Monday, November 30, 2009

Surprise! Faigen's "Porch/Dusk" live, online

Port playwright Joshua Faigen's "Porch/Dusk" didn't start out as a radio play. It morphed into the form after Jack Welch, the former chief editor of Baker’s Plays, got his hands on the script. Thinking it was lacking that always-difficult-to-define "something," Welch, who directed the play at the 2008 New Works Festival, coaxed a new character, a narrator, from the elaborate, almost novelistic stage directions for the 10-minute piece about a Marine bereavement specialist whose job is to deliver the worst news possible — telling families that their mothers, fathers and children made the ultimate sacrifice. This, says Faigen, turned out to be an elegant way of clarifying issues, building mental images and setting atmosphere in the play, crucial in a work like this, in which a small physical space and timeframe is flooded with emotion, unresolved anger, grief and confusion. And, while it wasn't exactly a radio play, seeing how it was playing live, in front of people, on the Firehouse stage, "Porch/Dusk" had the feel and emotional texture of an on-air drama.

The form, of course, is fairly Wobegon, if not quite moribund. No one does radio plays anymore. There's not a whole lot of people even listening to what the cool kids call terrestrial radio, aside from, on opposite sides of the political spectrum, talk radio and NPR junkies. So, last year’s production was a theatrical dead-end for the piece, right?

Well, no. It turns out that there's at least one group still doing radio plays — the Shoestring Radio Theatre in San Francisco.

Faigen, who built two typography companies (talk about old-school) before turning his attention to the stage, sent off the script earlier this year. Shoestring looked at it, liked it and accepted it for production. And the Merrimac Street playwright promptly put it out of his mind, moving on to other projects — like "A Very Simple Play," a new piece that falls somewhere between theater and recital ("I'm not sure what it is, exactly," says the playwright.) and looks at the life, loves and music of Robert Schumann, using the composer's 18-part "Davidsbundlertanze" as a roadmap.

Then, last week, Faigen thought, whatever happened with Shoestring's production, have they even scheduled it? He’e logged onto the company's homepage and, surprise, there it was: A full-fledged old-timey radio-drama production, up and ready to go, complete with sound effects and melodramatic atmospherics. It was a bit of a surprise: Nobody told him, not even an email.

How did they do?

"I thought they did a great job," says the playwright.

Coolest thing about it?

The Foley artists. "You just can't argue with the sound effects," says Faigen. And the ease of "attending" a production. "Sometimes it’s nice to be able to go to the theater without actually moving from your chair, isn’t it?" says Faigen.

And problems?

Only philosophical: "I'm not certain you can call a radio play 'radio' if it's on the internet, but .... whatever," he says — a question better left for another day.

"Porch/Dusk" is paired with Linda Ann Loschiavo's "A Worthie Woman All Hir Live," which looks at the aftermath of a break-in at a woman's house. Both are directed by Russ Hickman. But if you want to hear the show, you better move quickly because it's only up for one week.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: You can listen to the Shoestring Radio Theatre production of Joshua Faigen's "Porch/Dusk" here. Look for the second bullet point (“Shoestring Radio Theatre”) click on “Listen Now." Faigen's "A Very Simple Play" will be staged in February at the North Shore Readers Theater Collaborative and whose comedy "The Agawam," in which eight characters in search of faith (and a decent meatloaf), will be presented at the Actors Studio in April.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Kimball's Santa: Christmas with a twist

Despite the name, which invokes the guy who, for better or worse, is the symbol of what we obliquely call "the season," not wanting to offend anyone, you know that “Santa Come Home” is not going to be the kind of warm-and-fuzzy and uplifting holiday schmaltz usually served up at this time of year — not with a guy named Captain Zeus as a main character and definitely not when a guy named Michael Kimball is the playwright. Kimball, of course, is the guy responsible for "I Fall for You," a collection of seven, comedic shorts — including a three-parter about a disembodied penis named Richard — that played the Firehouse not long ago. No, it won't be one of those overly sweet theatrical fruitcakes that some of us crave as soon as the leaves fall off the trees, with those subtle flavors of nostalgia and Christmases past. It will be — it is — a "typical Michael Kimball comedy," says Newburyport director Tim Diering, Which means "absolute madness, with a difficult-to-summarize and, ultimately dizzying plot, with seven actors on stage, mostly at the same time, each one with his own agenda, each one trying to steamroll over everyone else ("Making it pretty much like life," says Diering.) with just enough naughty bits to keep it interesting.

