Lawrence will host a quartet of on-the-fringe performers when "Serious Fun! from Lincoln Center" plays Liberty Hall, 642 Mass., at 8 p.m. Friday.
The concert is a kind of hip variety show. There are four performances: an excerpt of "Men Die Sooner," a one-man show by actor Tom Cayler; music by composer-guitarist Scott Johnson and new-music accordionist Guy Klucevsek, and "Tapnology," a piece by dancer and choreographer Charles Moulton.
The tour is the result of an annual three-week festival begun at Lincoln Center in 1987 with the idea of increasing audiences and providing a major performance outlet for contemporary artists.
Tom Cayler tried to be a serious actor.
"I just wasn't very good at it," the performer said during a phone interview. He is one, though, even winning an Obie (the Off-Broadway Oscar) in 1986 for his performance in "A Matter of Life and Death." He's also been in shows in Los Angeles, San Francisco and with the Mabou Mines avant-garde troupe in New York.
Cayler decided to move to New York in 1975 after meeting Lee Brewer of Mabou Mines. Brewer, says Cayler, was "the first person really interested in what performance was about: the moment-to-moment act, and why it was at once a sacred and profane act."
That is especially true of live performance.
"Unlike film or TV, it actually can allow the performer as well as the audience to experience a change, to go from one thing to another," Cayler said.
"MEN DIE Sooner" (featured recently on the public television program "Alive from Off Center") is a humorous work, largely about transformation. It starts with Cayler's short lecture about how men die earlier than women; as the show progresses, Cayler gets caught up in those behaviors, and dies.
The show was written by Cayler with Clarice Marshall (his wife and a dancer with the Mark Morris Monnaie Dance Company) and actress Kay Cummings. Marshall conceived the movement, Cummings directed. It is a one-act play, originally presented as part of "Jerkismo . . . And Other Male Myths" in 1987 at La MaMa in New York City and was produced for "Alive from Off Center."
They got the idea a couple of years ago, when it was mentioned (Cayler doesn't remember how) that in our society men are superior economically and intellectually, but have shorter life expectancies than women.
"This is loony tunes, it makes no sense. . . . The people we adulate are the people who can't survive," Cayler said.
SO THEY thought it would be a good basis for a performance.
"We took the assumption that men are jerks, and went from there," Cayler said.
"Men Die Sooner" begins understandably and degenerates into sort of craziness as the character falls prey to the archetypal male behavior he's talking about.
While it's funny, Cayler wants his work to make an impression.
"It should have some kind of reverberation, and not be seen as a commodity," he said.
"If culture is important to us, it has to be a reflection of what we are as a society."
Charles Moulton said that he simply calls himself "an artist" if people ask; his inspiration comes from "just life" wherever he can get it.
His dance has earned him a Guggenheim fellowship; he was one of three chosen for the first Dorothy Chandler Performing Arts Awards in September.
Moulton keeps himself open to possibilities.
"I like working in different mediums," he said in a phone interview last week, during which he also recommended reading Plato's "The Cave." "Everything is just an idea," he said.
MOULTON IS an acknowledged leader in modern dance whose work is characterized by wit and athleticism. The son of theatrical parents (his father is now in the theater department at the University of Minnesota), Moulton began tapping at age 6 or 7, and has tapped off and on ever since. He began his dance career in Winnipeg with Contemporary Dancers Canada, and joined Merce Cunningham's company in 1973.
He left three years later.
"He's a very powerful creator and I wanted to do my own work," Moulton said.
During the period from 1976 to 1980, Moulton began working on his athletic pieces. These developed into such works as "Nine Person Precision Ball Passing," a performance and game. (Last year there was "Eighteen Person Precision Ball Passing," and Moulton said he'd like to expand it to 72.)
FROM 1980 to 1987 Moulton had his own company, making works with composer A. Leroy. More recently, he has become involved with video work.
In "Tapnology," Moulton's tapping feet have an electronic tattoo and he snaps a book open and shut.
Moulton said the piece has changed quite a bit since it was created as a highly structured quartet two years ago. Now it is an improvisational solo piece, with improved technology.
At any given time, he's working on several projects; a current one is a video piece called "Hysterical Hootenany," for the Concert Dance Company in Cambmridge, Mass. And he continues to explore athletics and dance via his New Sports Project, a series of performance games.
"I'm sure there are ideas that are cropping over from one part to another. I don't think about it. I don't think art is an intellectual activity."
HE DOESN'T concern himself a whole lot with his audience.
"What I need to do as an artist, I need to do as an artist," he said. "How people react to it is how they react. I don't tie those two experiences together in any way.
"I want to stimulate them and provoke them, certainly, because that's what performance is for," he said. "They are free to react any way they want to react."
Guy Klucevsek (accent on the second syllable, silent "S") plays the accordion, but don't expect "Lady of Spain," champagne or bubbles. Klucevsek is a serious musician whose chief influence has been minimalists such as Steve Reich and Terry Riley, plus avant gardists like his teacher Morton Subotnick.
"If you are into serious accordion music, you've got to get people to take you seriously before you can let your hair down," said the musician in a telephone interview.
And Klucevsek, whom the Village Voice called "one of New York's most imaginative, least pretentious composer-performers," really does know how to have fun.
HE INCLUDES three kinds of music in his section of the "Serious Fun" concert. First, there are his own compositions, those influenced by minimalism and "new music" as well as regional accordion music. He also will perform large-scale pieces made for him by composers such as John Zorn. And the third section includes four pieces from his "Polka on the Fringe" project, which includes commissioned works by Fred Frith (remember King Crimson?), polka rockers Brave Combo, and Elliott Sharp.
Klucevsek, 42, began playing as a youngster.
"It was not an adult decision," he said, which may explain his sense of fun. "I liked the sound of it, I liked the way it looked . . . But it was not out of any missionary zeal."
In fact, Klucevsek purposefully ignored traditional accordion music for many years, and he was embarrassed to say he played accordion. (People would ask him how many wedding gigs he did.)
THAT'S CHANGED; the world now smiles kindly upon ethnic eccentricities and the accordion. Klucevsek thinks of it as a polyphonic wind instrument or wind quintet "where everybody breathes at the same time."
"When composers write for me and think of it as a portable piano, they run into problems," he said.
Composer Scott Johnson is most popularly known for his dramatic, tension-filled score to the movie "Patty Hearst." Johnson, who was unavailable for an interview, plays with his ensemble (keyboards, cello, violin) for "Serious Fun." Works include a 1989 composition called "Electric Quartet" and two excerpts from the "Patty Hearst" score.
Johnson, 37, has been a musician in New Music American festivals for the past 10 years. His early work includes performances with Laurie Anderson and installations at Artists' Space and Franklin Furnace in New York City.
Johnson's music often uses electronics, tape and processed sounds, including speech. His "Bird in the Domes," commissioned by and for the Kronos Quartet, premiered at the Brooklyn Academy of Music's Next Wave Festival in 1986. He has also collaborated with video artist John Sandborn and choreographers such as Charles Moulton and Phoebe Neville.
Tickets for "Serious Fun," which opens Kansas University's New Directions Series, are available from the Murphy Hall box office.