Shrouded in Secrecy, Unscripted Reveals Art in Utero

Arts & Culture

BY ANDREW FABIAN SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY AUG 7, 2020

It was difficult to get an invite. You had to know someone or know someone who knows someone. All told, around 70 people were let into an exclusive venue the way folks in a big city are let into an exclusive night club: fully vetted. But in this case, the lucky guests were not selected based on whose clothes revealed the best form or whose wallets seemed to carry the most cash, they were selected based on their ability to keep a secret. The content of the event demanded it. That it was shrouded in so much intrigue owes less to the magnitude of the revelation unveiled and more to something distinctly human and much more precious.

Vulnerability.

The session was the first part of the Unscripted: Art from the Inside Out series, a collaboration between The Hermitage and Van Wezel Foundation that gives a small number of community stakeholders a view through the keyhole on works in progress by artists working in mediums from painting to dance. “It’s about welcoming people into the creative process,” says Hermitage CEO Andy Sandberg, who collaborated with Cheryl Mendelson of Van Wezel Foundation on the series after a conversation they shared about ways to work together. Some events, like this first one featuring world-class, avantgarde, genre-bending flutist Claire Chase, will be virtual.

The announcement that Chase would be performing for the guests came the day of the event, adding another layer of suspense to an already-unorthodox format. She signed on from the living room of her own home, a brick wall and bookshelves forming the backdrop as she sat at her computer with headphones. She introduced herself, though judging by the comment section on the Zoom stream, many already recognized her from her previous stay at The Hermitage or from one of her many sold out shows in New York City.

The work she performed is still in its production stages—hence the vulnerability. As a world-class musician, it can be difficult to allow others to see work before it has been perfected. But Chase also has something of a rock-and-roll attitude, regularly performing in alternative spaces and combining other elements of stagecraft and audience engagement into her shows. She seemed at ease sharing the brief snippet of her collaboration with Marcos Balter, another avantgarde musical mind known for his experimental compositions. As Zoom guest Mark F commented, it “sounds like Jerry Garcia sampled through a flute,” referring to the wandering, winding, virtuosic runs that sounded improvised but were, in fact, almost entirely accounted for in the sheet music.

The session’s success, while carried predominantly by Chase, was bolstered by the suspense and spontaneity of the secretive format. It felt special and intimate, with a hint of organic human interaction that’s hard to come by in the time of COVID.

As for anyone hoping to catch any of the rest of the series? Sorry, you just have to know someone.

The Hermitage Retreat, 6630 Manasota Key Road, 941-475-2098. Van Wezel Foundation, 777 N Tamiami Trail, 941-366-0918. Photo courtesy of Claire Chase.

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