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On the Fringe

CFA festival honors Jane and Paul Bowles


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Listen to Allison Voth talk about the Fringe Festival and the influence Paul and Jane Bowles had on each other. Music by Paul Bowles

They were two of the most influential American artists of the 20th century. Composer, translator, and writer Paul Bowles may be best remembered for his novel The Sheltering Sky. His wife, Jane Bowles, wrote only one play, six stories, and a novel, but was hailed by poet and critic John Ashbery as “one of the finest modern writers of fiction in any language.”

Together, the expatriates called New York, Paris, Ceylon, and Tangiers home. Paul (1910–1999) and Jane (1917–1973) counted among their friends Gertrude Stein, Aaron Copland, Tennessee Williams, and Truman Capote. They were as famous for their bohemian lifestyle as for their literary output.

The Bowleses’ work is featured in the College of Fine Arts 14th Annual Fringe Festival, a “celebration of unconventional opera and theatre repertoire.” The festival, which highlights their creative output and honors Paul’s 100th birthday, runs today, October 7, through October 30.

The festival focuses largely on how each influenced the other creatively.

“Paul was first and foremost a composer,” says Bowles expert Allison Voth, a CFA associate professor in the school of music and principal coach at the Opera Institute. “It was Jane who inspired him to write his first novel. In contrast to his light and charming compositional style, Paul turned to writing dark and disturbing prose told from a distance.”

Paul and Jane Bowles married in 1938, but pursued same sex affairs. The two continued to inspire each other, however, and work remained the fixture in both their lives.

“As Paul became an artist with two creative minds,” says Voth, “Jane’s desire to write forged on, despite writer’s block. Jane’s writing was relentlessly up-close and personal, and came straight from the heart.”

Watch this video on YouTube

In the slideshow above, listen to Ellie Heyman, director of In the Summer House, talk about Jane Bowles and the play, which opens tonight. Photos by Marie Força Cornuelle

Jane’s sparse literary output could be attributed to ill health. An alcoholic, she had a stroke in 1957, at age 40. But she continued to try to work until her death in 1973. Paul was prolific, and his work includes four novels, travel writing, and compositions for opera, ballet, and musical interludes.

This year’s festival features a production of In the Summer House, a play by Jane, which was first performed on Broadway in 1953; Yerma, an unpublished opera by Paul; Art Song Meets Theatre, a recital of Paul’s songs staged as scenes; and the Bowles Centennial Celebration, which will conclude the festival with chamber music performances and theatrical readings.

Voth says that Yerma, which reflects the sounds of Andalucía, Spain, and includes choral parts and intricate rhythms, provides an unusual challenge for opera students. When he composed the piece, Paul incorporated long stretches of dialogue from a play of the same title by Federico García Lorca.

The young singers performing the work at the festival are “not used to reading lines,” she says. “And certainly not as much as this. They’re fine singing, but as soon as they have lines, it’s really unsettling. I’m excited for them to get over this fear.”

The festival’s last event, the Bowles Centennial Celebration, will include selections of Paul’s chamber music, a two-piano concerto, and Sonata for Oboe and Clarinet, one of his first musical compositions. Between the pieces, texts by both Paul and Jane will be read.

“We hope to represent all sides of their writing,” says Voth. “Paul was a very versatile writer, and it came easily to him. And Jane had an intuitive sense of character. But they were both dark.”

The Boston University Fringe Festival brings together artists and audiences for a unique performance experience. Sharon Daniels, a CFA associate professor and director of Opera Programs at Boston University, founded the BU Fringe Festival with the goal of cultivating a broader audience for opera.

In the Summer House

Thursday, October 7, 7:30 p.m.
Friday, October 8, 8 p.m.
Saturday, October 9, 8 p.m.
Friday, October 15, 8 p.m.
Saturday, October 16, 2 p.m.
Sunday, October 17, 7 p.m.
Thursday, October 21, 7:30 p.m.
Saturday, October, 23, 2 p.m.
Playwright Jane Bowles paints the portraits of different mother and daughter relationships in this dramatic work. Directed by Ellie Heyman (CFA’11).

Saturday, October 16, 8 p.m.
Sunday, October 17, 2 p.m.
Friday, October 22, 8 p.m.
Saturday, October 23, 8 p.m.
An opera based on a play by Federico García Lorca
Music, libretto, and translation by Paul Bowles
Allison Voth, music director
David Gately, guest stage director
Composer Bowles stages the tragic story of a Spanish woman victimized by societal pressure to bear a child.

Tickets for In the Summer House and Yerma: $7, general admission; BU community: one free ticket with BU ID at the door, day of performance, subject to availability. Box Office: www.BostonTheatreScene.com or 617-933-8600.
Venue: Boston University Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210
264 Huntington Ave., Boston. T Green Line, E trolley, Symphony stop; T Orange Line, Mass Ave. stop)

Art Song Meets Theatre
Sunday, October 24, 2 p.m.
The songs of Paul Bowles are lifted out of the traditional recital format and brought to the stage as dramatic realizations.
Tickets: Free and open to the public. Call 617-353-5201 for information.
Venue: Boston University Theatre, Lane-Comley Studio 210

Bowles Centennial Celebration
Saturday, October 30, 8 p.m.
Chamber music, songs, solo works, and dramatic readings of works by Paul and Jane Bowles, performed by faculty and students on the main stage of the BU Theatre. Allison Voth, Jim Petosa, CFA School of Theatre director, artistic directors.
Tickets: Free and open to the public. Call 617-933-8600 for information.
Venue: Boston University Theatre, Mainstage

Documentaries and Panel Discussions
Night Waltz, an award-winning documentary on Paul Bowles’ music; Mapas de Agua Y Arena (Traces of Sand and Water: The Lives of Jane and Paul Bowles), by Javier Martín Domínguez; panel discussions and talk backs will be held with certain performances of In the Summer House, Yerma, and the Centennial Celebration, with BU School of Theatre and Opera Institute faculty, student artists, and guest specialists, including Irene Herrmann, executor of Paul Bowles’ musical estate.

Schedules are available here.

Kimberly Cornuelle can be reached at kcornuel@bu.edu; follow her on Twitter at @kcornuel.


One Comment on On the Fringe

  • Anonymous on 10.07.2010 at 12:16 pm

    beautiful. can’t wait to see the show!

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