A performance requires an audience; otherwise it's just a rehearsal. A recurring nightmare for performers and producers is, therefore: What if we put on a show and nobody comes? Montpelier's Tim Tavcar faced this grim scenario when his ambitious WordStage project premiered last fall. Empty seats quickly discouraged the venture. But now, some central Vermont colleagues are helping to resurrect a scaled-down season.
WordStage is a theatrical hybrid that marries chamber music with readings from literary and historical sources. Tavcar received positive media coverage prior to the debut of his first production, The Hollow Crown, a witty look at the English monarchy, and an elegant website detailed the first season's five WordStage programs.
Although attendance was "decent in Montpelier," Tavcar says, it was "crappy everywhere else." In Colchester, nine people showed up at the St. Michael's College McCarthy Recital Hall, which seats 330. In Brattleboro, nobody came.
So what happened? "I might have been a little bit overly ambitious trying to do five performances in five different venues across the state," Tavcar admits, "particularly when I didn't have the kind of cooperation and control that I'm used to in central Vermont." In other words, marketing.
Bridging theater and music, WordStage should draw on audiences for both. But, "Because it was a new thing and kind of an odd thing, there wasn't enough of a hook to attract the audiences I needed," Tavcar reflects, adding that, without grant support, he was footing the production bills himself.
Canceling The Hollow Crown meant releasing reserved dates at performance venues. But Montpelier's Unitarian Church refused to do so. "The wise people there said, 'Now, you know you're going to find some use for these dates, so we're not giving them away yet,'" Tavcar recalls.
Under that friendly pressure, Tavcar, who also heads the Monteverdi Music School, overheard two faculty members rehearsing Franz Schubert's 1827 song cycle Die Winterreise one afternoon. The proverbial light bulb clicked on: Fleshed out with brief readings from the composer's diaries and letters, Schubert's hauntingly beautiful setting of Wilhelm Müller's poetry was the perfect vehicle for relaunching WordStage. Pianist Eliza Thomas and voice instructor Simon Chaussé, baritone, had been workshopping individual songs intensively. To get the challenging work ready by February, they agreed "to really woodshed on it," Tavcar notes.
WordStage is also presenting Die Winterreise at Burlington's St. Paul's Cathedral. And, encouraged by colleagues, Tavcar is reviving two programs from the original season: an evening on George Sand and Frédéric Chopin, featuring MMS musicians; and one on opera composer Gioacchino Rossini, co-sponsored by the Vermont Opera Theater. Larger-cast events focusing on Kurt Weill and Dorothy Parker, however, are still on the shelf. m
WordStage presents Die Winterreise at the Unitarian Church in Montpelier, February 2 at 8 p.m.; and at St. Paul's Cathedral in Burlington, February 3 at 4 p.m. Both $15. Info, www.wordstagevt.com.