It’s Alive!
A Monstrous Circus On Frankenstein

Video of the entire concert

2018 was the 200th anniversary of the publication of Frankenstein, and we celebrated by using Mary Shelley’s enormously influential work as the basis of John Cage’s Circus On, a template for turning any text into a performance. “It’s Alive! a Monstrous Circus On Frankenstein” was our live, multimedia presentation, sprawling over the outdoor Koski Plaza and all levels of New College’s ACE building. Twenty-seven live performers (and one disembodied voice): New College students, faculty, and staff, instrumentalists from ensemblenewSRQ and State College of Florida, and members of the community sang, played, declaimed, emoted, performed, made noise, and wreaked general havoc. You can see video of the entire performance just to the left of this paragraph.

Circus On Frankenstein

New College students Cole Brown, Claire Craven, Emma Kervel, Emily Mulholland, Sarah Olsen, and Elizabeth Perez Ruiz working with Professor of English Miriam Wallace used Cage's process of transforming the text of the 1818 version of Frankenstein into “mesostics,” a type of poem created using words from the base text that contain the letters of the text's title, following certain rules. These mesostics formed the new text of our performance, which also incorporated sounds, music, and references to places found in Frankenstein. Performers were on all levels of the ACE (Academic Center) Building and the adjacent Koski Plaza, so the audience chose their own receptive experience as they moved around the Plaza.

example of a mesostic

The third mesostic created from the text of Frankenstein

Circus On Frankenstein

Instrumentalists were Samantha Bennett on violin, John Miller on bass, George Nickson on percussion, and Rex Willis on guitar. Vocal performers were Araya Hope Barnes, Erika Calle, Tiffany Doan, Sofia Eury, Jack Fahey, Sheila Foley, Mary K. Herman, Emma Kervel, Brian Landes, Kit Liset, Eryn McIntyre, Steve Miles, Sarah Olsen, Stephen Pinna, Tammera Race, Dianne Saunders, Emily Schenck, R. L. Silver, Allie Stachura, Leslie Townsend, Miriam Wallace, Katherine Walstrom, and Kiera Wolkins, with Francis Schwartz providing a disembodied voice.

So out of one text we created a new, fractured hybrid, one incorporating the original but with a life of its own: part book, part music, part theater, part light, part sound. The claustrophobic nature of the novel, with each of its shifting narrators providing a lone perspective, transmogrified into a communal performance with more than two dozen people working together to create the entire experience.

Circus On Frankenstein

(Almost) the entire cast of performers

all still photo credits: Nancy Nassiff

mesostic 256

The final mesostic of the 256 we created

View a PDF of all 256 mesostics we created from Frankenstein.

Here are the rules for creating our mesostics: Starting at the beginning of the novel, look for the first word containing an “F” but not the following letter (so no “R”). This is the first word of the mesostic. Then continue reading, looking for a word containing an “R” but no “A,” then one with an “A” but no “N,” and so on, until you have “FRANKENSTEIN” in a vertical row. All letters should be lower-case, except for the FRANKENSTEIN row. Cage then says you can add other adjacent words from the text, before and/or after the mesostic word, “according to taste.” Some of our mesostics are “pure,” with no added words (mesostic 18, for example), while others add words on both sides of the center words (like mesostic 137).


FL Div. of Cultural Affairs logo

Sponsored in part by the State of Florida, Department of State, Division of Cultural Affairs and the Florida Council on Arts and Culture.

FL Div. of Cultural Affairs logo

Paid for in part by Sarasota County Tourist Development Tax revenues.

Sponsored in part by a grant from the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

New College logo

© 2023 New College of Florida—New Music New College