Classical music, activism: not a ‘traditional narrative’

Kaleid Theatre’s production examines why modern society throws people and things away.

Theater ensemble Kaleid Theatre believes there are islands of trash in the oceans and cities worth of people in prisons—and the group wants to examine why.

The Philadelphia theater group’s latest production, “Undiscarded,” tackles issues like pollution and prison reform. The show, which ran Nov. 20-22 at the Luna Theater on 620 S. 8th St., asks its audience: Why is society so quick to throw away both people and things?

Kaleid Theatre started an Indiegogo fundraiser earlier this month to help fund the show and pay the participating artists. The group raised $748 of its $900 goal.

Kaleid Theatre combined music and activism to create the show and tackle issues concerning the environment, prison reform and homelessness advocacy.

“The piece is a combination of scenes with specific characters who experience and do certain things, interwoven with statistics about the issues, quotations about the issues, dances and video interviews with activists who work on these issues, and who themselves have varying personal experiences with the issues at the focus of the piece,” said artistic director Sarah Mitteldorf. “To me, it feels a bit like a mosaic.”

The show blends statistics, interviews and personal experiences with music to put a new perspective on prominent issues in the community. Mitteldorf said she hopes viewers can re-examine topics relevant to their lives and think about them in a new way.

“We feel that the things we want to talk about most in our community tend to be more challenging to talk about, and a lot of times that’s because these experiences can be multi-faceted,” she added. “We want to explore these multi-faceted and occasionally conflicting experiences in ways that sometimes language by itself can’t accomplish, because these stories don’t always fit into a traditional narrative.”

Graduate student and classical composer Benjamin Safran, who will write his Ph.D. dissertation on the connection between music and activism, took on the challenge of combining classical music with facts and statistics.

“The statistics pieces actually came out really well because the statistics themselves have so much power in what they’re saying, but the power isn’t always clear by just reading them through,” Safran said. “It’s a lot of numbers so the music, in that case, can really bring out that power that’s already in them.”

Safran noted more often than not, classical music and activism do not go hand in hand. He pointed out sometimes the corporations funding classical concerts are the same ones promoting oppressive environments.

“In a lot of cases in my world as a classical composer, I feel disconnected from activism,” Safran said. “This project is trying to connect those things and to me that’s really exciting.”

“One of the best parts of working on this project was meeting so many passionate, intelligent people,” Mitteldorf said. “People who are so dedicated to working on these problems, to making people’s lives better and to making the world more open to itself.”

Emily Thomas can be reached

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