'Hammer, Anvil and Stirrup' pounds out some tunes at Open Eye

  • Article by: GRAYDON ROYCE , Star Tribune
  • Updated: July 31, 2014 - 10:39 PM

Kevin Kling and friends focus on music as they perform their annual show at Open Eye Figure Theatre.

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Kevin Kling and cellists Michelle Kinney (left) and Jacqueline Ultan (foreground) during a rehearsal at the Open Eye theater in Minneapolis.

Photo: Photos by CARLOS GONZALEZ • cgonzalez@startribune.com,

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“Hammer, Anvil and Stirrup” sounds like a show that should be set under a spreading chestnut tree, with a mighty smithy spitting out words like hot steel rivets.

No, it’s just Kevin Kling, the meek and mild slip of a storyteller, and the only wood here is found in the cellos of Jacqueline Ultan and Michelle Kinney. They supply the music, Kling the words, in Open Eye Figure Theatre’s annual August show.

About that name? It refers not to the tools and product of the forge, but to the tiny bones of the inner ear — among the smallest in the body — that amplify sound.

“This is a piece about how music works,” Kling said after a recent afternoon rehearsal. “Music is a way to reconnect with the sensual self; it’s a bridge that can take us into ourselves and out of ourselves.”

His partners in this project are cellists Ultan and Kinney, longtime contributors to what has become a ritual at Open Eye for the past eight summers. Kling takes the stage in the tiny theater, spins stories that come from his seemingly bottomless well of experience, and musicians do their thing to make it all fit together. Kling doesn’t like to call the music accompaniment. Ultan and Kinney are storytellers themselves, he said.

“Music supports the text, and vice versa,” Ultan said.

Michael Sommers, who is directing this show, said half-seriously that he wished Ultan and Kinney could follow him around every day, as a sort of inspiration and commentary on his real life.

“The energy starts moving and you see what works and what doesn’t,” he said.

Fringe loss, Open Eye gain

For several years, Kling was a Fringe Festival warrior this time of year. He didn’t make the lottery in 2007, so Sommers and producing director Sue Haas invited their longtime friend to Open Eye.

“He got so much out of it that he made the artistic choice not to go back and try the Fringe,” said Haas.

Kling has used these shows to reflect on recovery from trauma (he had a serious motorcycle accident in 2001), on religion, politics and fairy tales. Always, though, he builds the backbone of the tales from the attic of his mind — which is stuffed with memories. Last year’s “Humanimal” drew inspiration from Jack London’s “Call of the Wild” and “Wild Fang.”

Kling loves to bring music into his shows. Often, that’s taken the form of songs performed by Ultan and Kinney and sung by Simone Perrin. There are no songs this time. Ultan and Kinney are using composed pieces, improvisations and new stuff that has grown out of brainstorming sessions they launched last January.

“It’s still coming into focus,” Ultan said after a recent rehearsal. “Pretty abstract, but the concept is music being a language in itself — patterned, emotional and spiritual.”

Music, Greeks, live theater

The two musicians and Kling had spent the afternoon testing out the timing and rhythm of stories and music, while Sommers lay across a row of chairs and listened. “He’s so integral to making order of the chaos,” Ultan said.

As Ultan and Kinney played, Kling spoke in that familiar voice that always sounds fresh and excited by life. He talked about the solace of a Minnesota lakeshore, painting verbal pictures of himself and his brother fishing for bullheads in summer and playing hockey in the winter; he spoke with awe about Lake Superior, which holds 10 percent of the world’s fresh water supply.

They finished that story, and Kling pronounced himself happy.

  • related content

  • Kevin Kling has become a staple of late summer with his annual August show at Open Eye Figure Theatre. For eight years, Kling and friends have devised a show of storytelling and music.

  • HAMMER, ANVIL AND STIRRUP

    What: By Kevin Kling, with Michelle Kinney and Jacqueline Ultan. Directed by Michael Sommers.

    When: 7:30 p.m. Wed.-Aug. 11. Plus 4 p.m. Sat.

    Where: Open Eye Figure Theatre, 506 E. 24th St., Mpls.

    Tickets: $18-$20, openeyetheatre.org or Brown Paper Tickets.

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