The Paul Dresher Ensemble, in partnership with Fort Mason Center and Behavioral Intervention For Autism, is producing a unique pair of works that are both connected with Autism: MAX UNDERSTOOD, a new musical drama about a seven year old boy with Autism, and Sound Maze for Max, a hands-on interactive sound installation featuring large-scale invented musical instruments being designed for autistic and non-autistic audiences of all ages. Both works will premiere at Fort Mason Center during National Autism Awareness Month in April 2015.
Premiering on April 16, 2015 is MAX UNDERSTOOD, an extraordinary musical about the family and the adventures of a young boy with Autism. The show was created by Bay Area writer Nancy Carlin and composer/sound designer Michael Rasbury, whose experiences raising his own autistic son, Max, inspired this show.
Hailed by New York critics as "Gorgeous and heartrending," "Consistently fascinating, quite unlike anything I've ever heard" and named "Outstanding New Musical," MAX UNDERSTOOD has been workshopped in New York City but never had a fully staged, professional premiere. The Paul Dresher Ensemble's generous collaborators on this production are Fort Mason Center Presents and Behavioral Intervention for Autism, one of the Bay Area's leading Autism support organizations.
Also premiering in April is an utterly unique, hands-on sound installation called Sound Maze for Max. Set up in The Firehouse at Fort Mason Center in San Francisco, it features ten fabulous invented musical instruments - designed and built by Paul Dresher, Daniel Schmidt and Alex Vittum - on which people of all ages are invited to experiment freely with sound and music in an imaginative and welcoming environment.
From April 4 through May 3, Sound Maze for Max will be open to the general public, to school groups, to ticket holders for all MAX UNDERSTOOD shows, and especially, to people with Autism, for whom hands-on, music-making experiences are almost never available. For people with heightened sound sensitivities, the intensity of each instrument will be adjustable. Our hope is that this unique sound installation will be a memorable destination where individuals, families and groups from the Autism community can celebrate World Autism Awareness Month with us this April.
Our Fundraising Goals
Although we have already raised a significant amount of the money needed for this project, some critical expenses remain unfunded, including:
- Constructing a 20-foot wide, circular stage that when rotated will change scenes instantaneously. (Cost: $10,000)
- A powerful projector (at least 10K lumens), moving lights, and computer control system that can create vivid illusions of flying and other magical actions in the show. (Cost: $8,000)
- An 8-channel surround sound system that will let audiences experience overwhelming environmental sounds and noise the way Max does every day. (Cost: $6,000)
- Transforming the open space of the Fort Mason Firehouse into the multi-roomed Sound Maze with sound absorbent walls for each room (Cost: $7,000)
More about MAX UNDERSTOOD
MAX UNDERSTOOD invites audiences into the life of seven-year old Max as he sneaks out of his family home and ventures out into the world on his own. Guided by a leaf-blowing philosopher named Munc, Max meets three neighborhood children named Peg, Albert (Einstein), and Fin (a toy mermaid), who accompany him on his journey. While he experiences the beauty and mysteries of the everyday world, his Mom and Dad have an autistic nightmare of their own as they search desperately for their lost child. In the end, the family comes together again, still the same yet changed forever.
Building Community Awareness and Understanding of Autism
Nancy Carlin and Michael Rasbury's moving drama was created in part to foster public understanding and empathy for the thousands of people who are living with Autism in our communities. Currently the fastest growing disability in the US, Autism has touched most of us through our friends, neighbors, and families. Having increased exponentially around the world since the 1980's, among all ethnic groups and at every socioeconomic level, Autism is now diagnosed in one of every 89 children born today, with more than double that incidence among boys in the San Francisco Bay Area.
Despite the many people who are living with Autism today, few of us comprehend how autistic children and their families experience daily life. Sharing their experiences with a broader public is what MAX UNDERSTOOD aspires to do. With powerful soundscapes, gorgeous songs, and Nancy Carlin's poetic libretto, MAX UNDERSTOOD offers a multifaceted glimpse into the daily lives of Max, his friends, and family.
Max's Story in Song
We first meet Max, a seven-year old boy with Autism, on an ordinary weekday morning. Overwhelmed by a barrage of common environmental sounds, he responds with anxious vocalizations and repetitive movements.
As Max distractedly waits for breakfast, his loving but overwhelmed parents struggle to start their day while attending to his daily needs.
Mom reflects on her situation to the soothing drone of the washing machine
Quietly, Max sneaks out of the apartment and soon meets three unfriendly neighborhood children who taunt him incessantly.
Upset, Max runs out into the street and is nearly hit by a car. He is saved by a leaf-blowing philosopher Munc, who begins teaching Max about the calming effect of poetry and the magic of metaphor.
Meanwhile, Max’s parents are experiencing an autistic nightmare of their own as they desperately search for their missing son. They call out to him frantically despite knowing that his Autism makes him incapable of responding.
Do Max and his family find a way to be normal or do their expectations for their son change?
Sound Maze for Max
In tandem with our World Premiere of MAX UNDERSTOOD, the Paul Dresher Ensemble is producing an amazing, hands-on installation of invented musical instruments in the Fort Mason Center Firehouse, a short walk from Cowell Theater. There will be ten invented instruments, each housed in a separate room, where audiences of all ages and abilities -- including adults, teens and children with Autism -- are invited to experiment freely with sound and music in a welcoming and imaginative sonic environment. Sound Maze for Max opens April 4th and runs through May 3rd.
The Invented Instruments
All of the inventions have been collaboratively designed and built by the Ensemble's experienced inventor-builders: Paul Dresher, Daniel Schmidt, and Alex Vittum. They will include:
Wood Block Flowers
The Hurdy Grande is a stringed musical instrument related to the smaller, medieval folk instrument the Hurdy Gurdy, whose sound has often been compared to that of a bagpipe. In our rendition, its sounds range from the most delicate of bowed-string sonorities to wildly aggressive shrieks that can almost sound like Jimi Hendrix’s whammy bar feedback.
The Big Wheel
Public Hours: From April 4 through May 3, Sound Maze for Max will be open (admission free or by donation), to the general public
- Weekends from 11-4 pm
- Wednesday afternoons from 2:30 to 5 pm
- Friday evenings, during Fort Mason Center's Off the Grid, from 2:30 to 7:30 pm.
- Two hours prior to all performances of MAX UNDERSTOOD.
Especially for the Autism Community
The Paul Dresher Ensemble is inviting schools and private programs that serve the Autism community to reserve Sound Maze for Max for their participants. We hope that this installation will be a unique and memorable destination they can visit with their family, classmates, and caregivers to celebrate World Autism Awareness Month in April.
We are also inviting local elementary, middle, and high schools to visit Sound Maze for Max as a field trip. Teachers are invited to reserve the installation Tuesday through Friday, between 10:30 and 2:30, for groups of up to 25 students. They will spend up to one hour exploring our invented musical instruments and imagining what their true capabilities might be.
As you can see, given the scope and importance of this ambitious project, we really need your help to make it all possible! Thank you!
Risks and challenges
We are confident that both parts of our project --the musical MAX UNDERSTOOD, and the invented instrument installation Sound Maze for Max -- will be successful. Although this is clearly a very ambitious endeavor for us, and although we still need to raise significant amounts of money to see both productions through as we envision them, our project has already received a great deal of support from public foundations, government funders, corporations, and individual donors, making failure almost impossible.
Should worse come to worst, the Paul Dresher Ensemble will draw from our reserve fund so that both premieres will take place as planned.Learn about accountability on Kickstarter
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