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Published: 2001/07/17
by Lee Seelig

BACKSTAGE PASS: Fortune Cookie Dreams

As a senior at the University of Michigan in 1999, I had the great experience of being the production manager on a rendition of Frank Zappas Joes Garage. The show brought together 60+ students throughout the school and was multimedia to the fullest. We had a live band, animation, actors, dancers, live video feeds, robotic lights, and a special guest performance by Ike Willis. Willis, who tours frequently with Project / Object and was Joe on Zappa’s original album, had heard about the show from a family friend and made the trip to Ann Arbor from the West Coast to be a part of history. Our performance of Joes Garage was in actuality the first time that any group had ever performed Zappas rock opera in its entirety.
The show was the brain-child of Joe Grossman and Jordan Shapiro, two very good friends of mine to this day. Ever since freshman year, these two Zappa freaks had the idea of somehow putting together the mass resources at a huge school like UM and turning Zappas double-CD into a live spectacle. Grossman was responsible for directing the show and Shapiro was the musical director for the performances. You may recognize Jordans name because he has been touring with Project / Object across the country for the past two years playing keyboards. After the show in 1999, a relationship developed between Willis and Shapiro because Ike was quite impressed with the work we had all done. I specifically remember him telling a group of us: Frank would have been proud. In a twist of fate, Project / Object happened to be looking for a keyboardist at exactly the same time as Shapiros (and my) graduation from college and Jordan was auditioned and accepted into the band.
Putting on a show of someone elses material was certainly rewarding (especially when that person is Frank Zappa) but Grossman and Shapiro were not satiated with the experience. Doing Joes Garage gave these two the vision of what was possible in terms of the multimedia aspects of the performance. The real goal was to put on their own rock opera. Or as they like to call it: media melt rock odyssey. Their show is called Fortune Cookie Dreams and the world premier of the music will take place at Wetlands Preserve in New York City later this month on Thursday, July 26. (In the spirit of journalistic integrity I should tell you that I am responsible for booking the Wetlands performance.)
Fortune Cookie Dreams has been brewing for almost three years now. With a script written by Grossman and a score by Shapiro, the show explores themes such as the commodification of everything, consumer religion, loss of identity, and misinteractions between humans and their technology. Remember, we are talking about Zappa fans who wrote Fortune Cookie Dreams. You didnt expect it to be normal, did you? The Wetlands performance is just the debut of the music (with some animation, audience interaction and live video effects to be expected). From August 14-19, there will be off-Broadway workshop performances at the Blue Heron Arts Center that will take the show to the next level. The goal is to generate enough interest to bring Fortune Cookie Dreams to a larger venue for an open run (on the level of Blue Man Group or De La Guarda).
Living in Boulder, it really is hard for me to be heavily involved in the production of Fortune Cookie Dreams, but I am trying my best. There are certain things I can accomplish from across the country and Joe and Jordan are looking for all of the support they have the time to coordinate. In that regard, anyone who reads this article and is interested in getting involved should consult www.fortunecookiedreams.org. If you are based in the New York City area it is much more likely that youll be able to help out, but even if you are in San Francisco there may be room for you on the production team. On the web site, you can find the intro to the script for Fortune Cookie Dreams, you can download some of the songs from the show, and you can view clips of the aforementioned Joes Garage performances.
Lee Seelig believes that anyone who supports the July 26 Wetlands show will be rewarded with an enjoyable evening.

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