It's about ... well, it's a difficult play to summarize, like trying to summarize the weird stuff in anybody's family — love, resentment, strained relationships that color everything that happens, traps that are sprung whenever the family comes together. Not that most families are like this one: Father Philip is an (unhappily) retired children's television star who doesn't know what to do with himself now that he's no longer Captain Zeus. Mother Joan, who had to do it all because old Zeus was always on the road and now, with the daughters on their own, she's finally getting something together for herself, when a suddenly unemployed Zeus is hanging around the house, cluttering up a life that is finally starting to make sense. Two daughters, Susanna, a psychiatric nurse with a marriage on the ropes and locked wardful of unresolved anger, with Mom and with Sister Athena, who, within the family dynamic, is sweetness and light. It's Christmas Eve. The family is coming together to stage a Christmas show that will be broadcast live to Taiwan. No one is especially happy about doing the show, except for Philip/Zeus, who is jonesing bigtime. He needs a fame fix. Both the "girls" bring news and uninvited dinner guests (Athena, a guy old enough to be her father, and Susanna a younger mysterious, hyperactive ... what, psychiatric patient?) will test the family to its dysfunctional limits.

The show is about people "casting off their assumed roles in life," says Diering, who directed Kimball's "I Fall for You" at the Firehouse this summer and took it on a short tour that ended at this year's Fringe Festival. Which is true enough, but not quite tough enough, says the playwright. “It’s about people throwing off roles that have been hammered into them, that have pigeoneholed them and given them a false sense of security,”says Kimball, who wrote several successful novels and screenplays before turning his sights to the stage. “Santa” is actually Kimball's first play. (“Submit,” a historical drama about the founding of York, Maine, was co-written with Jennifer Saunders.) He wrote it in 2004 — and has been rewriting it ever since. (It's "mostly done" now. It's gotten to the point where, in this production, there was an animated discussion with an actor about the use of the article "a" in one of his lines. "It really made a difference," says Kimball, who teaches creative writing in the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast MFA program. He originally wanted to cast Diering in the lead role. Diering, who the with the Playwrights Intensive play development series at the Actors Studio, said he was more interesting in directing ("Either way I was going to do the play," he says.). The playwright signed off. "I like his style," says Kimball, whose drama "Ghosts of Ocean House" was nominated for an Edgar Award in 2007 and was recently banned from the Utah State Theatre for its themes of incest, madness and religious domination. "He's very positive, very reflective and incredibly knowledgeable."

The Players Ring production will feature a core of Kimball veterans. Gregg Trzaskowski (Philip) and Lisa Stathoplos (Joan) both performed in Portsmouth theater's production of Kimball's "The Secret of Comedy." Stathoplos has also directed his "Best Enemies." Christine Penney played in Kimball’s "Hideaway" at The Ring last fall. Newburyport actress Tracy Bickel plays the troubled Morgan, a character who "has to be crazy and impish in a troubled way," says Diering. "It's difficult, but she got the character exactly, but way way more." Alan Huisman, fresh from an Act One production of “Over the River and Through the Woods” at the Firehouse, plays Gordon. CJ Lewis plays Tom, Susanna's husband; Caitlin Kelty-Huber plays Athena, the "good" daughter.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: New York Theatre Company will stage Michael Kimball's "Santa Come Home" Nov. 27 to 29 and Dec. 4-6 at the Players Ring, 105 Marcy St., Portsmouth, N.H. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $12, $10 for students and seniors. For reservations, call 603.436.8123 To buy tickets online, click here.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Production doesn't fall short

You know that old saw about the predictable mutability of New England climate? Well, first, it’s true, of course. And, second, the same thing could could be said about "Fall Shorts," the collection of short plays currently being staged at the Actors Studio: If you don't like what you see, just wait a couple of minutes and the production team(s) will throw something completely different at you. The six pieces differ in mood, style and temperament — from “The Object,” Ron Pullin’s strangely fascinating take on obsession during what was supposed to be an all-systems-go hookup gone very, very wrong, to Michael Kimball’s hilarious, straight-outta-Podunk “The Brownwater Legend,” in which an on-the-career-make reporter thinks she’s found the next Jesse James, but ends up with a dope, not a desperado (and a corpse nearly steals the show).

