Holiday, but without the gravel of either.
Hopkins has performed at bastions of the semi-avant-garde like St. Ann’s Warehouse, the Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Walker Art Center, won accolades from The New York Times, two Obie Awards, a Bessie, an Alpert and a Guggenheim Fellowship – but still has some difficulty paying her rent on time. So her latest work, A Living Documentary, is a stripped-down one-woman show in which she explores “the trials and tribulations of earning a living as a professional theater artist in the 21st century.” Among the lessons that she has learned, as voiced by one of the five characters whom she portrays in the full-length piece, is this: “Be honest and true to who you are…and don’t write more than three characters if you want to get produced.”
Cautionary tale for aspiring young arts students to major in something more practical? Or funny, poignant evening of musical theater to which we can all relate? Find out this weekend in the LUMA Theater at the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College, as the ever-provocative Live Arts Bard program presents Cynthia Hopkins in two performances of A Living Documentary. (Warning to parents: The program contains nudity.) The show begins at 7:30 p.m. on Friday and Saturday, February 20 and 21. Tickets cost $25 general admission, $10 for students, and can be ordered by calling the box office at (845) 758-7900 or online at https://fishercenter.bard.edu.
Cynthia Hopkins’ A Living Documentary, Friday/Saturday, February 20/21, 7:30 p.m., $25/$10, LUMA Theater, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson; (845) 758-7900, https://fishercenter.bard.edu.