Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Of bedsheets and cookies:
A tale of two venues

In presenting silent film programs, sometimes I feel like I'm leading multiple lives. Take this past week.

This past Tuesday, I went up to Twin Lakes Villa, a rustic resort just north of New Hampshire's Lake Sunapee, to present a program of silent comedies with live music. The venue was "the ballroom," a century-old hall with a low ceiling (hotel rooms were on the floors above) and a small stage.

The screen was an actual bedsheet strung across the proscenium. Electrical outlets were "of the period," meaning two-prong only, and so power could be had only by use of a modified extension cord (with the ground filed off) found in the owner's barn.

The show went fine, although at one point I was continually buzzed by what seemed to be the largest moth in the known universe. Afterwards, I pulled my Subaru Forester up to the back of the ballroom via a grassy path with a stone wall beside it, and loaded my equipment under the stars.

The very next evening took me south, to North Andover, Mass., home of Merrimack College and the Rogers Center for the Arts. It's a beautiful (and fairly new) facility capable of handling all manner of stage shows or musical performances. They show movies, too, and last Wednesday night (Aug. 1) saw the debut of a silent film series featuring commentary by author Christopher DiGrazia and music by yours truly.

The film was Von Stroheim's 'Queen Kelly' (1928), and what a change from the night before. No bedsheet. No moths. I was able to easily hook my synthesizer into the house system, which sounded great! There was even a plate of free cookies out for the taking. And the auditorium itself was spacious, stylish, and smart.

I did run into one difficulty. Once the house lights went down, I realized that virtually no light from the screen was bouncing down to my keyboard (below the lip of the stage), and so consequently I had to "fly blind," meaning play without seeing the keys. Not a big problem, although it does limit how quickly I can react to what's happening on screen.

On the other hand, I didn't have to bat away any moths!

The film was Von Stroheim's 'Queen Kelly' (1928), and the place

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