And like New England, the program itself, a collaboration of three regional theater companies — Players’ Ring, Blackburn Performing Arts and Actors Studio — is itself in flux and won’t be repeated. Not exactly, anyhow. All performances will have two plays staged at the Blackburn as part of its Fall Shorts Festival: "But for The Grace of God," the Laura Crook play that looks at the joys and frustrations of moms who meet at a park, never "really" knowing each other, but knowing a lot actually, and Elinor Teele’s “The Baby,” a surreal scene in which a group of strange warriors discover a baby on a soon-to-be post-apocalyptic battlefield.

And this whole “in flux” thing means that second-weekers won’t get to see "The Mediator" and "Coming Clean," written by Ray Arsenault, who shares writing credits with Thacher Freund on the former — two edgy, sexually charged comedies that won Fringe Festival faves honors earlier this year and were clearly crowd favorites at the Actors Studio during their Nov. 13-16 run at the Tannery. Oh, well. You snooze, you lose.

For the closing weekend, they’ll be breaking out two new shorts — "Men are From Milwuakee-Women are from Phoenix" by Lynda Robinson and "Outside the Box" by Nancy Brewka-Clark.

But, now come to think of it, the weather comparison is probably a bit off. It’s easy not to like it too hot or too cold or too wet or whatever. It’s difficult not to like this show: “Fall Shorts” is an ambitious project that does not fall short.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: "Fall Shorts" will be staged Nov. 20-22 at the Actors Studio. Reservations may be made by calling the Actors Studio at 978.465.1229. Showtimes are 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 5 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $15 and $12 for students and seniors.

Name of the game is DiPietro

Remember that old commercial — what was it, shilling sauce or salad dressing or something — with the slogan “Now, that's Italian?” Well, it’s not quite the immediate impression you get looking at names like Anne Rehner, Alan Huisman, Josh Bresette, Meaghan Willis, Carol Davenport and Danny Gerstein, the cast list for “Over the River and Through the Woods,” the Joe DiPietro comedy about an extended Italian family being forced to deal with unwelcome change, right? “Yeah, we’ve thought about changing the names,” says Stephanie Voss Nugent, executive director of Artists Collaborative Theatre of New England, which is bringing the family comedy to the Firehouse this week — and a woman whose name indicates she might herself be, well, ethnically challenged, at least from an Italian perspective. “They’re all over the board, and there’s not a single Italian in the group.” But Nugent, who will direct “Over the River,” says the heart of the story, the thing that accounts for its staying power, is not the idea of ethnicity, but the concept of family. “It’s about an Italian family, but it could be any nationality,” she says. The fact that the company grabbed four Seacoast Spotlight nominations for the show — with the current, decidedly non-Italian cast — demonstrates that you don’t necessarily have to be a paisan to be la famiglia.

Nugent is taking a quick break from the load-in for “Over the River,” which runs Nov. 20-22 at the Firehouse. “I think the show will sit pretty nice on this stage,” she says. The Arakalian Theater stage is roughly the same size as her home base, the West End Theater in Portsmouth, N.H., but the seating capacity of the Islington Street theater is much smaller, comparable to the Actors Studio. It’s her first show at the Market Square venue since 2004, when Act One staged two productions, “Noises Off” and “Forever Plaid,” in a three-way co-production with the Society for the Development of the Arts and Humanities and Hackmatack Theater Company. Act One, although founded in 1997, really started taking off during its five-year residency at the massive Winnacunnet Performing Arts Center, located in Winnacunnet Regional High School in Hampton, N.H. Nugent put the company on hold in 2004 after scheduling issues with the school district came up. When the West End — a “magical” space, she says — opened up in 2006, Nugent revived the company, which has mounted three short-run productions of “Over the River” over the past two years. It has been a consistent draw because it’s a nice play and a warm story about ordinary people. “These are realistic people you can identify with right away,” Nugent says.

