The Little Mushroom

Once there was a little mushroom, living happily in the cool shade of a forest, and in harmony with all the other plants and trees and animals…

SYNOPSIS

With music by Raul Rothblatt and a libretto by John Reed, The Little Mushroom, an opera comique and environmental fable, was the unexpected, downtown-NYC hit of the late 90s. The story is narrated by a reader, and accompanied by a cello, saxophone and Javanese gènder (similar to a xylophone). 

First performed on February 7, 1997 at the "Soho Salon" studio of Will Cotton, The Little Mushroom returned that November for eight performances at the De Chiarra / Stewart Gallery in Chelsea. February 6, 1998, the Little Mushroom was staged at the Grace Church, and proceeded on a tour of galleries, salons and schools. October 20, 1998, The Little Mushroom was performed at Joe's Pub / The Public Theater. The Joe's Pub performance was recorded at WNYC. On July 21, 2015, a final performance with the original sets, by Guy Richards Smit, took place at Jack Brooklyn. 

Storytellers have included Joe Hook, Rebecca Chamberlain, Bethany Yarrow and Lori Elizabeth Parquet. Musical performers have included Raul Rothblatt, Danny Tunick and Paul Bennett. Shadow puppet art for the film was created and performed by Charlotte Lily Gaspard. Jennifer Parker worked on the project as a producer, with additional contributions from Jochebed Smith, and audio contributions from Shahzad Ismaily and Steve Espinola.

FILM HISTORY

The Little Mushroom, 1998, The Joe’s Pub Performance:

Bethany Yarrow’s warm yet harrowing 1998 Joe’s Pub performance was archived at WNYC studios, and for the twenty-fifth anniversary of the production, this stunning audio has been paired with a vibrant performance from celebrated puppeteer Charlotte Lily Gaspard. With enchanting visuals, Yarrow’s moving performance, and Raul Rothblatt's spellbinding original composition, the timeless parable ponders our relationship to nature, past and future. 

The Little Mushroom:

The 2015 performance with Lori Elizabeth Parquet, which marked the dismantling of the original set by Guy Richards Smit, was recorded and filmed at Figure 8 Studios. In an innovative and delightful 25-minute film, the beloved opera comique takes the screen with Parquet’s electric live performance and stunning shadow puppetry by Charlotte Lily Gaspard. Since 2020, The Little Mushroom has appeared in over twelve  film festivals, and collected numerous honors and awards. 

Statement from Raul Rothblatt, Music & Cello:

The music of The Little Mushroom brings together different musical worlds, including the Western equal temperament tuning system in contrast with the slendro scale of Javanese gamelan music. John and I wrote it in the 1990s in New York, and over the decades the piece has endured as a deep bond of friendship born out of a nearly forgotten era of artistic freedom.

Statement from Charlotte Lily Gaspard, Performance, Art & Puppetry:

As soon as I read the script for the Little Mushroom I immediately understood why John approached me for a shadow puppet element for the film. The words and music are so rich, the mind longs for a simple but meaningful visual accompaniment, something expressive and yet leaving plenty of room for the imagination to wander and engage.

ARTIST BIOS

“Part celestial creature, part sophisticated human” is how Charlotte Lily Gaspard has been described by Faerie Magazine when contemplating the ethereal artist and her work in one of their features. Shadow puppet artist, educator and children’s entertainer, Charlotte’s mission is to activate imaginations and celebrate playfulness wherever she goes. Charlotte is the founder and artistic director of Midnight Radio Show, a shadow puppet sci-fi fairytale theater company based in Brooklyn, NYC. She designs puppets for theater, film, and music videos, and award-winning indie films.  Mommy Poppins declares, “The incredible shadow puppets will amaze the audience.” Along with puppets and performance, Charlotte also creates costumes for theater and film projects. She holds credits for her costume & wardrobe work from the Public Theater including Shakespeare in the Park, Signature Theater, Roundabout Theater, and many others. Charlotte is the resident production designer at Child’s Play NY, a children’s theater company. She also facilitates puppetry & theater arts workshops all over NYC and beyond.

Lori Elizabeth Parquet (she/her) is an actor, director, and playwright from New Orleans, Louisiana with a B.A. in Theatre Arts from Cornell University. Her New York City stage credits include Macbeth, Dispatches From (A)mended America (Off-Broadway, Epic Theatre Ensemble), The Providence of Neighboring Bodies (Dutch Kills Theater/Ars Nova), The Honeycomb Trilogy: Sovereign (Gideon Productions), Medea (Phoenix Theatre Ensemble), Dog Act, Ajax in Iraq, Honey Fist, Operating Systems (Flux Theatre Ensemble), and Republic, Baal, Murder In the Cathedral (JACK/Hoi Polloi). She made her international debut performing in Pillars of Society at Teater Ibsen in Skien, Norway. She also performed in The Providence of Neighboring Bodies at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival in 2018. In 2019 she was nominated for and won the New York Innovative Theatre Award for Best Actress in a Lead Role for her performance in Operating Systems. As a director, Lori has directed Topdog/Underdog at Princeton Summer Theater and assistant directed The Public Theater’s most recent Shakespeare in the Park productions of As You Like It, and Twelfth Night.  She was also an acting coach on Disney’s Hercules, a Public Works production.  Lori served as Associate Director of New York City Center’s Encores: Off-center production of Maria Irene Fornes’ Promenade, and has directed many readings and workshops with Public Works, Flux Theatre Ensemble, The Brooklyn Generator, and other theater companies across New York City.  As a playwright, Lori was selected as one of six featured playwrights for Season Five of The Fire This Time Festival, which produced a reading of her full-length play In Communion, and her short plays have been produced through Flux Theater Ensemble, New York Madness, and other NYC indie theaters and festivals.

