Vox Lumiere flies into the Eccles Center with ‘Peter Pan’
When people watch silent movies during special screenings in theaters, the films may be accompanied by a prerecorded piano or organ track.
There are times when people watch silent movie DVDs, videos or Blu-Rays and put their own music into the system.
When Vox Lumiere screens Herbert Brenon’s 1924 Paramount release of James M. Barrie’s "Peter Pan" at the Eccles Center on Saturday, March 23, the soundtrack will literally come to life with live musicians, dancers and singers.
In doing so, the black and white silent work will become a multi-media extravaganza, thanks to music director Kevin Saunders Hayes.
Hayes talked with The Park Record about the mission of Vox Lumiere during an interview from Los Angeles, Calif., last week.
"What we’re doing is storytelling," Hayes said. "It’s like film scoring where the music can tell the story, but can also become a subtext or a commentary on the film. We blend all those together into one."
With any film score, the purpose is to serve the picture and make it more of an experience for the audience, he said.
"With our performances, we need to find the opportunities where the live aspects can become the thoughts and dreams of the characters on the screen," Hayes explained. "But on top of that, since the production is also a play, we have to be aware of that arc. So all the principles of writing a musical also pertains to what we do."
Hayes, who is a film composer, songwriter and musician, came up with the idea of combining live theatre with silent film in the middle of night 13 years ago.
"It was one of those three-o’clock-in-the-morning ideas, where you think it’s a wonderful idea, even though you are completely delirious," he said laughed. "I began to think what would happen if I began writing themes for the characters in TV jingles and at the appropriate time the themes became songs that would help the film have a greater emotional impact on the audiences."
The more he thought about it, the more he liked the idea.
"I knew there weren’t any directors in their right minds who would let me do that with their films, so I figured I wouldn’t be able to do it," he said. "But then I went to the store to buy some new underwear and passed a bin that was selling silent movies for one dollar."
The bin stopped Hayes in his tracks.
"I began thinking," he said. "First off, these films are silent and they have no music, so I could write something for them. The second thing was the people who made these films were probably dead, so they couldn’t get mad at me."
After buying a bunch of tapes, he went home to watch them.
"The copies were crappy, but the movies — ‘Metropolis,’ ‘Hunchback of Notre Dame’ and ‘Phantom of the Opera’ — had some great actors and great stories and were beautifully directed," Hayes said. "While I watched, I began taking notes as to which part could be scored and which part could be a song."
At that time, Hayes wasn’t thinking of a live performance, but more of a soundtrack.
"I called my friends come over to sing these short songs," he said. "I had already been scoring commercial jingles, and scoring a lot of musical and guerilla theatre, where I would get a bunch of friends together and do little performances. We were successful if we broke even.
"So, as we recorded the songs for the silent films, I developed the idea of doing it live," Hayes said. "I told my friends about it and they said it was weird, but a cool idea."
A few weeks later, a friend of a friend who ran a film festival in Avion, France, called and asked if Hayes and his crew would like to do a performance.
"He couldn’t pay us, but he did fly us out and feed us," Hayes said. "That was the crazy beginning of it all, because after that, we got more and more calls.
"Film festivals are a lot of fun, anyway, and we were like rock stars when we got there," he said. "It was awesome that we were getting paid to go on vacation."
In 2004, the next branch of the project sprouted and the group, which had become Vox Lumiere, began doing shows at performing art centers.
"That came about because my lovely wife hit me upside the head and said I should start paying attention to what we were doing more seriously because people were responding," Hayes said. "That’s when we figured out we actually did have a show and we get paid for doing them."
"Peter Pan" is one of the newer films in Vox Lumiere’s repertoire.
"After working on those first three movies, I started thinking about working on a Christmas film and I stumbled across ‘Peter Pan’ because the film originally opened at Christmas time in 1924," Hayes said. "I never heard of a silent ‘Peter Pan,’ so I got a copy and watched it.
"It is the most charming film ever made," he said. "I mean, you can see the strings on Peter when he flies. Nana is a guy in a dog suit, and you can tell there is a man in the crocodile suit, but you don’t care."
Hayes also liked the fact that James M. Barrie, the author of the original "Peter Pan" book, had a hand in making the film.
"It’s like they filmed the live stage performance," Hayes said.
After a few more hours of research, Hayes found out why he had never heard of the film.
"Disney bought it up before they made their animated film in the ’50s and hid it away," he said. "I figured out why when I was working on it, because the Disney cartoon looks as if original film was animated cell by cell."
Hayes is looking forward to sharing the film and his production with Park City on Saturday.
"I feel like the luckiest guy in the world because I get to write music and make my living doing it," he said. "Also, it’s a great feeling to perform it for people around the world, like you guys in Park City, and play things that I wrote from my heart. We’re excited to come. It will be fun."
The Park City Performing Arts Foundation will present Vox Lumiere "Peter Pan" at the Eccles Center for the Performing Arts, 1750 Kearns Blvd., on Saturday, March 23, at 7:30 p.m. Tickets range from $20 to $67 and available by visiting http://www.ecclescenter.org or calling (435) 655-3114.
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