Now that fantasy author extraordinaire Neil Gaiman is on the faculty at Bard College, teaching just one class per semester, third- and fourth-year students dream and scheme to be among the favored few admitted. But for those of us in the broader mid-Hudson Valley, all we need to do to enjoy his informal, free-associative way of sharing information in front of a group is to buy a ticket to one of his twice-yearly Conversations onstage at the Fisher Center on the Bard campus.
The first two in the series proved Gaiman an excellent raconteur, as skilled at putting his celebrity guests at ease and drawing out their thoughts on an ever-shifting spectrum of arts-related topics as he is comfortable, humorous and charmingly self-deprecating when talking about his own career. With Maus author Art Spiegelman the main theme was graphic novels and with The Time-Traveler’s Wife author Audrey Niffenegger the challenges of writing in that sci-fi subgenre, but the conversations ranged widely enough to demonstrate the unpredictable sparks that can fly and the original insights that they can ignite when two highly creative minds meet to chat. It’s a rare treat to watch such interplay happen in real time, if you’re not the sort of person who gets invited to dinner or cocktail parties populated with a dense array of brilliant artists.
This Friday evening, the “Neil Gaiman in Conversation” series will venture into new territory: the performing arts. More and more of late, the author has been turning his public readings into multimedia events, accompanied by an avant-garde string quartet with projected illustrations from one of his books as a backdrop. He has even been heard on this same stage singing a duet of “Makin’ Whoopee” with his wife, indie/pop singer/songwriter/pianist/provocateur Amanda Palmer on ukulele. So it makes perfect sense that an artist long commanding the stellar heights of multimedia performance, superinnovative composer/musician/director/inventor Laurie Anderson, should be the next invited to Bard for some onstage interplay. One of Anderson’s collaborations with her late husband, avant/rocker Lou Reed, was titled “The Lost Art of Conversation,” and this event will provide a public opportunity to help revive same.
Where does one even begin talking about Anderson’s incredibly prolific career, the ground that she has broken so many times, the awards and accolades heaped upon her, the legends with whom she has worked? Most listeners first became acquainted with her experimentation with electronic sound gadgetry when “O Superman” became a surprise chart-topper in the UK in 1981. Anderson pioneered music videos before MTV was born. She invented two musical instruments: the tape-bow violin and the talking stick. She was the first-ever artist-in-residence both for NASA and, right here in the Hudson Valley, for the Experimental Media and Performing Arts Center at the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. She has curated arts festivals and created performance pieces for Olympic opening ceremonies and audiovisual installations for world’s fairs. She has published seven books and her visual work has been presented in major museums around the world. If anybody can fairly be called the Queen of the Underground, it’s Laurie Anderson; but that certifiable goddess status doesn’t mean that she thinks it beneath her to do a voiceover for a Rugrats movie. If it’s a creative field, her questing mind wants to go there and see what she can do.
“Story Structure” and “Fiction versus Autobiography” are the announced topics for the April 3 schmooze at Bard, but expect boundaries to be leapt with alacrity. If you want to hear Anderson reminisce about Lou Reed (or William S. Burroughs or John Cage) or Gaiman about Terry Pratchett (whose funeral he just attended last week) or ask him for his thoughts on starting a second family (Palmer recently tweeted an announcement of her pregnancy), get there early and you’ll have a chance to fill out a card with a question for the audience-participation segment that typically ends these shows.
“Neil Gaiman in Conversation with Laurie Anderson” begins at 7:30 p.m. in the Sosnoff Theater of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College. Tickets cost $25 general admission and $5 for Bard students and staff, and can be ordered online at https://fishercenter.bard.edu or by calling the box office at Sosnoff Theater of the Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts at Bard College (845) 758-7900.
Neil Gaiman in Conversation with Laurie Anderson, Friday, April 3, 7:30 p.m., $25/$5, Sosnoff Theater, Richard B. Fisher Center for the Performing Arts, Bard College, Annandale-on-Hudson; (845) 758-7900, https://fishercenter.bard.edu.