Opera was one of the first artistic forms to incorporate multimedia. Today, Squonk Opera has taken that to the next level. An eccentric ensemble that hails from Pittsburgh, Squonk Opera blends instrumental music and soaring vocals with psychedelic visuals and video. It all comes together to form a unique type of theater, an opera for the modern age.
On a farm outside of Pittsburgh, the members of Squonk Opera and their crew are hard at work constructing the set for their latest show. The ensemble has performed in a variety of locations over the past twenty years, starting out in a Pittsburgh junkyard before moving into the theater circuit. They have constructed elaborate outdoor performances such as their ‘Astro-Rama’ in 2008, when they performed in front of a giant UFO in Schenley Plaza while lasers played a light show on the Cathedral of Learning behind them. They have even taken their performance to national television, when they performed on America’s Got Talent last year. However, this is the first time they will be performing in a truck, the same truck that will carry them when they take GO Roadshow on tour this summer.
Pulling up to the Squonk farm, the truck is the first thing that I see although it does not look like your normal truck. It looks like a stage, with elevated platforms for the instruments that the band is currently building in the barn. One platform is reserved for a specially designed instrument that has been described as a ‘Gatling gun trumpet’ made up of a multitude of silver trumpets, each one attuned to a different key. Co-Founder, Steve O’Hearn will play the trumpet on the elevated platform across from his Squonk partner, Jackie Dempsey, who will play a specially designed silver piano on the other. The truck itself has been designed so that the walls can be pulled down and the whole thing is converted into the stage on which the members of Squonk Opera will perform.
Inside the barn there is a myriad of sounds and sights to explore, very much like the shows of Squonk Opera. A silvery wall stretches across the barn, with holes cut out in different sizes. Jackie explains to me that each hole with contain a fan to spin very quickly and create an illusion of a wall, where images and video will be projected. Visuals are a vital element to the show, blending seamlessly with the music to create an overall experience that is akin to a dream-like state. It is not simply a concert to listen to; Squonk Opera creates an immersive and often interactive experience for their viewers.
“We try to keep the audience entertained and surprised.” Jackie Dempsey is the co-founder and artistic director of the ensemble. She is usually the one playing the piano or the accordion while dressed in a lavish gown, silver hair shifting color with the lights of the show.
Squonk Opera will be returning to the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival this year. The GO Roadshow truck will be pulling up on Penn Ave. on June 8th for their first show. They will play three shows throughout the day on Saturday, June 9th and two final shows on Sunday, June 10th. Their performance at the Dollar Bank Three Rivers Arts Festival marks the world premiere of GO Roadshow, so be sure to check it out for a truly unique arts experience.