In the play, written by DiPietro, author of “I Love You, You’re Perfect, Now Change,” in 1996, Nick Cristano has been offered the job of his dreams, far far away. Now he has to deal with the nightmare — telling the family — the grands especially, that the Sunday dinner that has been a family ritual for close to three decades will soon be coming to an end, that their precious little boy(and they always think of you like that, no matter how old you get) is going away. And, nope, they don’t take it well. They become increasingly desperate as they try to hold on. “At first you laugh until you cry,” says Nugent, “then you end up just sobbing. It’s so filled with love that you get a lump in your throat. It's about loving and letting go, or trying to let go. It about trying to figure out how to say thank you for for loving me so much. It’s a beautiful story.”

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Act One will stage Joe DiPietro's "Over the River and Through the Woods" Nov. 20-22 at the Firehouse. Showtimes are 7:30 p.m. Friday and Saturday and 3 p.m. Sunday. Tickets are $20, or $18 for students and members of the Society for the Development of the Arts and Humanities. For more information, call 978.462.7336 or log onto the Firehouse web.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Turning the Red Planet green

They say that what doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and humans, being the frustrating perverse and clever creatures that they are, may be able to take it a step further, harnessing the thing scientists say is the greatest danger to our survival on this planet and actually putting it to good use — assuming we can get our act together, enviornmentally and politically. It’s called terraforming — intentionally altering the climate to turn Mars, our galactic neighbor, into a living planet with forests, lakes, and (eventually) breathable air. And it means, in essense, finally getting serious about global warming, but in exactly the opposite way that we're thinking about it now. It’s about first, getting to Mars, which has been bleak and barren for billions of years, and setting up shop old-school, churning out those greenhouse gasses until we turn the Red Planet green.

Pipe dreams? Sounds it. Colonizing Mars (or, conversely, avoiding being colonized by “them”) has been science fiction boilerplate for the entirety of the modern era. But the forces behind terraforming are not pale white boys talking sci-fi trash during rare excursions from their basement lairs. These are serious people, like NASA astrobiologist Dr. Chris McKay, who has spent three decades researching extreme environments on earth, places where the bare necessities of life are met, as a prologue to planetary engineering. It is also the subject of “Mars: Making the New Earth,” the latest documentary by Newburyport filmmaker Mark Davis, who won an Emmy for Outstanding Science, Technology and Nature Programming last October for "Five Years on Mars," his film about Spirit and Opportunity, the Mars rovers that defied everyone’s expectations by surviving five-plus years — and delivering a mountain of data that will keep scientists busy for years. The new film debuts Nov. 19 on the National Geographic Channel.

But don't pack your bags yet. It will take 100,000 years, give or take a thousand or two, to turn Mars habitable, with a (minimum requirement) breathable atmosphere, for humans, let alone a cosmic vacation destination. But, scientists say, it could be “warm, wet and ready for (primitive) life” in about a century. "Mars: Making the New Earth," a part of NatGeo's Expedition Week series, is a step-by-step guide on how to reanimate a foul, nasty planet with an average temperature of -80 degrees and an atmosphere made up of deadly ultraviolet and cosmic radiation, a place that has been dead as a cosmic doornail and frozen solid for 3.5 billion years.

As with any big project, you start with baby steps. First, get there, necessarily with a small, expeditionary force. Then start cooking the atmosphere, setting up little factories, which, of course, would have to be built from scratch, and make use of super greenhouse gasses like sulfur and florine, thousands of times more potent from a planetary warming point of view, than fossil fuels and both present on the planet. Slightly warmer temperatures would set off natural processes that would get the greenhouse ball rolling. After 100 years, liquid water would exist. The atmosphere would thicken, turning the Martian sky blue. Although much of the planet would remain icy, like above the Arctic Circle, life would be possible. Lichen and mosses would be introduced. The primitive life forms would break rock down into soil, paving the way, so to speak, for grass and shrubs. Then high-altitude fir trees, possibly genetically engineered, would be introduced. This would improve the soil and atmosphere, making it possible for more complex life forms — humans — to exist, if we don't wipe out the species by ourselves.

