Minnesota Original


Michael Sommers + the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet

We explore Michael Sommers' work as Artistic Director of Open Eye Theatre. Kinetic sculptor and jewelry maker Danny Saathoff deliberately chooses each component for its function in his finished pieces. Plus, music from Alison Scott and the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet performs.

AIRED: October 20, 2010 | 0:26:46

(woman) "Minnesota Original"

is made possible by

The State Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund,

and the citizens of Minnesota.

(narrator) On this edition of "Minnesota Original:"

We explore Michael Sommer's work

as artistic director of Open Eye Theatre.

Kinetic sculptor and jewelry maker Danny Saathoff

deliberately chooses each component for function

in his finished pieces.

And the Minneapolis Guitar Quartet performs.

These artists and more now on "Minnesota Original."

[electronic music plays]

♪ ♪

[acoustic guitar plays softly]

(Michael Sommers) The work that I do is about animation.

It's about giving a gesture, a life to something.

Often I'll incorporate figures, objects,

and animated images in my work.

So I guess I could be considered a puppeteer.

My name is Michael Sommers,

and I make theater.


♪ ♪

Well, welcome to the shop

in the basement of Open Eye Figure Theatre.

This is where we construct our work.

This is kind of the nerve center,

the creative whatnot of Open Eye,

and I'm at the worktable, and I'm paper-macheing a puppet.

Right now upstairs there's a show going to be starting

in probably an hour, so it's really exciting to be able

to be down here then go upstairs and take care

of my tasks of trash and toilet before the show.

So, you're at Open Eye Figure Theatre. Welcome.

Oh-oh! [laughs]

Just a minute. [laughs]

[thump. thump thump]

(woman) Yes?

More complications!

[woman laughs]

Not an underplot, I trust?

The name Open Eye Figure Theatre

came from a long research

I was doing in the Old Testament

and this idea of how we have to come to our senses.

There's times when we have to open our eyes to see and

our ears to hear, so I thought if I ever have a theater--

I had a shop on Chicago/Lake above the shoe store,

and on the door I painted a thing that said Open Eye,

and then I used the word Figure Theatre

because the word Figure Theatre

is a European notion of theatre

that's visually driven,

that might incorporate figures,

puppets, images, objects, things moving

as opposed to actor's theatre.

So I thought well, I'm going to be sophisticated

and call it a figure theatre

because the word puppet

I never really have understood.

(man) Whoa!!

♪ Nobody knows... ♪

♪ ...how dry I am. ♪

I'm starting to just make a little prototype

of a little character that I'm going to call Alice.

I'm going to start out by just making a little head.

I really like using paper-mache because it's free,

and it can last a really long time.

You can go in and cut it and do surgery,

and it heals itself pretty quickly.

The great thing about this form is it's really a signature form,

as far as human touch and hand.

You look at anybody who manufactures figures

or makes figures for performance

and you can really see their hand,

their sense of what their gesture is,

and the work that I do is about giving a gesture

a life to something.

Like this, for example, as I put things on, like add rods,

I start moving further and further away.

So the touch, the energy, the gesture,

I mean from this, that, ooh, to this,

already there's a distance, already I'm further away,

but I'm still connected in a way.

I think about what is this connection, what is this energy

that's being given from the manipulator to the object?

But just watching other people do it

and seeing when that connection is really happening

is really, really an interesting thing.

[bass and concertina play in waltz rhythm]

♪ ♪

[horn honks]

Stop that! Stop that!

(Michael) The Driveway Tour is a program that Open Eye does.

Every summer, we send shows out into people's backyards.

The political motor is to delight and entertain

and let the social work happen

with just people coming together.

After 8 years, it's still happening.

Well, I'm Little Grandpa, and welcome to my backyard.

I've lived here my whole life.

(woman) The show is "A Surprise for Little Grandpa,"

and it's about this older gentleman

who's turning 100, that's Little Grandpa,

and he freaks out because he thinks

nobody has remembered his birthday.

This red, vine-wrapping, organic, cruelty-free tomato

is big enough to feed everyone

who comes over for my b-day party.

There's something really delightful

about going back to a really simple hand puppet booth show

and kind of looking at that as a director,

looking at what they can do,

and finding the things that make a 5-year-old

and a 50-year-old man chuckle at the same time.

Ooh, I got it! I'll make my famous TLT sandwiches.

That's tofu, lettuce, and tomato.

Had to give up bacon for the old ticker,

and the shutter speed on my lower GI

is not what it used to be.

I love most about being a puppeteer is that puppets

don't have limits, they can break rules-- they can fly;

they can die; and they can come back to life.

It's really fun when you get to break rules like that,

then people see those rules getting broken,

it just tickles them inside.

[exclamations of joy]

(woman) The Driveway Tour program is

about bringing people together, it's about bringing neighbors

into one of their other neighbor's yards that maybe

they don't know or maybe they're good friends with and they

team up with each other to try and bring more people together.

