Theater 30.2 (2000) 82-91
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Rinde Eckert, Interviewed by Tom Sellar
TOM SELLAR Your work reflects an astonishing range of influences--not just musical, but also literary and theatrical. Is this breadth self-conscious or instinctual for you?
RINDE ECKERT A little of both, I think. My parents were both classical singers. I was exposed to opera at an early age. I heard German lieder and Italian art songs from day one. My father has a master's degree in English literature and an interest in history. My mother is well spoken and well read. I've always thought of her as a closet philosopher. We had a lot of books. My parents both have great senses of humor. I came of age in the sixties, aware of politics, suspicious of received opinion, and listening to the Beatles, Bob Dylan, Cream, and Jimi Hendrix. I had a standard liberal-arts education. I sang in madrigal groups, barbershop quartets, musical comedies, operas, and new music ensembles. I wrote and performed folk songs, took t'ai chi and aikido, formed an improvisational dance group, acted in straight plays, read Thucydides, the Bhagavad Gita, Pogo, Donne, William Carlos Williams, Pablo Neruda, saw King Lear, The Caretaker, The Visit, Rules of the Game, and Ben Hur. I played one Benny Goodman record so much I wore it out, and did the same with sides two and five of Turandot and Brahms's violin concerto. I struggled to master vocal technique, loved and lost, loved and won, and asked myself searching questions all the time. In short, I had a normal American upbringing.
Basically, I see eclecticism as a point of departure, as a fact of modern existence. We can't avoid it without taking extraordinary steps to shelter ourselves. We're confronted on a daily basis with a kind of surreal abundance of cultural influences. The key to successful management in this bewildering complex is the refinement of one's questions. So the instinct is toward the eclectic because that is the nature of experience, but the nature of one's questions is self-conscious. My questions are large and serious, so I need history, literature, and the wisdom of those who have gone before. My questions are not the same as those of my predecessors, so I don't trust the conventional answers.
How does one find classical rigor and purpose in eclecticism?
One asserts it as an aspiration, I suppose. Then one hopes for the best. I don't want to recover classicism as a nostalgic adventure; I want to recover it as my authentic voice. I want to move past the glib and sensational into what my Idiot calls a place where they "might embrace me on the edge of town, me in my rugged careworn suit, and they might say, 'Do you know your name, or should we go ahead and tell you without any more folderol so you can take your place among us and sing in common the song of your village?'"
Does solo performance offer more opportunity for meaningful contexts than other forms of theater?
One of the reasons I've done so much solo work is that it's very easy to emend the dimensions of an idea coherently. When it's just myself, I [End Page 83] can wander through any number of different avenues of approach: poetry, song, story, or dance. It gets more complicated when you add people. Form is intrinsic in number, in a sense. You get two people on stage and your mind can't travel in odd ways without asking, "Where are they standing if they talk to each other this way? What do they mean?" All of a sudden you have a society and as a result you have demands made on you.
How did you move from studying classical voice to creating theater pieces as an actor, director, and playwright-librettist?
By default. I found myself in some avant-garde theater pieces in the early 1980s, as part of George Coates's Performance Works. I started writing scenes with the composer...