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FLEFF Intern Voices

The Finger Lakes Environmental Film Festival from the interns' point of view

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Posted by Thomas Gonzalez at 9:28PM
Norm Johnson, theater director, retired professor at Ithaca College

I heard Norm Johnson before I saw him.


In Dillingham center’s lobby, the ceiling hangs and folds in angular caverns. Across the lobby, scattered congregations of two to three students huddle over small metal tables sitting on barstools. There is a darkness to the lobby as spotlights highlight portions of the red carpet in luminous discs and obscure others.


From one of these congregations of students I hear, “Nice scarf,” and rounding a corner comes Professor Norm Johnson. This was followed by a series of friendly “Hi Norm”s from students familiar with him. I stuck to Professor Johnson.


We are meeting in Dillingham because Professor Johnson is working on an opera for the stage at Ithaca College, but when he is not here, he is preparing for the FLEFF Disruptions Multimedia concert in Hockett hall.


The concert is ambitious, with two opposing pianos, still and moving images, a women’s choral, opera, percussion and spoken word there are a lot of moving pieces that Professor Johnson and his collaborators, Dr.Patricia Zimmermann and Dr.Janet Glavan have worked on together.

Professor Johnson started much of his theatrical work in Portland, Oregon when there was vibrant performance art scene. Much of his work was in the genre of the Midnight Circus, which fitting with the FLEFF themes of disruptions, subverted the general norms and ideas of what a circus might be, not the crowd pleasing Ringling brothers performances that the general public is familiar with. The Midnight Circus’ artistic intent leans darker and more provocative.He alludes to this period when describing to me a particular portion of the FLEFF concert in which “There is a trumpet player and a tuba duet, it’s almost like a clown act, and I think it requires as much ability to be a clown on stage as it does to be a professional level brass player.”


Professor Johnson has been involved with FLEFF for four years and while he had not directed a concert before getting involved. He tells me he was interested in “The chance to work in a different format”. A concert operating at a different mode than plays and operas, untethered by a script offers as much room for creative expression and experimentation.


“I’ve always liked edgier stuff where I get to mix scenery, objects, movement, dance and lighting as well as text” he tells me. A part of the concert he is excited for is a sequence in which an opera singer performs along with the drumming of a percussionist.


Much of Professor Johnson’s work asks the audience to pay attention and be involved with the work at hand, he says, “I’m not interested in a live event on stage where the audience sits down and says prove it to me”, to disrupt the conventions of theatrical art where many traditional productions may allow an audience gto sit back and observe like watching television at home, Professor Johnson is greatly concerned with giving the audience engaging live performances.


The concert which is on April 2nd, brings together the scope of all FLEFF has to offer in terms of musical, theatrical and cinematic art. Through the work of Professor Johnson and his collaborators, will offer a performance that is unique to FLEFF, engaging in ideas, expression and collisions of creative modes.


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