After a great five-week run of the Live! At the Tenement program, things culminated on July 29 with a bash. Live performances, some by costumed interpreters who had finished up with their tours mere minutes earlier, and Whole Foods-provided food and drink helped guests make merry for the two-hour evening show.
Clare Burson started the night with a solo acoustic set supporting her newest record, Silver and Ash, a concept album about her grandmother’s emigration from Germany. The sparse, haunting songs felt perfectly suited to the particular venue that night, covering everything from the stifling summer heat to historical tragedies like the bombing of Rotterdam by the Germans during World War II.
During quiet folk songs, waltzes, and ballads, Burson twisted vintage sounds into something uniquely modern and beautiful. While tuning up, she entertained the crowd with a story of a coveted family heirloom—one hundred year old Lithuanian cheese.
Clearly, Ms. Burson cares about the past, and it radiated from her with her every word. A few local Lower East Side residents explained that they only hoped “she’d play even more.” They thought it was “so beautiful; she’s a wonderful singer.”
The Venn Diagrams, an eclectic two-piece formed in 2001 featuring guitarist Rick Sorkin and the Museum’s own Jeffrey Marsh, took the stage next. With guitar and ukulele, the Diagrams reinterpreted classics like Lou Reed’s “Take a Walk on the Wild Side,” Dolly Parton’s “Nine to Five,” and even strummed a carefully bent handsaw with bow for an eerie take on “Dream a Little Dream of Me.”
Marsh also drew inspiration from opener Burson for one bittersweet, immigration-related original about “a big trip” away from a loved one.
“I adore her music,” he said, “and I wanted to do an homage.”
Much like their inventive webisodes that involve irreverent chatter, musical performances, art pieces, and comedy in rapid succession, the duo eschewed a straightforward set, instead speaking offhand and sometimes directly to the audience during their cabaret act. They kept the intimate crowd guessing about what would come next.
The shop was packed once costumed interpreter Katie Barnard stepped away from her Bridget Moore persona for the night and revealed her own talents, beautifully singing a slew of show tunes accompanied by sister Lisa Barnard on piano. The crowd wildly cheered her renditions of songs like “I’m Not Afraid of Anything” from Songs for a New World. And for the first time, actress, singer, and fellow costumed interpreter Jen Faith Brown joined Barnard for a few enthralling duets including Ragtime’s “Our Children” after practicing for more than six weeks. Brown also took her turn performing alone, with classics “Singin’ In The Rain” and “Bill” from Showboat receiving equal fanfare.
It was inspiring to see the small experiment of the Live! At the Tenement program grow to bring the community together by finding new ways to educate and entertain. Many who attended the party had already experienced Live! once or even several times before.
Returning to the tenement for a third time, one audience member thought the interaction offered even the most unlikely visitors a reason to stop by.
“It’s really fun,” she said. “It’s all history, which I usually don’t like, but the [costumed interpreters] were so good! It was cool.”
Jeffrey Marsh explained that the program had exceeded the performers’ expectations as well. “Towards the end everything was sold out, which is a good step, but beyond ticket sales, the reaction from visitors has been much grander, much more wonderful than anything we could have ever imagined.”
Thanks to everyone who supported Live! At the Tenement and celebrated with museum staff on July 29.
-posted by Joe Klarl, with video by Devin