Providence International Arts Festival

Squonk Opera Brings Flair and Air to PVD

A Q&A with Squonk Opera's Steve O'Hearn


Don’t be fooled by their name; Squonk Opera is not your traditional opera. Squonk Opera seems to put original music, science, abstract designs and eye-popping structures into a blender that produces a mix of sights and sounds that both entertain and inspire curiosity. Hailing from Pittsburgh, PA, Squonk Opera, led by artistic directors Jackie Dempsey and Steve O’Hearn, has grown tremendously since in its two-decade history. Squonk originally began in a Pittsburg junkyard but has since performed on three continents and in more than half of the states. Squonk will perform its latest show, Pneumatica, at the Providence International Arts Festival. Steve O’Hearn answered some questions about Squonk.

What makes a Squonk show different than a traditional musical performance?

Squonk work is fast, funny, shameless and inclusive: an art that includes the cheap thrills of a monster truck show, as well as the fragile beauty of the hothouse flowers created for theatres and concert halls.  

You mention on your website that "we roll up our sleeves and develop work that attacks and celebrates the idiosyncrasies of our world." What is it about this type of art that gets you all excited? 

Everyone in the group looks at and listens to different things. My favorite art is a good, contentious conversation in any media, and we contend, dispute, second guess and sometimes malign each other’s good names. We are funny and loud and shameless – we enjoy that.  

How did you all develop the original idea for Squonk? 

Co-creator and composer Jackie and I wanted to create post-industrial performances with original music and design that was abstract, and allowed an audience to invent meaning, but was funny and unpretentious too. Work that did not have the potlatch stink of aristocracy. 

In your 20-year history, Squonk has seemingly been all around the world. Where are some of your favorite places to perform? 

We had a great time in Korea and Flanders, and we just got back from beautiful Banff in Canada, but we love Providence too – I went to RISD there. 

What was it like performing on America's Got Talent? 

There is nothing more contrived or legally protected than reality TV. We were the arty cannon fodder that we expected to be after refusing to play a cover song. We had a lot of fun. But legally we can say nothing.

Squonk will present Pneumatica in Providence, which you describe as "an event about air, made of air and powered by air." What can fans expect from this show?

This is a show about air, breath, spirit and the act of air moving and visceral, goofy, musical things happening.

What do you all want spectators to take away from Pneumatica?

We want them to go away smiling and scratching their heads, and inventing their own ideas about what, why and how. We want them to enjoy the quandary that being human is.

Squonk Opera will have three performances on June 13 at 4, 8 and 9:30pm in Kennedy Plaze. More info...

squonk opera, pneumatica, providence international arts festival, jackie dempsey, steve o'hearn, pittsburgh, providence


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