What Have You Sacrificed? Ray Rizzo, Motherlodge and Jesus Christ Superstar
On March 31, 2016, Motherlodge presents The Music of Jesus Christ Superstar: A Concert and Community Sing at Headliners Music Hall, featuring the music from the popular musical play by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice. The cast of musicians are mostly from Louisville including drummer and producer Ray Rizzo. Ray is a long time member of the jazz trio The Java Men and has played in many different Louisville bands and New York ones too. In fact, he resides in Brooklyn and has been there for several years now but makes his annual pilgrimage to his hometown of Louisville to present various productions by Motherlodge. I recently spoke with Ray about Motherlodge and J.C.S.
Laura Shine: Hi Ray. What is Motherlodge and your personal involvement with it?
Ray Rizzo: Motherlodge is a D.I.Y. artist-run presenting organization that produces collaborative live shows or what we call Live Arts Exchanges. Sometimes it's a play, sometimes it's a concert, sometimes it's a visual arts experience, often it's a combination of all of these things. Motherlodge is run from Brooklyn, NY but was born at The Rudyard Kipling venue in Louisville and maintains the Rud's tradition of egalitarian arts programming. Our approach walks a path between the spheres of community art initiatives and live show production, encouraging participation of artists from different neighborhoods and backgrounds. For example, in 2009 and 2010, Motherlodge collaborated with the Salvation Army and presented events at their Male High School campus, making the shows available to everyone at the shelter. At the time, we collaborated with playwright Molly Rice to create The Saints Tour, a play which took people on a fantastic bus tour of Louisville, visiting the homes of unknown saints, and incorporating Louisville musicians at each of the stops. The next year Motherlodge presented Saints Tour on the streets of NYC's West Village, and last year Molly produced a Saints Tour that took over an entire town in Pennsylvania. New bands have formed as a result of Motherlodges, in fact, our show at Headliners will feature a short opening set that will be the first ever performance by a new Louisville band called Bungalow Betty.
My role in Motherlodge has been one of founder and a lucky recipient of an ocean of goodwill from artists and audiences who have supported and participated in Motherlodges over the years, allowing it to continue its humble existence and contribute to the arts culture of the cities where we lodge. Motherlodge is run like a non-profit with fiscal sponsorship from Fractured Atlas. Folks can make donations to help with production costs here.
LS: Motherlodge is presenting The Music of Jesus Christ Superstar, March 31st at Headliners. Can you describe the show for us and what the audience can expect to see and hear?
RR: This concert will focus entirely on the performance of the music of Jesus Christ Superstar rather than a theatrical presentation, and we are going to work hard to create an immersive experience for the audience and performers. The audience will be seated on the floor of Headliners and on the stage, and the band and singers will be set up all around the room. There will also be numerous vocalists performing the songs of the characters - for example, the songs of Judas will be sung by Peter Searcy, Scott Anthony and Danny Kiely, and Mary Magdalene's songs will be shared by Cheyenne Mize and J.D. Green. Also, shortly after doors open, we will rehearse the chorus parts of the opera with any audience who are present and encourage everyone to get in it with us and sing along. What is so moving to me about this performance approach is that it lets everybody participate and affect the composition of the music by recalling it from their memory so that what comes out is, to some degree, the music of the collective memory at work.
LS: Why did you choose this particular musical to do this kind of show with?
RR: There are a few answers to this actually. The genesis of the idea illustrates what I refer to as the Motherlodge "sour mash method" of arts programming : as part of Spring Motherlodge 2012, Laura Ellis and I threw together a Jesus Christ Superstar singalong in the bar of the Rudyard Kipling with just a piano player. The next year Motherlodge had a show on Easter at Billy Hertz's Gallery and Juanita came dressed in white robes and performed some Jesus Christ Superstar songs. This started a conversation that day about Motherlodge presenting JCS. Then last year I was faced with having no resources or time to build our usual multi-show Motherlodge program for Louisville, so I suggested we try this concert idea at the Rud and have Laura and Juanita participate. It turned out they were not able, but as this was being discussed, serendipity struck - Danny Kiely was asked to organize an event and hire most of our core band to play songs from Jesus Christ Superstar. Not only was the band provided with a head start into learning the whole opera, at this event we got to play the music with Kurt Yaghjian who played Annas in the movie and we performed for Ted Neely, who played Jesus in the film. Ted sat 20 feet from the stage clapping along to the 7/8 section of Heaven On Their Minds. I don't know if that makes us ordained, but the band gained a lot from them.
Also, anyone familiar with Motherlodge knows that we often present live performances of iconic recordings, and some people might be surprised to know that Jesus Christ Superstar was initially created to be a concept album, so this also makes sense for us. Really, since diving into it last year, I've recognized a great potential for this work to grow and incorporate more collaborations in the future, should Motherlodge keep exploring it, which I hope to. For our concert in Berea on March 25, we will be collaborating with the organizers of the Clear Creek Festival and the musicians of Union Church, which I am very excited about. I probably won't let go of this idea until Juanita are back in robes again - or whatever they decide to wear that day.
Lastly, Spring Motherlodge in Louisville has traditionally been at the end of March, and it's exceptionally cool to dive into this particular work at this particular time of the year in a city whose culture is particularly influenced by Christian mythology. I think that whether one is a fan of Christianity or an outsider to it, the way the Passion story is told in Jesus Christ Superstar can satisfy many people. Jesus is regarded as a political dissident, and much of the struggle between he and Judas centers upon the conflict of perceptions that happen when Jesus is regarded as something more than a man making revolutionary change with his ideas. It's a little distressing that a few lyrics in JCS enforce the popular notion that Mary Magdalene was a whore, which is not actually historically or scripturally accurate. But maybe we'll find a way in performance to remedy their misconception.
LS: Who else is involved in the making of the show and what does it take to make something like this happen?
RR: People are still signing on! At this time the ensemble for the Louisville concert consists of myself and Brett Holsclaw on drums and vocals, Scott Anthony on keys and vocals, Danny Kiely on bass and vocals, Chris Rodahaffer on guitar and vocals, Cheyenne Mize on violin and vocals, Maria Utley on cello, Peter Searcy, JD Green, Robert MacFarland, Mauriece Hamilton, Rebecca Minnick, Nina Rodahaffer on vocals, and Spettra performing light art. I'm very excited about the lineup so far but to be totally honest, so much work has had to go into organizing the three concerts (In addition to Louisville and Berea we'll perform in Madison, Indiana at Red Bicycle Hall on March 26) that our usual outreach efforts have moved slower than usual. I expect some cool additions to be announced in the coming weeks. As for what it takes to make something like this happen, the answer starts with communication, communication, communication. To pull this off also requires a boatload of trust from the people involved, and for that I am extremely grateful.
Ticket info for the March 31st show at Headliners can be found here.