Terraforming represents "planetary engineering on an almost inconceivable scale," the documenary admits. "It sounds crazy, but it's a scientifically credible idea," says Davis, 59, whose previous documentaries include “The Curse of T-Rex” in 1996, and “Mars Dead or Alive” in 2005, and who is currently chasing an American Experience deadline for his documentary on the so-called “bone wars,” a knock-down/drag-out battle between paleontologists Charles Marsh and Edward Cope. But why do it, other than to show off how clever we are? Our survival may depend of it. In the distant future, our sun will grow larger and burn hotter, a process that cannot be stopped; the closest planets will burn first. The only future, long long term, will be to escape to the farther reaches of the galaxy. To do that, we, if we exist, will have to know how to build a better planet. But, in the here and now, the reason to do this, beyond the fact that it is in our nature to explore, is knowledge: how planets work, how to keep them alive.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN — "Mars: The New Earth" airs at 9 p.m. Nov. 19 on the National Georgraphic Channel. Check your local listings.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Diary of a band ... and community

After a decade on the road, you should have learned all the tricks, so there's no worries about Tiger Saw being shoved aside by the non-human acts on the bill, a fate that famously befell Spinal Tap in 1982 when its troubled Smell the Glove tour pulled into Themeland Amusement Park and its hapless interim manager discovered that a puppet show took top billing for the gig. Nope, when Dylan Metrano, the Newburyport-born but for the past couple of years Portland-based musician pulls into Jabberwocky this weekend to promote “All My Friends Are Right Here with Me: A Decade in the Indie Rock Underground” (a book, of all things for a musician to be peddling!) the puppets will be incorporated into the gig — er, reading.

Published by Burst & Bloom in Portsmouth, “All My Friends” follows Tiger Saw’s zig-zag musical history, from the pretty, melodic minimalism of its early years to the community-building choruses and singalongs of the middle years and, ulitmately, the controversial about-face of its basement soul — a decade-long run of some 800 shows in a dozen countries. In clubs, galleries, even in the branches of an oceanside fir tree, the anecdote that the book opens with — or, as author, and Tiger Saw founder Dylan Metrano says, “any place people will gather to listen to music,” it is the story of a restless, constantly evolving band, and like-minded colleagues and road dogs who have since become friends — and a look at the scene, a way of life with rewards that do not translate into bottom line. The book comes with a 13-track CD featuring new takes on old TS tracks performed by the musicians who have been part the story, from Jason Anderson and Moons of Jupiter to Picastro and Quiet Bears.

And the hand puppets? Form follows function. The book, part tour diary and part oral history, which would make for a confusing reading if you did it straight and an awkward and, not to put too fine a point on it, silly reading if you attempted to do voices. Odd as it may sound, a puppet show seemed “a more natural way” of presenting such material, says Metrano, during a recent telephone interview. He’s in Annapolis, between shows on a two-week tour with Tiny Fires, a new band featuring Metrano, Guy Capecelatro III, Jeremy Robinson and Jerusha Robinson, which has been tramping through the Midwest and up the East Coast, playing every night, without travel dates, to support their self-titled debut album. Metrano’s Nov. 13 reading at Jabberwocky represents the last date on the current tour and the start of a brief break before the next, in which Tiger Saw will add two notches to its country total as it stomps across Australia and New Zealand with Castanets and Alps. It's a crazy schedule, but "if you're not playing, you're paying,” Metrano says. “You do what you can, try to get in as much as you can. Lots of places to be, lots of people to see. It's good to keep moving, I guess. It feels right.” They’ve done the puppet-thing at a couple of the quieter venues on the tour. “People have been receptive,” Metrano says. “but it’s definitely a work in progress.”

Diary of a band

Working with handwritten tour diaries he's kept since putting together Tiger Saw at the turn of the century, Metrano took his first shot at getting together some kind of history about Tiger Saw’s first decade about a year and a half ago, but, first impression, it just didn’t sing. “It was tedious and boring stuff ... that no one in his right mind would be interested in if he wasn't in the band.” On the other hand, as he pushed forward, the road stories started to look “like something.” A book? He wasn’t sure. He passed on what he had to Greg Moss, his old bandmate from the Port proto-punk band Hamlet Idiot in the late 1980s and now a professional playwright. He agreed: There was something there. He suggested that Metrano flesh out the story with first-person accounts, something along the lines of “Please Kill Me: The Uncensored Oral History of Punk” by Legs McNeil and Gillian McCain. The project started jelling after that.

