Illustration Associate Professor Ben Katchor got interviewed for New York Magazine recently. He talked about the development of his new opera with Mark Mulcahy, The Slug Bearers of Kayrol Island. Here’s a snippet:
As a cartoonist working in theater, how would you compare the two?
Comics are an economical way to figure out stories. There are zero expenses. You just need a place to live. Whereas theater is the most luxurious art form that there is: You need live actors, and everyone has to show up at a certain time and do a lot of rehearsing. Are they going to catch a cold that day? Are they going to show up? You realize how fragile all of it is. But it’s a great thing. When you’re watching a great actor try to figure out his scene, it’s like watching a cartoonist making a drawing, but they’re doing it somehow with their body. It’s amazing.
How would you sum up the play for someone who hasn’t seen it?
It’s an absurdist romance. It’s about the romance of poetry and humanitarianism.
The show also seems to be making a statement about consumerism.
There is a trend in the world now toward the immaterial — with people digitizing books and making tiny portable electronic devices. But if you want to make table phones and toasters, they need to be augmented artificially. The weight needs to be augmented. There is nothing physically to them, they’re just little microchips and plastic casings. We’re at this strange point in time where a lot of life we’d like to have miniaturized so we can carry a library in our pocket. But on the other hand, we still have hands and physical bodies, and we need to deal with the physical world. It’s a dilemma of technology.