March 8, 2013

Theater of Awesome joins Freeport scene

By Matt Byrne
Staff Writer

FREEPORT — The custom drum kit rises from the center of the cozy theater like an other-worldly contraption of aluminum, electronics and elastic, with a nervous system of wires dangling from a table of electronics nearby.

click image to enlarge

Brothers Matt and Jason Tardy pose for a portrait at the Theater of Awesome on Depot Street in Freeport Thursday, March 7, 2013. The brothers will kick off their new physical comedy routine called "AudioBody" Friday night, March 8.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

click image to enlarge

Matt Tardy runs wiring along the ceiling behind the stage at the Theater of Awesome on Depot Street in Freeport Thursday, March 7, 2013. Matt and his brother, Jason will kick off their new physical comedy routine called "AudioBody" Friday night, March 8.

Gabe Souza/Staff Photographer

Video clip: "We Are AudioBody"

Matt Tardy, 31, presses a few buttons before he and his brother Jason Tardy, 33, whip into action, their fluorescent sticks flying over 20 drum actuators that produce the heavily layered electronic music that defines their performance group, AudioBody.

The duo's brand of genre-defying performance art -- wrapping together music, comedy and technology -- has taken them across the country, to the Caribbean and twice to the White House.

But after four years, countless shows and hundreds of thousands of miles, the quirky, tech-driven act will take up more permanent residence in Freeport, occupying a 99-seat venue on Depot Street renamed the Theater of Awesome. The brothers will make their home theater debut Friday evening.

It's a professional evolution for the performers who were weary of the frenetic rhythms of life on the road.

"We were headed on this trajectory that was sending us more and more away from our families," said Jason Tardy. Both brothers have two young children, and make their homes in Turner. "No human should be forced to do what we were doing."

Their transition from vagabond performers to stewards of a bricks-and-mortar venue appears to suit the Freeport business community, which is hungry to complement its well-known retail stores and restaurants with more vibrant nightlife options.

"We're thrilled to have another choice for live theater," said Carolyn Krahn, interim executive director of the Greater Freeport Chamber of Commerce. "It seems like it's going to be a really great fit."

The location also is expected to help boost the brothers' fledgling business, Jason Tardy said. Freeport's proximity to Maine's major population centers gives the pair access to a wider audience than their previous regimen of driving or flying to far-flung venues to perform for more narrowly tailored groups, such as college students or corporate clients.

"There are a lot of people with disposable income looking to have a good time," Jason Tardy said.

The brothers' performance can be difficult to define, mixing the exaggerated physicality of vaudeville, traditional circus arts such as juggling and a hacker's flair for electronic ingenuity.

From Matt Tardy's basement workshop, the brothers have designed their instruments virtually from scratch, or have heavily modified off-the-shelf audio components to suit their needs.

The drum kit is crafted from L-shaped pieces of aluminum that screw together and fold into a single 76-pound rolling suitcase -- small enough for them to pack for air travel. Each of the 20 drum actuators acts like a simple switch, with a span of stretched elastic that when pressed down by a hit from a drum stick, completes an electrical circuit. The electronic burst is sent through a loom of wires that hang from the rig like bundles of nerves.

From there, the signals are sent to a computer that translate them into the enmeshed sounds and layered arpeggios that comprise each segment of their 90-minute routine. The components must be functional and tough, yet visually obvious in their operation, so that young audience members can understand how the thwack of a stick makes the sound they hear.

"Most people invent things in a practical way," said Matt Tardy. "We have to invent things that are visually appealing."

(Continued on page 2)

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