September 30, 2022
Ithaca, NY | 41°F


Different media converge to tell story of French poet

Cornell Cinema staff member Ross Haarstad has coordinated a theatrical production about the life and works of 19th-century poet Arthur Rimbaud. The performance is titled “Rêves/Rimbaud: A Work in Progress,” the first production from Theatre Incognita, a company created by Haarstad and a group of his friends. The show will incorporate elements of dance, text, images, sound and acting, and will debut this week at the Kitchen Theatre. Assistant Accent Editor Andy Swift spoke with Haarstad about the production process and the messages he hopes to send
to audiences.

Andy Swift: What is it about Arthur Rimbaud that inspired you to coordinate this production?

Ross Haarstad: He was an amazing French poet, often considered a symbolist poet. Also, he had an open relationship with another leading poet at the time, Paul Verlaine. It caused quite a scandal because Rimbaud was a teenager and Verlaine was married. Verlaine [left] his wife, but the whole thing basically fell apart within 18 months, and Rimbaud stopped writing poetry… . He wrote amazing poetry while he was still a teenager and then just stopped.

AS: How did you begin putting it all together?

RH: I applied for a grant from the Cornell Council of the Arts almost two years ago, and they approved it. They gave me a budget for a multimedia theater exploration of Rimbaud and originally I’d hoped to stage it at Cornell. But no venue came about, so I went to the Kitchen [Theatre] where I have a relationship with the staff.
AS: How is text used in the production?

RH: At times, we read poetry out loud. Other times, we use it to create gestural images or movement phrases. Sometimes we write poetry on the wall, and sometimes the text is cast into a song or video.

AS: What about video? How does that factor in?

RH: We had both students and professors working on the videos. A professor at [Ithaca College] actually, Jason Livingston, and his colleague,
Felix Teitelbaum, shot about eight minutes of both narrative and experimental footage. … I want multiple reactions to Rimbaud and his poetry to create something on stage that isn’t just my voice. I want a collage of voices, even if those voices conflict with one another.

AS: How is music used in the performance?

RH: Tom Schneller [a graduate student studying composition at Cornell] composed about 20 minutes of music in seven different pieces. I found him because he scored a student film I really enjoyed. There’s other music in the show, like Patti Smith punk-rock music.

AS: What message do you hope to convey through the performance?

RH: I want [the audience] to have an experience which is sensuous. … A lot of plays and films about artists only give biographical details. … [We] want people to go away with some sense of the art itself, some translation. … Every time someone takes on a piece of art to make a new work, they’re translating it. Hopefully people will leave with their own interpretation of both what we’re doing, as well as what Rimbaud was doing. … It’s a crazy process. We think we’re crazy, and we’re enjoying the fact that we are.

“Rêves/Rimbaud: A Work in Progress” will be performed at 8 p.m. Monday and Tuesday at The Kitchen Theatre, 116 N. Cayuga St. Tickets are $10 and can be ordered by calling 273–4497 or by visiting