(The Sting and Honey Company’s annual production of This Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long takes place this weekend.
(Reichel Recommends is reposting the interview [with updated information] we conducted with company co-founder and director Javen Tanner last year about the show, which has quickly become a holiday tradition in Salt Lake City.)
The Nativity story has been told in many different ways over the centuries, but for a fresh approach you need to see This Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long, The Sting and Honey Company’s version that will be presented this weekend in the Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center.
What distinguishes this production from others is the fact that it’s done in mime, the action is choreographed to music and spoken texts, and the actors wear masks. “It tells the story in a new way,” said Javen Tanner, co-founder and director of The Sting and Honey Company.
It was Tanner who conceived and created this version back when he was a member of New York’s Handcart Ensemble. “[J. Scott Reynolds, Handcart Ensemble’s artistic director] wanted a piece we could use as a December fundraiser,” Tanner said. “I experimented and created an artistic piece about the Nativity using masks and poetry.” And when Tanner left the group and returned home to Utah to become head of the theatre department at the Waterford School in Sandy, he brought it with him.
This is the fifth year he’ll be producing the piece with his theatre students from Waterford. “Every year when it comes around we’ve seen our audience grow,” he said. “People who see it love it, and thanks to word of mouth our audience has been expanding.” Now that he has his own company, Tanner moved the show from Waterford’s black box theatre to the Leona Wagner Black Box at the Rose Wagner complex. “We produce it under Sting and Honey as a fundraiser for our company,” he said.
Many of the texts Tanner has chosen come from the book Chapters Into Verses. “It’s a collection of poetry from different areas of the world written about the Bible. Along with these, there will also by poems by Yeats and others.”
The music he uses also comes from a wide range of sources. “I listen to a lot of choir music – one of my favorites is Casals’ O vos omnes – so some of the pieces come from that. Others are religious in nature but not necessarily Christian.”
Most of the texts and much of the music have been the same from year to year. What does change, though, is the mask work. “That changes according to the performers,” Tanner said, “because we have a number of different performers each year.”
For Tanner the masks are the main thing about this telling of the Nativity story. “It gives a ceremonial feel to the story. Almost immediately when the lights come up you can sense the ceremony.”
There two types of masks employed, he said. “We use neutral and blank masks. The neutral ones represent discovery and the blank masks project emotions.”
- PERFORMANCE DETAILS:
- What: This Bird of Dawning Singeth All Night Long, the Nativity Story Told Through Poetry and Mask
- Venue: Leona Wagner Black Box, Rose Wagner Performing Arts Center
- Time and Date: 7:30 p.m. Dec 21; 2 p.m. and 7:30 p.m. Dec. 22
- Tickets: $10 general (plus ArtTix ticketing fees)
- Phone: 801-355-2787 or 888-451-2787
- Web: www.stingandhoney.org