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Ara’Kus (U.S.) www.HeavyMetalOpera.com.

Ara’Kus is a heavy metal opera, theater, with actors and a story to tell, with heavy metal music.

When I went to see the production in November 2012, I was impressed with their dedication and work. Not knowing about Ara’Kus until shortly before the performance itself, it was a bit of a shock to learn that Ara’Kus it based out of western Washington state, right in my neck of the woods. If you are curious about the “heavy metal opera,” then do yourself a favor and take the time search out Ara’Kus. I’m certainly glad I did. Randy (guitars and vocals) and Jeremiah (vocals and guitars) reveal their heavy metal opera.

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I recently saw your performance in Everett, Washington. I had listened to the album “Aeterno Elementum“ and had watched a bit of the video footage. However, Ara’kus really is a theatrical performance better experienced live. Where have you staged your production? I ask because I just found out about you very recently before the show. 

Randy: First, we're glad you found us! We're always glad to have new fans.
Since we made the change from bar band to theatrical production we've only played in Everett and Seattle. The Historic Everett Theatre has kind of become a home base for us, and we played at the Broadway Performance Hall about a year ago for the first time. We'd love to expand our geographic area, but even going as far as Portland is really hard considering the size of our set, the number of people we have, and the amount of equipment it takes to do the show. 

Jeremiah: Our last two performances at the Broadway Performance Hall and the Historic Everett Theatre were groundbreaking for us. Believe it or not, three years ago we started with nothing except some music and a rough concept and not a clue how to get this thing off the ground. We made a lot of mistakes, nearly bankrupt ourselves and had a few nervous breakdowns, but ultimately we made something great. I think the show we just finished up at the Historic Everett marks the pinnacle of our achievements thus far. Everything came together in a huge way. I was proud of our previous shows, but they don't come close to comparing to where we're at now.

The performance I watched had the theater pretty full, it seemed. How have you been able to get that many people in Everett? People of all ages, kids and elderly included.

Jeremiah: Our first performance of Aeterno Elementum was on July 31st, 2010. We were shocked by the response we got from that show. We put quite a bit of effort into advertising and managed to get about 300 people up to Everett to come see us for the one night we were performing. Since then, we've increased our audience slightly with each performance. For this most recent show we made a huge marketing push using everything that we'd learned from the past years and from some of the amazing professionals who've joined us. We started our advertising campaign around six months prior to the show and hit everything from local conventions to social networking and mailing lists. You saw the results for yourself in the theater. You're right, it was pretty packed. I think the lesson is, if you want people to show up to your event, market the hell out of it. Also, you need to have an event worth going to.

Randy: You are very right about the diversity of our fans. We do of course have the teenagers and the goth crowd that you'd normally expect at rock shows, but then you have people like my parents and their friends in the sixties and seventies show up and love it. You have people dressed to the nines, people in their work clothes, casual and everything else. A lot of people come in some sort of period costume, which is always cool. I think if I were to try to pin point the kind of person that enjoys the Ara'Kus experience I would say that the main common trait is that it appeals to people who are open-minded.

What would it take to make this a year-round event? How have you been able to get this many actors to do this? This is no half-hearted performance, but rather a well-organized experience that flows well on the stage. Who are the actors and artists? Is playing Broadway in New York a dream of yours?!

Jeremiah: That's a pretty complicated question. If you're talking about making Aeterno Elementum a year round event, you're looking at an initial startup in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions of dollars. To start, we'd need a full time cast that was making their livelihood doing this. Currently everyone in the cast and crew is a volunteer. We all believe in this project and love doing it, but no matter how much we would like to devote everything to it, we have to eat as well.

As far as our cast and crew, we've hand recruited them from all over the Northwest and they come from a wide spectrum of backgrounds. Some are professional performers, musicians or techs, others very talented amateurs. All of them are amazing people that make this show what it is, and make it an incredible experience to be a part of.

I definitely wouldn't turn down a chance to play on Broadway. One step at a time, though.

Randy: The members of the group come from all over. We've recruited friends and friends of friends. We've done auditions and tryouts, we've picked a few people up by chance, and several of them were fans that said they wanted to help. Organizing a group like this is certainly a challenge and I'd say that biggest boon to that has been finding the right people to do the right job and then letting them make it happen. On the first show it was just a few of us trying to handle everything and it was overwhelming. These days we've got more and more people working with their strengths.

 

We like to do some kind of show every three to four months, and while we do want to expand our geographic area, as pointed out earlier, the logistics of distance shows is more than we can do right now. But we are working on it. New York? I'm not big on playing Broadway, I'd rather play at the Met!

About the album and band. You recorded the album in 2010, correct? Do you have planned other music? I realize that recording music is a thankless task because of illegal downloading. Can you please explain a little about the members of the band? Originally, whose idea was this? 

Randy: We did put a version of Aeterno Elementum out in 2010, yes, but we have done a complete re-recording of that album to bring it up to date with what we do in the theatre so it has four new songs, some other extended items, the addition of the choir, and updated production. It was looking like we would be able to have it out for the last shows, but we ran in to some unfortunate snags in the production so it looks like it'll probably be ready for the shows we've got in February.

Jeremiah: As for the topic of piracy and illegal downloading, it's not something that really has us concerned. If people are downloading your album for free, chances are they wouldn't be spending money on it anyway. I think most people want to support artists they really like, particularly ones that aren't on a major label. Sure, I'd love to get paid for my art, but I would rather get my music into people's hands so they can listen to it and spread the word, and possibly come to a show. Keeping a tight rein on your music just means that a lot of potential fans aren't hearing it.

