Review: Stamps Series Presents Joseph Keckler in “I, as an Opera”

The Michigan Theater hosts a Penny Stamps Lecture Series every Thursday at 5:10pm, open to the public. This past Thursday, the series replaced the lecture with a performance by Art and Design school alumni Joseph Keckler. Keckler performed segments of “I, as an Opera”, a multimedia opera performance. Keckler’s performance felt particularly personal, he began with a humorous conversational anecdote which served as seamless transition directly into the performance. What followed was a kaleidoscopic exploration into Keckler’s life, mind, and soul.

I admit I have no prior experience watching opera, but since Thursday I have scoured the internet for more information and feel safe to say Keckler’s presentation was quite original and innovative.

(A quick digression—I’ve never been interested in opera, nor did I ever expect to be, the fact that I have since googled opera speaks volumes about how creative and immersive this performance was.)

TL:DR, “I, as an Opera” is a humorous retelling of a really bad shrooms trip. I can not confirm or deny
On one hand, the tone of the piece was really funny, because the experiences Keckler sang about were so absurd, and hearing about a bad drug experience via opera singing is probably something I will never get to see again. At the same time, the story was quite disturbing—at one point Keckler tells about his drug-induced sensation of demonic possession.

I felt the inherently humorous concept of presenting a drug story through the conventions of opera is an incredibly bold idea, one that would probably never work in a traditional operatic performance. This is why Keckler’s unique spin on the opera worked so well. Rather than fill the stage with an elaborate set and a large cast, he used a projector to present a variety of visuals to the audience—a lightshow while talking about the positive aspects of the mushroom experience, a silent reel of his old singing teacher while recounting memories from the past induced by the psychedelics. This unique style both accentuated the personal nature of the narrative and successfully demonstrated the mind-warping nature of the story.

There was one other person on stage for about 5 minutes—a man dressed up as a minotaur near the end. Other than that, Keckler performed on stage alone. The one man show style created an intimate connection between lone performer and audience. Keckler also interacted directly with his projections. The audience saw the most important visual representations of the experience—absolutely no extraneous details. This performance, from start to finish, focused entirely on one man on a lot of drugs, and his disjointed journey through his own mind.

The visual details we did see gave us a greater insight into the psychedelic, introspective nature of the experience. Keckler projected images of strobing, colorful lights to illustrate his warped visions during the experience. Much of his performance also delved into memories of his teenage years, time spent learning singing. During this part of the performance, Keckler exhibited a silent film featuring a talking head of his singing teacher. She broke into a series of tangents about Keckler’s personality and habits. Whether this was her opinion or Keckler’s projection of his self-image is unclear. Regardless, this scene illustrated a psychedelic exploration of the self.

Keckler’s performance was a compelling introduction to opera. His performance focused on subject matter that is relevant and entertaining to today’s youth, but he told his story using an archaic style. This marriage between modern themes and classical storytelling made for a refreshing experience.

Watch Joseph Keckler‘s video short based on the opera here