The Kafka Project brings the theatre program and music program together at CSU

One of the hall marks of the Department of Music, Theatre and Dance at Colorado State University is the synergy between the performance arts programs.

The Kafka Project, written by Theatre Director Walt Jones, is a perfect example of the collaboration that is characteristic of the department. Assistant Professor of Composition and Music Theory James David composed three movements for The Kafka Project. The complete work, performed by Assistant Professor of Jazz Studies Peter Sommer, is a concerto for saxophone meant to capture the elusive nature of Kafka’s stories.

“Walt Jones approached me about collaborating with the theatre area. When he mentioned that he was interested in directing a piece inspired by Kafka, I was immediately excited at the chance to take on some of my favorite short stories. Many of my previous works are inspired by literary works, so it was a natural fit,” says David.

The Kafka Project is a collectively-created sampling of Kafka’s bizarre world of works. The project features staging of six major works along with entries from his diaries and letters; all centered around his most famous work, The Metamorphosis.

“Kafka’s work is mysterious, hard to crack, challenging and compelling — full of contradictions,” notes writer and director of The Kafka Project, Walt Jones. “His writing, while not ‘theatre,’ per se, is very theatrical.”

A Hunger Artist is a first-person monologue by a man who, as a side-show act, is starving himself to death. In A Report to an Academy, an ape tells a group of scientists why he chose to become a man. The story In the Penal Colony describes the last use of an elaborate torture and execution device that carves the sentence of the condemned prisoner on his skin in a script before letting him die, all in the course of twelve hours.

The centerpiece of this haunting evening, presented in five installments throughout the piece, The Metamorphosis, follows the six-legged nightmare of traveling salesman, Gregor Samsa, who awakens one morning to discover he has been transformed into a giant bug.

The work written by David for The Kafka Project is cast in three movements with each representing a particular character from Kafka’s output. The central movement, scored for a trio of saxophone, cello, and an electronic harp, centers around A Hunger Artist whose torture is heard in microtonal clouds of distorted sounds. The final movement is based on Kafka’s most famous character: Gregor Samsa from The Metamorphosis. Here, the transformed man’s psyche is heard through the increasingly chaotic dance rhythms of his new insect legs.

“The ‘humanity’ of the jazz tenor saxophone combined with the clarity of a chamber orchestra and the harsh expansiveness of digital sounds seemed to somehow complement the enigmatic nature of these stories,” says David. “It is my hope that the work will be perceived as an unusual, but satisfactory solution to an extremely rewarding challenge.”