MIKEL ROUSE TRILOGY (DENNIS CLEVELAND/THE END OF CINEMATICS/FAILING KANSAS) Written and performed by Rouse. June 7-?14, various times, locations. 416-872-1111. See Openings. Rating: NNNNN
Mikel Rouse wants to dispel the myth that opera is archaic and inaccessible.
“People shouldn’t be afraid of the word ‘opera,’” he says. “The term is much broader than most people think.”
Take his trilogy of acclaimed “media operas,” Failing Kansas, Dennis Cleveland and The End Of Cinematics, performed in repertory for the first time.
Rouse, who wrote and performs in all three shows, has been on the cutting edge of music and performance art for almost two decades. His goal in these high-tech operas is to reach out to new audiences by updating the traditional theatre experience.“My dilemma with music theatre is how to engage younger audiences,” he explains on the phone from his Midtown Manhattan home. “They just don’t find current Broadway and off-?Broadway shows very believable.”
To combat this perceived indifference, Rouse sets his mixed media pieces in places that TV and film have already rendered familiar. Dennis Cleveland, for example, takes the form of a daytime talk show. Throughout the performance, camera operators and a live production team project real-time video of Dennis (played by Rouse), his zany guests and the audience onto massive screens, just like on TV.
Rouse also employs his obsessive attention to detail to better reproduce these familiar spaces. For The End Of Cinematics, which blurs the line between film and reality, the audience is immersed in the typical moviegoing experience. Trailers for coming attractions are screened beforehand, and popcorn and soda are available at a concession stand. He’s convinced that the smell of butter and the sound of people chewing and slurping adds to his work.
Rouse also incorporates elements of popular music into his complex and nuanced classical arrangements. He’s an accomplished composer outside of the theatre (his fans include ex-Talking Head David Byrne), and many consider his music part of the totalist movement, a populist turn in composition that began in the 80s as a response to minimalism.
While his works are intentionally a far cry from fat ladies in Viking helmets, Rouse insists that they count as opera.
“I’m not calling them operas to be pretentious, and I’m certainly not calling them operas because I don’t want people to come,” he says with a laugh. “I’m calling them operas because if you update that term to account for the kind of technology that’s available in the 21st century, opera is the right word.”