ASU theater students explore musical genius, neurology in unique performance

Asking someone if they like music is like asking them if they like breathing. There is a distinct universality to it, not found in all forms of art, that lends itself perfectly to an upcoming theatrical fugue conceived by four Arizona State University students during a grad school class.

What evolved from their initial concept has taken nearly three years of intense research, collaboration and ingenuity. “The 7 Layers of Bastian Bachman” is a site-specific, immersive performance that gives the audience “radical agency over their own experience” and the freedom “to explore and witness what they choose, and construct their own meaning out of it,” according to the show’s director, Megan Weaver.

Weaver, along with classmates Anastasia Schneider (production design), Adam Vachon (lighting design) and Alex Oliszewski (media design), is one of the four original conceivers of 7 Layers, which explores the mental deterioration of the fictional Bastian Bachman, a contemporary musical composer, performer and innovator of national prominence. The character of BB, as he is known by close friends, was inspired by the music of the similarly-named, nonfictional Johann Sebastian Bach, a revolutionary composer and celebrity of his own time.

When a tumor is found in BB's temporal lobe, his genius slowly begins to elude him. As the agonizing breakdown of his mental capacity plays out before the audience, it is enhanced with a comprehensive soundscape inspired by Oliver Sacks’ “Musicophilia,” Hofstadter’s “Gödel Escher Bach,” the works of John Cage, David Bowie, Amanda Palmer, Johann Sebastian Bach, Philip Glass and Andy Warhol. The original music is complimented by an immersive scenic design of repurposed industrial materials and scavenged musical artifacts.

Besides the four creators, the production also includes an ensemble of fifteen actors and six designers, many of whom, like Jenny Strickland, are current ASU students. Clearly enamored of the project, Strickland recalls that when Weaver asked her to participate, “I couldn't say yes fast enough. The story was compelling, and the challenge of bringing it into reality was seductive.”

Strickland’s character, BB’s estranged daughter Juliana, was inspired by the story of Johann Sebastian Bach’s crab canon, a musical palindrome he wrote later in life for the king of Prussia.

The 7 Layers of Bastian Bachman will premiere at 7:30 p.m., Jan. 29 at The Icehouse in downtown Phoenix, and features ASU theater students and graduates, as well as artists who work frequently throughout the Valley with organizations such as Arizona Puppet Theater, JiveMind, Orange Theatre, Stray Cat, Phoenix Art Museum and many more.

Weaver points out that the choice of venue for the show, the historic Icehouse, corresponds harmoniously with its themes. “Using a nontraditional site to contextualize the experience made perfect sense, as we tried to create this piece from inside BB's perspective.  A once-industrious but now-defunct space, with visible deterioration and odd quirks is the perfect environment to explore the workings of a high-functioning mind that is now falling apart,” she says.

Reserve your tickets now, here. The show runs Jan. 29-Feb. 2 and admission is pay-what-you-can. Entry is every 10 minutes between 7:30 p.m. and 8:10 p.m. Metered street parking is free during the show, though it is encouraged to allow extra time to find parking. This is a walking performance, so audiences should wear warm clothing and comfortable shoes.

Learn more about The 7 Layers of Bastian Bachman here, or check out the show's Facebook page.