We've already got a story for the next show/album mostly fleshed out and scripted. I'm working on composing the music now and I'd say it's about a third completed. You'll be able to hear some of these new pieces at our Laser Dome show in February. The new music is very much in the symphonic metal vein and we're hoping to incorporate a larger string section, in addition to keeping and expanding our operatic and choral offerings.

I founded Ara'Kus in 2001 as 5 piece metal band. I'm currently the only original member, though Jeremy and Randy and Rachel have been in for quite a few years now too and are pretty integral. Randy had the initial suggestion that we break out of the typical bar scene, which we'd never really fit into anyway, and try to do something that didn't involve dependence on booking agents, club owners or record labels, something where we had full control of our performance and our success or failure was ours alone. With that freedom, the natural theatrical inclination of the band drove us towards a bigger and bigger production, until before long we were putting on a full fledged opera.

As far as our musicians go, they're all pretty much world class, in my opinion. Some of our music is very complicated, and so our standards are very high. Aside from that, just like everyone in our crew, they're amazing people and I consider them part of my extended family.

Also, what other productions do you have planned? Do you have other operas that you have performed or planning?

Jeremiah: We have an entirely new show in the works that we'll be staging at some point in the future. I can't give any actual dates right now, but it will be completely original and a separate work from Aeterno Elementum in all ways, though it will most definitely still be in the category of heavy metal opera. We'll send out more details on that when it gets a little closer.

may be doing Aeterno Elementum again in 2013, but we have yet to determine a date and location. Initial discussions are leaning towards Seattle.

Our biggest upcoming event is a performance at the Seattle Center Laser Dome on February 19th, which we've dubbed 'Laser Ara'Kus Live'. In essence, this will be the band and chorus performing a selection of songs from Aeterno Elementum and some yet unheard pieces from the new show while the laser artists create a visual tapestry above us, helping to tell the story. You can probably bet on some surprise guests and unexpected theatrical elements as well.

We'll also be performing as a featured artist at the Seattle based horror convention, Crypticon 2013, which is happening on May 24th - 26th (www.crypticonseattle.com).

It occurs to me that all the women in the play are only victims of murder and violence. Why are there no women with speaking parts? You do have a witch, but that’s a stereotypical role, correct? The opera could use more women’s participation, since in the world of your opera that you have created, there are, in fact, many women, but they are all silenced. Have you noticed this problem?

Randy: I find this question very interesting. We have been asked many times about the religious and anti-religious aspects of our production, but this is the first time that the subject of sexism has been brought to my attention. Let me assure you that the question does not offend me. I am, however, concerned because if you have thought these things, then other people probably have as well.
I'll start with the speaking roles question. There was a time that the demoness did have a speech, but it just didn't really work well. Her character seems to work better, at least in my opinion, without speaking. She doesn't need to tell us what she is, she shows us, and I think that both Asraiya Deyo and Carrole Johnson, the two women who have filled the role, have done an excellent job of this. When she had a speech it seemed that it diminished the mystery and the power of the character.

The story is narrated from the perspective of the priest and the four generals of the conquering armies. It is pretty common for these to be male roles. There certainly is no reason that there could not be a female general, but when you audition for a character to be a general, you don't typically get any females to try out for it. And if the role of priest were made in to that of a priestess it would throw the balance out of the interaction with the demoness. In fact, when the story was originally conceived, long before it was made into a stage production the demoness was male and we changed it because we felt that a female in this role would be more powerful and effective.
Another way of looking at this is to look at the actual band. Vivian Lee, our lead soprano is, in many ways, the voice of the demoness. Plus Lauren “Razz” Palumbi, our violinist, takes a very front role, right up with the guitarists and vocalists, while John Perlic, our cellist remains static in the back throughout the show.
As for the violence, yes, all of the women are killed, but, so are all of the men. That one is pretty across the board. In the song Conquered, the final scene, there are women fighting along side and against the men. Women kill men, men kill women. Everybody dies.
At the end of the show there are only two people left alive. One male, one female, one elderly, one child, one destroyed, one innocent. Absolute yin and yang.

Jeremiah: I want to assure you that there was no purposeful sexist agenda or intent on our part. As with Randy, this is the first time I've heard a reference to that subject. About half our cast and crew is comprised of very strong, artistic women. The co-lead character, The Demoness, is probably the most iconic, powerful, awe inspiring and prominent figure in the whole show. It was a very intentional decision to not have her speak. We tried it once and it dramatically diminished the mystery and allure to her character. We have only 6 speaking roles in the whole show, the Priest, the four generals and the Arch Bishop, and you are correct, none of those roles are women. The presence or lack of dialogue does not make the character more or less important to the story as a whole, however. Dialogue is very minimal in this show, with the exception of the Priest, who serves as narrator.

How can people support Ara’kus?

Jeremiah: The first and best way you can support Ara'Kus (short of coming to the shows) is to come over to our FaceBook page and participate there (www.FaceBook.com/ArakusProductions). Our FaceBook admin, Mistress Von Gearmaster, loves conversing with new fans, as do the members of the cast and crew. We'll be putting up some new merchandise items soon, including CD's and t-shirts, so keep an eye on both the FaceBook page and our website at www.HeavyMetalOpera.com. The other thing you can do is help us to spread the word! Talk to you friends about these shows and the music. We're completely local and self funded, so we're entirely dependent on fans support to help us continue doing what we do.

Randy: And if you can't come see us because you live outside of the Seattle area then do this for me, go support one of your local artists, because no matter where you are there are some great bands there. THE END.

 

 

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