Petaluma’s Cinnabar to host Patrick Ball
“William Butler Yeats was an astonishingly complex individual,” says harpist and storyteller Patrick Ball, describing the legendary Irish poet and playwright - and sometime politician and mystic philosopher - whose mysterious, atmospheric poetry has solidly placed its creator within the ranks of the greatest literary figures of the 20th Century. “He was brilliant of course, but he was also very, very strange,” Ball notes. “As an artist and musician and storyteller myself, that rather appeals to me.”
This Sunday, at Cinnabar Theater, Patrick Ball will be presenting his brand-new one-man-show, “Come Dance with Me in Ireland: Encounters with W.B. Yeats.” In the show, which includes plenty of music performed by Ball on the Celtic harp, he takes audiences on a journey across Ireland, introducing us to several other tourists and tour guides – as they follow in the path of Yeats, whose work, life and world view begin to inspire and challenge them all in surprising ways.
The play, to a degree, is based on a real experience. Sort of.
Last year, Ball applied for and eventually won a month-long fellowship to visit the Moore Institute in Galway, Ireland, where he was invited to come study the life of Yeats, in particular focusing on the author’s contribution to the Celtic Renaissance of the 19th and 20th Centuries - with special emphasis on Yeats’ relationship with the Celtic harp.
“There’s actually no relationship between Yeats and the Celtic harp at all,” Ball notes, with a laugh, “but that’s what we wrote in our proposal, and it obviously didn’t hurt us.”
Ball’s co-fellow on the trip was Peter Glazer, a professor of theater arts at UC Berkeley, who co-wrote Ball’s acclaimed one-man-show “O’Carolan’s Farewell to Music,” showcasing the music and stories of the blind 18th-century Irish bard Turlough O’Carolan. In Ireland, the pair was granted access to private libraries, special university resources, and much more.
“It turns out,” Ball says, “that the National University of Ireland at Galway has somehow acquired the archives of all the major theaters in Ireland, including the Abbey Theater.”
That’s the theater that Yeats co-founded in Dublin in 1904, for which the author contributed numerous plays - which have since been digitized and placed in an electronic W.B. Yeats database.
“We spent a lot of time going through various scripts, and playbills, and recordings and things, all having to do with Yeats and his work with the theater,” recalls Ball. “Best of all, we had lots of time to go all around the country, visiting the places that Yeats loved and wrote about, and drew inspiration from for his poetry.”
Fortunately, Ball says, the fellowship did not include a requirement that he and Glazer produce anything in particular as a result, though the immersive experience did place the idea for a new play in Ball’s fertile imagination.
“I guess you can call it a play,” he laughs again, “though it’s not like anything I’ve done before, really. It’s an interesting cross between a play and a concert, incorporating all of the most appealing aspects of Yeats life that I picked up during my visit to Ireland.”
Ball, a California native, has felt a strong connection to Ireland his entire life. The son of a lawyer, he dabbled in learning the guitar and other instruments, supposing he’d eventually become a lawyer himself. Then he discovered the Celtic harp, an instrument so revered in Ireland that its image appears on some of the country’s coins.
He never became a lawyer.
Today, Ball is recognized as one of the premiere Celtic harpists in the world. He’s released a number of bestselling CDs of traditional Irish music, along with an award-winning Christmas album (1990’s “The Christmas Rose) and a popular Windham Hill recording of actress Cher reading Hans Christian Anderson’s “The Ugly Duckling,” with Ball providing the music throughout.
After years of touring and performing in the standard folk concert format, Ball began developing one-man shows as side-projects. The first was the O’Carolan show, which has toured the globe, and is now available in a DVD version. Other shows include “The Fine Beauty of the Island” - a storytelling show - and a stage version of “The Christmas Rose,” combining seasonal tunes with snippets of stories and poems - including a piece or two by William Butler Yeats.
“I was familiar with Yeats, of course, before I went over to Ireland to study him,” Ball allows. “His poetry is so exquisite, and he’s so strongly connected to the culture of Ireland. But there was so much about the guy I had no idea about.”
For example, Yeats despised music.
“That’s ironic, isn’t it, considering I’m a harpist doing a musical show about Yeats, who hated music,” says Ball. “He was tone deaf, evidently. So I wouldn’t advise the ghost of Yeats to visit Cinnabar to catch my show.
“Everyone else, though,” he says, “I think will really enjoy it.”
(Email David at firstname.lastname@example.org.)