New Record Label Mixes Storytelling and Comedy

Article excerpt

LISTEN, commuters, and you shall hear, a new kind of cassette while stuck in second gear....

An unusual genre of performance-art-for-listeners is afoot that is so new it doesn't yet have a name. It's both verbal and intimate - performers connecting through words to audiences - and is somewhere between comedy and storytelling.

You might call it a soul massage for the overworked funny bone.

"The material is intelligent and entertaining, literate but not effete," says Will Ackerman, the entrepreneur behind an innovative concept known as "Gang of Seven," a tape/compact-disc label featuring some of the most highly regarded names in theater, radio, and literature. Among them: Spalding Gray, Peter Matthiessen, Wally Shawn, and Nora Dunn.

Neither a comedy label nor a retrofitting of the printed word into an audio medium, "Gang of Seven" offers original narratives that are contemporary, extemporaneous, and push beyond the standard shtick of radio fare, stand-up, and oral folklore.

With two titles to be released next month (May 22), "Gang of Seven" will unveil both a sampler of its new art form and a full-length version. Laced with humor and poignancy, offerings run the gamut from object lessons to homily, morality to myth, personal anecdote to cultural allegory.

In the words of one inaugural voice, Barry Morrow (screenwriter of "Rain Main"), "they are varied ways of passing one's own lessons of life and sense of world view ... the highest form of relating one's real tests of true character."

This first compilation represents a wide mix of techniques, deliveries, styles, and content. Author Lynda Barry, a cartoonist and commentator for "Morning Edition" on National Public Radio (NPR), talks about a high-school nerd named Mike who shaved his head for money: "He baldly went where no one had gone before.... On the food chain of friendship, {Mike} Beck was plankton. Nobody could admit to loving him. But we all did."

Mr. Morrow speaks about his interest in a mentally retarded man attempting to assimilate into society after 44 years of institutionalization. After "Bill" holds a Golden Globe audience hostage with impromptu harmonica playing, an official tells Morrow, "I've been coming to these awards for 15 years. …

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