Mass MoCA unveils fall schedule: FreshGrass, The Decemberists, Jon Hamm theater project

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NORTH ADAMS — Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Arts officials hope to end the upcoming fall season on the same high note that they'll kick it off with.

Actor Jon Hamm, best known for playing Don Draper in AMC's TV hit "Mad Men," will make his stage debut in the city in December following a two-week collaboration with Wilco percussionist Glen Kotche and director/choreographer Danielle Agami on a work-in-progress theater project dubbed "Fishing."

"The performance touches on the beautiful, simple absurdity of desire," said Susan Killam, managing director of performing arts, during a season rollout for staff, volunteers and the press in Mass MoCA's B-10 Club on Wednesday. "They're going to be here for two weeks figuring it out. They're just starting this collaboration, and they're eager to learn what that collaboration is going to bring up for them. We'll be lucky enough to see the results of their work together, which I'm sure is going to be beautiful, interesting and help us understand desire a little bit more."

The fall season begins Sept. 14 with FreshGrass, a three-day bluegrass festival headlined by Flogging Molly, Indigo Girls, Trampled by Turtles, Ricky Skaggs and Kentucky Thunder, Yonder Mountain String Band, Bela Fleck and local favorites The Whiskey Treaty Roadshow. The festival will feature more than 50 performers across four stages. Rhiannon Giddens, formerly of Carolina Chocolate Drops, will debut brand new work during the festivities.

The season continues with performances by garage rocker Angel Olsen, The Decemberists, underground folk artist Will Oldham, aka Bonnie "Prince" Billy, Harold Lopez-Nussa, Shareef Keyes & The Groove, Tune-Yards and U.S. Girls.

"This is going to be a really fantastic night of music," Killam said of the October performance of Tune Yards and U.S. Girls.

In November, the museum will mark the first decade of the 25-year exhibition, Sol LeWitt: A Wall Drawing Retrospective, with a symposium: a series of artists talks, family activities, pop-up concerts and a dinner and a performance by jazz maestro Jason Moran and others, including Quindar with Wilco's Mikael Jorgensen.

"This show is obviously a crowd-pleaser, evergreen. People keep coming, come back and come again," said Mass MoCA Director Joseph Thompson. "I just want to say that besides being a really wonderful work of art, the LeWitt program lifted this institution in so many ways and gave us so much deep intellectual seed corn. The idea of long-term engagements with artists, deep dives, broad surveys to counter and juxtapose against our three-ring circus of changing exhibitions and performing arts, clearly became a fulcrum for many of the things that came later. The Anslem Kiefer Hall Art Foundation collaboration, which is a 15-year program, and certainly Building 6 and our deep dives with Jenny Holzer, Laurie Anderson, James Turrell and others. That kind of work really all began with our wonderful partnership with the Yale University Art Gallery, the Williams College Museum of Art and the Studio of Sol LeWitt."

A new addition this season will be the addition of adult educational programming.

"One of the things we talked about in our recent strategic planning was a hunger we felt to do more adult educational programming," he said. We are proud of all the educational programming we do with the kids of North Adams in the elementary school system with Kidspace. But, we've heard from our members and others, that more programs for adults would be welcome. And we decided to do it in every one of our tripoded seasons — at least two, maybe sometimes three, maybe sometimes four events that are focused on adults."

The first event of the new endeavor will be a reading and conversation with Akwaeke Emezi, author of "Freshwater," and artist Allison Janae Heamilton, focusing on the themes "Freshwater" shares with Hamilton's Pitch: ancestral relationships, ghosts, spirituality and the mysteries of the self.

Rounding out the season will be a series of residencies and performances, including the return of the popular Sundance Theatre Lab and "The Fall of the House of Usher" — a spellbinding stage version of Edgar Allan Poe's masterpiece featuring a score by Philip Glass and replete with puppets, musicians, actors and projections.


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