Literary arts

From pen to performance

John Biscello launches ‘Nocturne Variations,’ a multidimensional experience

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There’s no denying that the digital revolution has had a powerful impact on the production and consumption of written literature. While some writers have reacted by gnashing their teeth and bewailing the end of civilization as they know it, others – like Taos novelist, poet and playwright John Biscello – are embracing the new world and finding ways to dance with it.

Biscello and friends will present a multimedia, multigender enchantment inspired by his latest novel, “Nocturne Variations,” on Saturday (Aug. 12) at 7 p.m. The event will take place at The Body Shop, 108-A Kit Carson Road in the Cabot Plaza Mall. Proceeds will benefit Taos High School’s Genders and Sexualities Alliance.

Native New Yorker Biscello arrived in New Mexico 16 years ago. “It was Halloween night, and the Yankees were playing the Diamondbacks in the World Series,” he recalled. In New York, Biscello was active in performance poetry and prose. In Taos, he began writing plays. “Writing is mostly solitary, but theater is collaborative and I liked that a lot. My first play was called ‘Lobsters on Ice.’ We performed it at a gallery in El Prado, and Kristian Moore was in it. That got me started on that track. I realized, ‘Hey, I can do this and I like it.’”

He’s continued to write and publish novels, too. In recent years, he has successfully translated some of his novels’ essential characters and qualities into live entertainments incorporating music, theater and film.

“We’re doing this instead of a straight book reading, and it seems like a natural, interesting way to do it. Even as written, it’s a hybrid novel — it has letters, journal entries, screenplay parts. I’ll be reading from parts of it, and we’re going to have short films we shot, film clips, live music, shadow dancing — the whole world of the story revolves around shadow dance, shadow puppetry. The lovely Ashleigh Grycner will be performing music, and Amber Vasquez is choreographing the dance.”

The story follows a 17-year-old runaway named Piers, a waif-like puppeteer who has left home to escape sexual abuse. Piers was born a girl, but identifies as a boy — a boy with wings. Like others in the story, Piers is addicted to an experimental drug that promises a type of Neverland, a return to childhood. When circumstances force her to flee from Los Angeles, she finds herself in a small town in the Southwest, confronting the ghosts and demons of her past.

Singer-songwriter Grycner read the book early on. “I was profoundly moved by ‘Nocturne’ in a way that took me by surprise, the way a wave catches you and suddenly, you feel its smooth and terrible power,” she said. “By the end of the book, I was a river of tears without really understanding how or why. For me, tracking Piers on her journey to meet her own dissolution and fragmentation was a religious experience because it brought me in contact with my own grief in a gentle, yet deeply intimate way.”

Saturday’s event will aim to create an ambience, a “moodscape,” as Biscello calls it, that evokes the spirit of the novel. “It will have a cryptic feel. I’m excited to pull together different talents so it’s not just me reading. We have five local teens who made these short films, made up and dressed as the characters, these characters from the 1980s. There’ll be covers of ‘80s songs, Irish songs, all kinds of music. We’ll be featuring some amazing artwork by Heather Ross — it’s like Victorian photo surrealism, an old-fashioned quality with these tiny, tiny surrealistic photo images on glass.”

Ross adds, “My participation in this project includes providing photography-based imagery, which John felt complemented the feel and themes of his novel — i.e., surrealism, alternate realities and intersecting parallels. I will be displaying photographic prints, photo transfers on glass, fabric and shadowboxes throughout the venue on the night of the event. I really love the fact that John is reaching across multiple platforms with Taos High School’s GSA program, Taos Pride and other local artists and musicians to bring us all together for this unique event.”

Biscello was inspired to offer the event as a benefit for GSA after seeing the group’s presentation at a Pecha Kucha evening. GSA Network began in California in 1998 with a mission to ensure the safety of LGBT youth in schools. Originally an acronym for Gay-Straight Alliance, the national organization changed in 2016 to Genders and Sexualities Alliance. The group has been instrumental in passing legislation to protect young people from violence.

Taos High School’s GSA chapter was founded 10 years ago by Yavanne Jaramillo, current Taos Pride president. “I was a job coach at the time,” Jaramillo said. “My office was open to every student that just wanted to talk. It was a safe zone for students. As of this year, it is still active thanks to Ned Dougherty. GSA will be in the Taos Pride Parade and will have a booth at the park for Taos Pride [Fest] in the Park.”

“The Taos High School GSA is excited to be getting out more in the community this school year,” said writer and educator Dougherty. “On the heels of a successful bake sale last spring, the GSA looks forward to supporting John Biscello’s event, as well as Taos Pride, Glam Trash and THS homecoming.”

Tickets are $10 at the door. For more information, visit johnbiscello.com.

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