New Music New College brings prose to life in “It’s Alive! A Monstrous Circus On Frankenstein”
ACE Plaza is adorned with lights, chairs and camera set ups. Walkway windows were opened with special permission to allow for performers to enact their parts and pose dramatically for the audience to experience a dynamic, moving performance. Photo credit: Gaby Batista

New Music New College brings prose to life in “It’s Alive! A Monstrous Circus On Frankenstein”

The arts are widely embraced on-campus—music being no exception. New Music New College (NMNC) brings revolutionary musical performances every semester, allowing New College students, staff and faculty to enjoy truly unique experiences for free. On Mar. 4, members of the on-campus and wider Sarasota communities attended “It’s Alive! A Monstrous Circus On Frankenstein,” a twist on John Cage’s composition titled, “Circus On ______”—a fill-in-the-blank set of instructions to translate any written text into a performance.

This performance was not the first time NMNC presented this piece to the public—back in 2018, the idea was to create a show that incorporated many layers of written and auditory expression. Mesostics, much like an acrostic poem, were deliberately used to convey the plot of Frankenstein while extracting all the sensory details littered throughout the book that were then translated into instrumental segments, recorded audio clips, vocalizations and projected photos.

Through an Independent Study Project (ISP) sponsored by Professor of English Miriam Wallace in 2019, students sifted through the entirety of Shelley’s 155-page work Frankenstein, producing a total of 256 mesostics. Those mesostics were then compiled into a spreadsheet by Director and Producer of NMNC Ron Silver and distributed to performers who were meant to interpret the emotions, sounds and sensations of the poem through various means.

“Mesostics uncover dark emotions and foreboding within passages that seem hopeful,” Wallace details in the section “About Frankenstein” within the show’s program. “We hope you will find this new approach to Shelley’s 200-year-old work illuminating.”

Performers playing violins, trombone and cello, all used as intended and unconventionally to mimic sensations within the mesostics. Examples of recognizable melodies include “The Star Spangled Banner” and “Amazing Grace.” Photo credit: Nancy Nassiff

Performers consisted of four students, three alums, four members of faculty, two staff members and eight members of the community—all whizzing throughout the building to reach their designated area to recite the next mesostic. The poems were presented in a way that kept the audience’s head turning, whether it was to follow the performer walking across ACE Plaza or to give attention to the blood-curdling screams coming from the ACE walkways.

For exactly 60 minutes—with all actions timed perfectly via stopwatches—a plethora of sensations surrounded the audience. Accompanying recited mesostics were projections of ships, landscapes and streets onto the center tower of ACE, while through speakers, sounds of church bells, bird chirping and chains could be heard. The immense detail injected throughout was astonishing, made even more noticeable by varying periods of silence where everything comes to a standstill, leaving the audience to take in the sounds of the surrounding area.

“I took the hour and I broke it into 15-second segments,” Silver said, describing the way in which he structured the performance. “I used a random number generator to generate a number for each of those segments to create what I think of as a density—how many things happen simultaneously.”

“Unpredictably, there may be one thing happening at a time or nothing,” Silver continued. “Or there may be six or seven things, a thing being reading a mesostic, making sound or a projection of a place.”

Complete cast posing as monsters post-performance. Photo credit: Nancy Nassiff

The show, much like any other NMNC experience, was funded through grants awarded by the state of Florida, the Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax revenues and private donors, one of which adorned a white lab coat herself. Other notable thanks were given out to various campus offices like Campus Space, Physical Plant and the New College Foundation along with a shout out to Metz Culinary Management for catering the event and providing free snack options for all in attendance.

Silver and Wallace ran students and faculty members present at an Artist Conversation on Mar. 2 through an exercise where they could create a mesostic of their own using “FRANKENSTEIN.” The Catalyst presents its very own mesostic from the first pages of Frankenstein:

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