Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Why did I not go to this high school?

NPR, All Things Considered, May 9th. 

"The scene is a restaurant. Anne Frank sits at a table.

The actress says, "We have duck a l'orange, saffron couscous and steak. Or would you like to try some of our fine wines? Helga, darling? Please? Answer me?"

This is all in Frank's imagination. In fact, she's in a death camp, dying of typhus and losing her grasp on reality. Emma Feinberg plays Anne Frank. She's a freshman at Lexington High School in Massachusetts and the play is called With the Needle That Sings in Her Heart. It's about Frank's final months at Bergen-Belsen. Faced with horror and brutality, she escapes into a world where prisoners and Nazi officers become circus performers.

If this sounds a little out there for a high school play, consider the source material: In the Aeroplane Over the Sea by Neutral Milk Hotel, an album released in 1998. The group was part of a collective of musicians living in Athens, Ga., called Elephant 6. Strange, dreamlike lyrics reference a two-headed boy, the king of carrot flowers, and Anne Frank, though never by name.

"I know they buried her body with others / Her sister and mother and five hundred families / And will she remember me, fifty years later / I wish I could save her in some sort of time machine." — Neutral Milk Hotel's "Oh, Comely"

A Dresden Doll Pitches A Play

The use of horns, organs, banjo and singing saw; the achingly childlike lyrics; the intensity and purity and urgency of the vocals startled listeners a decade ago, and soon earned the album an obsessive following, including Amanda Palmer. She calls it the Sgt. Pepper's of her generation.

"I watch people proselytize this record all over the world, and it's like this secret brotherhood of awesome music that's never had any kind of big mainstream publicity," Palmer says. "It's just this sacred record that people connect through."

Palmer is a Lexington High alum and acted in several plays under the guidance of theater director Steven Bogart. He's been leading drama workshops at the school for nearly two decades. Palmer went on to form The Dresden Dolls, a band she describes as "Brechtian punk cabaret." The duo has released a handful of records and toured the globe, but Palmer always stayed in close contact with her old mentor.

She proposed to Bogart that they work with his students to write a play inspired by In the Aeroplane Over the Sea, but most of his students had never heard of it.

"I was sort of taken aback by how open it was and sort of thrown off, but I kept listening to it and I found I just couldn't stop. It's so beautiful because every time you listen to this music you hear something different," says sophomore Lindsay Kosos. "And I listen to it all the time — I fall asleep listening to it."The students spent several weeks with the music, creating sculptures and drawings inspired by the lyrics, and then began improvising scenes."

I wish Amanda Palmer went to my school and got us to do awesome plays based off of Neutral Milk Hotel.  Also, Kate I wish you still interned at NPR because they are fucking awesome and find this stuff. 

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