I met Michael Sommers as my professor at the university.

I took his puppetry class.

I think his work is just really unique,

and it pushes the form to new ways of thinking

about how an object can come alive and move and stuff.

He gives his performers the sense of wonder and joy

that I think he sees in theater

and is very great at communicating that passion.

Whoa, whoa, whoa,

whoa, whoa, whoa!

Whoa, this is a huge cake!

That must mean that...

Hey everybody, 1, 2, 3!

(all) Happy birthday, Little Grandpa!

♪ ♪

So this is the set of "Folks and Heroes,"

a play we're working on together.

We've been so fortunate, our 4th year now,

that Kevin, in August, comes

to Open Eye and shares his work with us,

and we get to work with him on ideas.

Yup, it's my one time of year I

let to get it all-- let it fly.

(Kevin) This is my favorite place.

Michael's doing the projections for the show,

and it's a play that's based on legends and folktales

from around the world,

and so Michael's imagery really adds to the idea

of the mythology and the worlds we're going to.

It's playing, it's like you're doing this

and all of a sudden you're cracking the whole earth away.

[smacking of a kiss]

(Kevin) Absolutely nobody like Michael on the planet,

and so to work with him is to work with the original.

He's brilliant. I mean, look at his stuff!

[laughs] Of course, I'm gonna work with him.

I'd be crazy not to!

♪ ♪

They say that the myths are a dream of society,

and I think this work is so dreamlike,

and with imagery, people have another way

to let it engage the mind,

especially with this dreamlike quality.

It doesn't give them answers.

It keeps the question still alive.

So it really fits with myth and with legend.

Long ago, the animals got in an argument.

With the introduction of the seasons,

summer, spring, fall, winter left hardly any food or shelter,

so half of the animals would have to migrate south.

Go birds!

♪ Go winged, bipedal, endothermic, egg-laying ♪

♪ bird of prey animals. ♪ Go birds.

[audience laughter]

Just before sunrise, the mammals won!

Okay. Yeah.

I'm going south.

[audience laughter]

(Michael) The reason I continue to make theater

as opposed to looking at other forms is because you have

that immediate exchange with the audience,

that experience of having that, sharing that thing,

and then it's gone, I mean, it's gone.

And I love that.

♪ ♪

[electric guitar plays a rhythmic, soft, rock beat]

♪ ♪

♪ Oh, when the needle hits the groove ♪

♪ It gets me in the mood ♪

♪ It makes me want to move to the music, baby, ♪

♪ Just like we used to do when the needle hits the groove ♪

♪ ♪

♪ Oh when that record starts to play ♪

♪ And my body starts to sway ♪

♪ I know you're gonna wrap yourself around me, baby, ♪

♪ And dance to the break of day ♪

♪ When that record starts to play ♪

♪ ♪

♪ But even when the music comes to an end ♪

♪ I'll keep it safe inside my head ♪

♪ Tucked away until I need it again ♪

♪ And when the nighttime comes along ♪

♪ You can take it out and turn me on ♪

♪ Turn me on ♪

♪ Oh oh ♪

♪ ♪

♪ Where the ocean meets the sand ♪

♪ The waves are playin' with the band ♪

♪ They're rollin' up the shore in perfect time ♪

♪ Like a rhythm, like a rhyme ♪

♪ Just like your and mine oh ♪

♪ But even when the music comes to an end ♪

♪ I'll keep it safe inside my head ♪

♪ Tucked away until I need it again ♪

♪ And when the nighttime comes along ♪

♪ You can take it out and turn me on ♪

♪ Turn me on ♪

♪ ♪

♪ When everybody starts to leave ♪

♪ I guess it's you and me ♪

♪ I'll love ya till the sun starts to rise ♪

♪ And the moon fades into the night ♪

♪ And the needle hits the groove ♪

♪ When the needle hits the groove ♪

♪ When the needle hits the groove ♪

♪ Groove, groove, groove, yeah... ♪

This is where the 45 minutes happens.

Two chords.

[Alison sings scat (improv)]

♪ ♪

♪ When the needle hits the groove ♪

♪ ♪


Thank you.

(narrator) Now on mnoriginal.org:

(May Lee) This is the time where we get to choose

what things we keep

and what things we leave behind,

because 100 years from now, Hmong-American history

is going to be determined by those of us right now.

[bells chime softly]

♪ ♪

(Danny Saathoff) I tell people

that I'm an interactive, kinetic sculptor,

and most of the time, it's kind of left right there

because people just don't get it,

don't know what that's all about.

My name's Danny Saathoff, I'm a jewelry designer and an artist.

A lot of my work

looks like it's been found,

and I think that's intentional,

but a lot of it's just made.

Back in college, I went to school,

I have a fine arts degree,

and I started out as a printmaker,

but I really got into making jewelry,

and I kind of considered that that would be my profession,

was a jewelry designer.

