Press Room

For Press Inquiries, contact Camille Cintrón Devlin, Assistant Director of Marketing & Communications at 703-993-8794 or

SQUONK Opera, Wed., 10/30/02

October 1, 2002
Contact: Press & Media Relations Coordinator (703-993-8794)

For general information about tickets, seating, parking, etc., for performances and events happening at the Center for the Arts, please contact the ticket office directly at 703-993-2787.

SQUONK Opera mesmerizes with its blend of video, audio and theater
Burn is imagery, acoustics, imagination and
Dante’s classic morality tale, Inferno,
in a modern setting with electrifying effects and music

George Mason University’s Center for the Arts
Wednesday, October 30 at 8:00 p.m.

Fairfax, Virginia, October 3, 2002—SQUONK delivers a "musical frolic that’s meant to confront and shake up the senses," according to The New York Times. Since their 1992 debut at Pittsburgh’s Bloomfield Bridge Tavern, Squonk, a five-person, unconventional opera company, led by artistic director Steve O'Hearn and musical director Jackie Dempsey, has been conjuring up performances filled with intense images and musical experimentation.

With its evening length production of Burn, the company embarks on its most ambitious project to date. George Mason University’s Center for the Arts welcomes this company’s unique performance on Wednesday, October 30, at 8 p.m. An artistic discussion begins 45-minutes prior to the curtain on the Grand Tier of the Concert Hall. O'Hearn plays Celtic flute, wind synthesizer (a sort of electric clarinet) and other wind instruments, while Dempsey rules the keys on piano and accordion. Other musician-actors include Kevin Kornicke, percussion; Jody Abbott, vocals; and Nathan Fay, bass. The haunting music that is Squonk’s trademark, reminiscent of some of the seductive, repetitive melodies of Philip Glass and Henryk Gorecki, is cleverly insinuated into the show: live action and technology, coupled with playful and thought-provoking images. Members of the Pittsburgh press have called Squonk’s music "New Age with a dark side."

Burn – loosely based on Dante’s Inferno – is a post-apocalyptic vision, rife with technological intervention and set in the industrial wasteland of a smoldering, abandoned Centralia, Pennsylvania coal mine. A mine fire has raged underground in Centralia since 1962. After a government buy out, the town is almost deserted, yet a few stalwarts have stayed to argue the fate of what little remains. Burn is the
story of Centralia-born Don Alegurski’s journey home – a home at the very center of the underground fire – mirroring the journey through the nine circles of Hell in Dante’s morality tale.

Commissioned by Pittsburgh’s City Theatre, Burn mixes live, original music, experimental digital video technology, the reality of a movie, shadow puppetry, pop up and inflatable structures and what the company calls its new technique: projection puppetry. The result is a theatrical "experience," with music very much a central core, and is much like the work of Robert Wilson or LePage. Three-dimensional moving screens catch and reflect recorded images from four projectors. Squonk is able to expand from its core group of five to include upward of 75 performers; the additional cast members appearing on the mobile, animated and hand held screens that interact with and are manipulated by the onstage performers. After all, this is the company whose BigSmorgasbordWunderWerk featured an accordion player serving up a human heart on a platter, Victorians abusing modern appliances, and cryptic songs sung by an ethereal soprano in quasi-medieval garb atop a chickenwire horse.

Steve O’Hearn is the recipient of 2000’s American Theatre Wing Design Award for Outstanding Unusual Effects (past winners have included Julie Taymor and Robert Wilson). Both artistic director O’Hearn and musical director Jackie Dempsey have received over forty grants and awards for their work of the past nine years. Burn is co-written by Academy Award® nominated and Emmy Award winning writer David Petersen, and co-directed by Juanita Rockwell, who has directed for NPR.

Tickets for SQUONK Opera’s Burn are $30-$15 (Family Friendly! children under 12 are half price). Charge by phone at 703-218-6500 or visit The Center for the Arts complex is located on the Fairfax campus of George Mason University at the intersection of Braddock Road and Route 123. Paid parking is located in the deck adjacent to the mainstage Concert Hall and FREE parking is located in university lot K.

This project is partially supported by a grant from Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, a program developed and funded by the Vira I. Heinz Endowment; the William Penn Foundation; the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, a state agency; and the Pew Charitable Trusts; and administered by Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation.

GREAT PERFORMANCES AT MASON is a program of George Mason University’s College of Visual and Performing Arts. The College of Visual and Performing Arts exists to create an academic environment in which the arts may be considered both as individual disciplines and as interdisciplinary forms that strengthen each other. Believing that an education in the arts is deepened by regular contact with the work of distinguished visiting artists, the College draws on a variety of professional presenting and producing units where artists from across the country and around the world regularly perform, give master classes, work with students during extended residencies, and interact with the community in a variety of other ways. These programs at the Center for the Arts Concert Hall, TheaterSpace, Galleries, Harris Theater, and other venues, provide a diverse selection of challenging and entertaining cultural experiences for the University community, as well as Northern Virginia and the greater Washington, D.C. area. The College houses four academic departments: Art and Visual Technology, Dance, Music and Theater.