Behind the Scenes: Making John Cage 101

  • Photo by Matt Slaybaugh
    Drew Eberly, Meghan Durham Wall, Ian Short and Acacia Duncan dancing in “John Cage 101.”
  • Poster by Clinton Reno
From the March 21, 2013 edition

A quick John Cage primer:

- American avant-garde composer.

- Best known for his 1952 composition 4’33” that required its performing musicians to sit in silence for four minutes and 33 seconds.

- Sometimes put household objects on the hammers of pianos before he played, and once composed a score that only employed the white keys of the piano.

- Proponent of Buddhist and Zen philosophies.

- Partner to dance icon Merce Cunningham.

- A source of inspiration for the following: Thom Yorke, Brian Eno and Frank Zappa.

Never heard of him? Don’t worry.

“Of the most influential musical artists of the 20th century, he is probably the most unknown,” said Matt Slaybaugh, director of “John Cage 101,” Available Light Theatre’s newest work. “More people could talk about his way of making art than they could tell you about their favorite John Cage piece of music.”

Available Light’s actors and writers studied both elements of Cage’s legend when writing the play, a unique endeavor for the group. The artists of the troupe got together regularly in information-sharing sessions about John Cage.

“Everyone had to have dug something up and we would share the things about him we found interesting,” Slaybaugh said. “It was really fun.”

After sharing, the group would always create something — noise patterns, movements, text, scenes — inspired by what they had just learned and by the artist’s free-spirited art making sensibility. Those creations were documented and synopses of them were saved on index cards. The Available Light group then selected more than 30 of them to comprise “John Cage 101.”

And, in true Cage fashion, some of the elements of the play are improvisational, reliant on the audience.

“Being involved with his mind has really opened up my mind,” Slaybaugh said. “We were already fairly attuned to his ideas but having studied them and having been immersed in them for a while, I feel like the work I do in the future will be a little more open, a little more exciting.”

Whether you are a Cage devotee or newbie, he added, “John Cage 101” will leave you making noise.