It’s only a few blocks from the Lower East Side clubs where they’re used to playing rock shows, but for Alex Bleeker and G. Lucas Crane, the Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center is a whole different world.
It’s at the Suffolk Street space that, on April 29, the curtain goes up on The Assassins Chase Pinocchio, a multimedia production based on the classic Adventures of Pinocchio, and in addition to confetti cannons, video projections and wild costumes, the show will feature all-new music composed by Bleeker and Crane.
Both musicians have a history in theater, something they had not before realized even though their bands—Bleeker is in Real Estate, Crane is in Woods—have played together regularly.
“Lucas and I have been working independently of each other in the theater for a long time but we didn’t know that,” says Bleeker. “For some reason there’s a more thriving young person’s alternative music scene than there is a theater scene, maybe because there aren’t so many components to getting a [rock] show mounted in a warehouse. When we discovered we were both involved in these things, it made us excited. It’s exciting for me to be able to marry the two pursuits.”
Who can blame him? The Assassins Chase Pinocchio would be tough not to get worked up for. This production is a lot more than a long nose, it’s an avant-garde adaptation of the beloved story of Pinocchio, scrubbed of the Disney bunk, mounted by the performance collective Immediate Medium and aimed at the impressionable minds of children. Sort of.
“It’s not typically what a kid would be exposed to: it can be scary and it’s not saccharine at all,” says Immediate Medium’s Max Dana, who conceived the show—which more closely follows Carlo Collodi’s story than the 1940 film—and plays Pinocchio. “Our impulses are to water [the show] down a bit to make it acceptable to parents, but we’ve been fighting against those impulses.”
The split personality of the show makes Bleeker and Crane’s job that much more interesting. The duo has been tasked with coming up with compositions that are a bit different than the songs they’re used to writing. When we speak, Crane has been working with a tape one of the show’s actresses gave him of her speaking when she was a child, and Bleeker calls the work “sensational,” thanks to layers, developed through improvisational jamming, that expresses the senses.
“The development of the script and the music are very free form and we’re pulling from lots of influences,” says Crane. “My work is pretty collage-based, so it works well with that writing style.”
The music that’s completed so far is, in fact, out there. Glitchy, ambient and spooky—the track “Travelin’” features a child saying “Mommy” over and over again—the score backs up Dana’s claim that “what [Pinocchio] ends up being is something that’s fun and dark, but in this weird middle ground between the experimental theater world and the more poppy, accessible world.”
It’s exactly the reason he sought out Bleeker and Crane in the first place. After a chance meeting with Bleeker, Dana asked him to work on a previous Immediate Medium project, and when Pinocchio came along, Dana says, “He seemed like a natural fit.” Bleeker drafted Crane to join him on the project. For Dana, the match couldn’t be better. “Lucas is kind of a mad scientist,” he says. “The two of them started working around this early ’80s, synthy thing, and that’s how things evolved. It was a chance encounter, but it fit with the piece.”
The musicians’ experience outside of the rock world was no doubt helpful. Crane, who says, “I’m just a New York creature, so tape collage is really useful so I’ve done some weird sound and performed in a lot of theater projects over the years,” has worked on programs at HERE and is currently creating the music for an upcoming production of Uncle Vanya at P.S. 122. Bleeker has interned for The Wooster Group in addition to working on productions at Dixon Place and The Kitchen. “Up until very recently, even still today, in terms of what medium I consider myself an artist in, it’s always been more of a theater artist than musician,” he says.
What Immediate Medium has to offer was appealing to Bleeker and Crane as well. “This project is resonant for me because of the types of things that Max is interested in exploring, that child-like psychedelica, something a little too advanced or adult for a child,” says Bleeker. “The things I saw in old cartoons when I was growing up, I think they stuck with me and shaped me. I remember being thrown off and confused and really intrigued by images and auditory experiences. I think that’s what they’re after in this project.”
Or, as Dana says, “We stopped thinking about it as just a piece for kids a while ago. I’ve been telling everyone not to think about the audience so much but to make the work they’re making for the child in them. If you can get that kid excited, every kid will be excited.”
The Assassins Chase Pinocchio, opens April 29, Clemente Soto Velez Cultural Center, 107 Suffolk St. (at Rivington St.), 866-811-4111; $20.