John Reed is the author of A Still Small Voice (Delacorte), The Whole (Simon & Schuster / MTV Books), the SPD bestseller, Snowball's Chance (Roof / Melville House); All The World's A Grave: A New Play By William Shakespeare (Penguin / Plume); Tales of Woe (MTV Press); Free Boat: Collected Lies and Love Poems (C&R Press); and A Drama In Time: The New School Century (Profile); The Family Dolls: A Manson Paper + Play Book (Outpost19); MFA in Creative Writing, Columbia University (fellowship); published in (selected) ElectricLit, the Brooklyn Rail, Tin House, Paper Magazine, Artforum, Hyperallergic, Bomb Magazine, Art in America, the Los Angeles Times, the Believer, the Rumpus, Observer, the PEN Poetry Series, the Daily Beast, Gawker, Slate, the Paris Review, the Times Literary Supplement, the Wall Street Journal, Vice, The New York Times, Harpers, Rolling Stone; anthologized in (selected) Best American Essays (Houghton Mifflin); works translated and performed worldwide; films distinguished at festivals internationally; two-term board member of the National Book Critics Circle; faculty at The New School University MFA in Creative Writing.

Raul Rothblatt was born in San Francisco and studied classical composition at UC Berkeley, where he started playing Javanese gamelan, then spent six months in Indonesia, where he had the opportunity to study  music at the Mangkunegaran palace in Surakarta. He then went to Budapest to study classical composition at the Liszt Academy of Music, followed by New York where he received his MFA in Musical Theater Composition from the Tisch School of the Arts at NYU. Now based in Brooklyn, he has performed nationally with Életfa Hungarian Folk on bass and enjoys combining adventurous music with public history. An active musician at Yiddish New York, he regularly presents panel discussions on Brooklyn Jewish History, and he established the Brooklyn Mishpucha Facebook group. Since 2004, he has been active in protecting and preserving Downtown Brooklyn's abolitionist and suffragist history and co-founded a new cultural institution at 227 Duffield Street. He is currently a cellist actively playing Mande music in the griot tradition with Famoro Dioubate's Kakande. In 2022, he was hired as Director of Community Affairs for Assembly Member Brian Cunningham in Brooklyn. 

Singer/songwriter Bethany Yarrow is the daughter of folk-pop legend Peter Yarrow of Peter, Paul & Mary. A Brooklyn resident, Yarrow's first interest was understandably not music, but film. In fact, in various interviews she has spoken of her long-time rebellion against her own musical heritage. In college she began making documentaries. Yarrow won a fellowship to go to South Africa where she directed the feature-length documentary film, Mama Awethu!. The picture, which depicted the lives of women in the country's townships, was shown nationally on PBS and was entered in various film festivals across the globe. She eventually won prizes at the Sundance, Berlin, Human Rights Watch, and Bombay Film Festivals. After her cinema experience, Yarrow began to come to terms with the rich lineage of folk music that had been a part of her everyday life growing up. With a deep interest in politics, she connected the cultural, political, and historical contexts of many of the songs from the folk music canon, and began to perform them in small clubs and coffeehouses in New York with both augmented and original instrumentation. The recorded result was her debut album, Rock Island, issued on the Little Monster label in January of 2004. Produced with help from Kevin Salem (Mercury Rev, Bad Brains) and Knox Chandler (Siouxsie & the Banshees), the album takes hold of many songs from the American and Celtic canons and recontextualizes them using modern production techniques and approaches to songwriting and performance. Unlike the synthetic DJ approaches to folk music, which tend to erase original meaning from songs and blur their original intentions, Yarrow's interpretations as well as her own songs offer shards of instruction and meaning for her own time without demeaning or emptying the source material of its power. Her cinematic approach to recording is a welcome and refreshing. In addition to her own album, Yarrow has also appeared as a backing vocalist on Claudia Acuña's album Luna. The release of Yarrow's next project, a duo recording for voice and cello with Rufus Cappadocia, entitled Born to Roam, was scheduled to be issued later in 2004. Yarrow’s 2004 album, Born to Roam, featured a duo recording of voice and cello with musician Rufus Cappadocia.