It's a small, in some ways unremarkable, story, without the kind of big-splash sex-and-drugs-and-rehab-n-roll in “All My Friends” that dresses up Behind the Music bios. There's none, actually. And no groupies or hotel rampages. What makes it work is the fact that, despite its lack of excess, the story is so rock and roll — though definitely not the rock fantasy that usually springs to mind. It could be the story of any band coming up, trying to make it — and doing it on its own terms, without corporate bankrolls. It’s about hard work and hustle and DIY necessities, being jammed into a vehicle with all your gear and your bandmates and crashing on someone's couch and staggering weary-eyed to the next gig. It's about community.

“Few oppornuties are just handed to you. You make it on hard work and with the help of your friends," Metrano writes. "I think I’ve learned something about myself doing it. We play what we want — and that feels good.” It is an honest, unblinking account, not only of the work it takes, but also of the conflicts within the band, which led, first, to the departure of original member Juliet Nelson, the cellist and vocalist who was, in large measure, responsible for the Tiger Saw sound — and even Kimchee Records executive Bob Dubrow's stinging dismissal ("I don't like R&B dance kockoffs done by white boys and girls that sounds like it's being done by white boys and girls.") of late Tiger Saw's party vibe. "It would be silly to exclude it," he says. "There will always be conflict within a group" — especially, he says, when you have to deal with someone like him, who is "very particular about what I'm trying to create."

Metrano, who hasn't performed in Newburyport since the 2007 show with Scary Mansion at the Firehouse. (“I don’t know know if there's much of an audience there anymore, or if there’s even a scene,” he says. “I’m not as connected as I used to be.”) says the book, of course, is also his story. “I was in my early 20s when I started the band," he says. "Now I'm in my early 30s. I grew up with this band. I don't know if I wanted it to be this, I don't know what I wanted it to be. I was interested in playing music, but also in writing and acting. Music ended up taking over. I don’t know where I'll be in another 10 years. I could have a different life, but it's not important to figure it out. I know what I want to do now.”

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Dylan Metrano will read from “All My Friends Are Right Here With Me, A Decade in the Indie Rock Underground,” at 7 p.m. Nov. 13 at Jabberwocky, located at the Tannery, 50 Water St., Newburyport. The event is free. For more information about the reading, call 978-465-9359. For more information about the band, look here.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Fujit Fiat Vox: Latin, sort of, for eclectic choral

Fujit Fiat Vox's concert next week at the First Religious Society will be the debut for the chamber choir and a homecoming, of sorts, wrapped into one, and we're going to talk about that, we really are, but, first, what's the deal with the name, Music Director Joshua Anand Slater? Like how do you pronounce "Fujit," which looks like a first declension Czech verb or something vaguely Japanese, and what does it mean? Well, bit of a story here: Slater pronounces it "foo-jeht," but leaves the pronunciation up to individuals. There's no correct way to say it since it's not a real word. He made it up or, rather, adapted it from Tempus Fugit, Latin for "time flies," the name of a colleague's ensemble several years ago, back when he was teaching at the Sparkhawk School. He changed Fugit to Fujit ("for the profound reason that I think it’s prettier spelled that way") and tacked on Fiat Vox ("my hubristic Latin motto") lifted from the Vulgate Old Testament: the let-there-be-light business being transformed into 'let there be voices,' more or less — "silly, probably," Slater says, "but I think it's fun."

Yeah, he's a down-to-earth guy with a quirky sense of humor who thinks classical musicians are a little too full of themselves sometimes, the kind of guy who leaves possibly embarrassing tidbits in his online bio, like the reference to his nickname, Butterfingers. That came when Slater — a singer, an organist and conductor — got "roped into" filling in on bass drums for a performance of Copland's "Fanfare for the Common Man." He figured, how hard could it be? Just whomp the drum, right? Famous last words: Stick went flying, face went deepest shade of scarlet possible and then he got "the Indiana Jones look," the one from the final scenes of "Raiders of the Lost Ark," when faces melt. And then there was the egg ocarina incident at Sparhawk, where Slater taught from 2004 to 2007: "They break pretty easily," he says. That was the end of his percussion career ("probably best for everyone involved," he says), and right about the time that Tempus Fugit timed out. Slater, who had been talking about starting a chorus for years, picked up the musical ball and ran with it, but the project stalled without ever getting to the point of performance. Then this spring, when Slater was "running my notoriously large mouth" about choral music, a friend called his bluff, told him, essentially, that he should put up or shut up. He started collecting singers from around Boston "who can sing anything, any time and sound fantastic doing it" and rehearsing through the summer.