[soft whirring]

Primarily, this is the area that I work on making jewelry.

This is just a traditional jeweler's bench,

and it all happens right here.

You're doing all your cutting and filing right here.

This is where I sit and stare at things for hours upon hours

thinking about how to connect and make them look nice.

This is a bracelet that I'm working on right now.

The components that I use are found walking down the street.

I'm notorious for walking around with my nose on the ground

picking up pieces of rusty metal and old washers

and things like that.

You let it out that you use found objects in artwork

or whatever, and people start giving you stuff.

My father-in-law goes to estate sales

and finds all kinds of stuff and gives it to us.

These were a set of silver-- they look like forks to me!

He found these at an estate sale, and I've been

using them making bracelets and random pieces of jewelry.

So all of these components here are from the handle of the fork.

I've been on a kick lately with sprinkler heads,

like industrial sprinkler heads.

These are the actual kind of flower head

that disperses the water.

I got a bucket full of these things from a local company

to use on a piece of artwork,

and I've started using these now in jewelry.

♪ ♪

This is a brand new piece right now,

and it's not done yet.

The birds are dropped pieces of angle iron.

Anytime it cuts the angle iron, it cuts this section out,

and it folds these things over

to make perfect little, 2nd grader birds.

I thought well, I've got to be able

to make those things do something.

I don't draw out what I'm going to do.

I don't think that way.

Building things and making things,

there's kind of an energy that happens behind that.

You start with something and then figure out how you can

make it move, or figure out how to make it do something,

or make something else move.

I'm a collector, I collect things,

and typically, I like things that have age to them.

So my work has that kind of feeling.

I think time and history are an important part

of the work that I make.

Slowing down time is kind of the thing that I go for.

None of the work moves fast.

Everything has got a real slow, methodical feel to it.

It's a way of slowing people down to take time

to look at something, and make them look at it,

as opposed to walking by something and hitting it

and walking to the next piece and hitting it,

you know, just quick shots.

You really have to sit and look at these things

to make them speak.

We have a sailboat, and we have 2 kids,

and we travel as a little pod during the summer.

Seeing nature and the patterns that you see in nature,

the repetition in nature,

when you're out on a lake or in an ocean or someplace,

you're completely surrounded by it,

and you're so in tune to it.

[guitar & recorder play softly]

♪ ♪

Butterflies, they use stars to navigate when they migrate,

so this piece is called "Mechanical Migration:

Butterflies," and the sprinkler heads

kind of represent stars and constellations.

Navigation is one of those things

that I'm also influenced by.

You use navigation on sailboats.

So it's always been one of those things that I've drawn upon.

The idea of a sailboat is that you can harness those forces

and move someplace, or get from point A to point B.

A lot of my work is about our family on this journey.

That's probably been my biggest inspiration.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

[playing classical music]

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

[playing smooth jazz]

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

[playing rhythmic cool jazz]

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

[playing smooth jazz]

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

One, 2, 3...

[playing Celtic folkdance music]

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

The guitar is kind of a tricky instrument.

There's a lot that you can do with it

that is hidden from the audience,

so there's a lot of effects that we can do

that most audience members have no idea how we're doing it.

For instance, the introduction to "Minnesota Winter,"

most audiences come and say well, who's playing?

It sounds like everybody is playing.

So it's kind of like a magic show.

[playing ascending scales]

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

The technique where the notes are

separated throughout the group is called campanella,

and we're basically playing a scale,

but because there's 3 of us playing it,

we can hold some notes

and it sounds like bells ringing through.

I love that "Minnesota Winter" sounds like snow falling.

It sounds just like snow falling.

If you could set music to that that's what it is.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

Another thing that's really cool about the whole concept

of the guitar quartet is that you can hear more sounds

out of the guitar that you would never usually hear.

You know, there are limitations

when there's only a soloist playing, or even just a duo.

With a guitar quartet, it really just extends the instrument.

Another way we use the ensemble is in arrangements,

or sometimes composers will do this,

they will purposely have the guitarists trade off,

so we get a lot more interchange and communication

between each other that has very much

a visual impact as much as auditory.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

(Steve) It's a classical guitar quartet,

but we're not necessarily playing classical music.

Sure, there's some classical music in our concerts,

but probably half of our program is music from other styles

that you wouldn't hear an orchestra playing.

It's a cool mix.

We don't get bored of the styles of music we play.

It's a lot of fun.

♪ ♪

♪ ♪

(narrator) Coming soon to "Minnesota Original:"

(Carl) I'm very interested in the fact that in sports,

danger is very acceptable,

so one of the things that Black Label

is trying to do is bring that kind of

physical dialogue into the space safely.

[electronic music plays]

CC--Armour Captioning & TPT

(woman) "Minnesota Original" is made possible by

The State Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund,

and the citizens of Minnesota.

[orchestral fanfare]


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