The program for the Newburyport debut will be eclectic, from the medieval (Antoine Busnoys’ "Missa L’homme Armé," French sacred music from the 15th century) to the Baroque ( Johann Sebastian Bach’s "Lobet den Herrn") to the modern (Ralph Vaughn Williams' "Mass in G minor" and Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Bendita Sabedoria"). "Maybe in that order," says Slater. There is, plainly, no overarching theme — a deliberate choice. "Sometimes themed shows work too hard to be cohesive," he says. He selected the material because the music is worth doing for its own sake. There will be 15 voices in the Port program, which will be repeated the next day in Boston, but the number is not fixed and will number 12 to 24 people, depending on the program. Slater chose Newburyport, in part, because his wife has family in the city — "guaranteeing," he says, "that we'll sell at least 10 tickets."

As long as they're not expecting comps.

JUST THE FACTS, MAN: Fujit Fiat Vox performs at 7 p.m. Nov. 14 at First Religious Society, 26 Pleasant St., Newburyport. The program features Johann Sebastian Bach’s "Lobet den Herrn," Antoine Busnoys’ "Missa L’homme Armé," Ralph Vaughn Williams' "Mass in G minor" and Heitor Villa-Lobos' "Bendita Sabedoria." Suggested donation is $20 adults, $15 students/seniors. The ensemble will also perform at 3 p.m. Nov. 15 at Church of Our Savior, 25 Monmouth St., Brookline. There's more information on Fujit here.

Building the future on Plum Island

Newburyport architect Andrew Sidford's Sea View House, a unique, striking home on the dunes of Plum Island, is currently the front-runner in The House Vote, a daily thumbs-up/thumbs-down ballot on architecture and residential design created by Michael Cannell, former editor of the House & Home section of The New York Times. But the images on The House Vote, or even the extensive collection on Sidford's own web, do not begin to capture the experience of the P Street property, which combines modern, almost futuristic, design elements with the kind of traditional, windswept New England beach feel you would expect, incorporating economic and ecological efficiencies to create something that goes way beyond drab, de rigueur Green, with the architect working with a palette of philosophical and aesthetic colors that makes a statement about twenty-first century practicalities and our changing relationship with the land and the planet.

The somewhat misleadingly named Sea View House is located away from the oceanfront, on the surprisingly serene, and often overlooked, bayside section of Plum Island, close to the northern tip of the island, wrapped tight by the Merrimack River. There are no direct ocean views, but, with four strategically placed decks, there are stunning vistas in every direction. The building, which employs a number of Green strategies, from basic scaling-down to passive cooling and radiant heating strategies, seems to hover over the land, but conjures the mental image of a ship. It is dominated by a glass-enclosed central tower, which feeds light through the structure. The tower is flanked by steep-sloped aluminum roofs that reflect heat and light. It stands on pilings that have been conceived and incorporated as part of the design, not as the necessity that they are. The space unfurls, cascades upwards, reaching a crescendo with an upper deck with a brilliant view of the Merrimack as it snakes around the island. In a sense, the interior and exterior spaces of Sea View House mirror the river — flowing gracefully, but offering plenty of intriguing eddies.

The footprint is just 2,200 square feet, snug even by PI standards, which is significant only on paper: The building has a big feel because of the creative distribution of space within the open design. Living spaces (they do not correspond to traditional four-walls-and-a-couple-of-windows ideas of rooms) radiate from the tower. Rooms are small by traditional standards — some of them "ridiculouly small," Sidford says, especially in the case of the dining area, which is roughly eight-by-eight, but works within the context of the design and the geometry of the space. Rooms are interconnected and "share" space. For example, the kitchen — placed on the upper level of the house, allowing the owner, Dr. David Sorenson, to take advantage of the views — is on a separate level, but just a couple of steps above the dining area, connecting the two spaces and, essentially, enlarging both. The bedrooms and work areas are on the lower levels. The decks, too, are also small, but versatile, looking in different directions, allowing the occupant to enjoy the sun or shade, views of the river or the oceanside, the breeze, or shelter from it: different views, different light, different experiences.

"The house is a machine," says Sidford, whose past projects include restoration of the 1850 Carriage House of the Lord Timothy Dexter House. "It has to work. I hope to inspire more than that, but first it has to work."