Performer to present hard-to-define but wildly pleasing work

Keckler has performed his hybrid of opera and theatrical monologue nationally and internationally.

Following a four-night run at On the Boards in Seattle’s Queen Anne neighborhood, Brooklyn-based performer Joseph Keckler will come to Vashon Center for the Arts for one night only, at 7:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 9.

Joseph Keckler has made a name for himself in the New York City art scene as a revolutionary opera singer, a stunning performance artist, and a witty raconteur. His expressive voice, operatic arias, monologues, and songs dance between comedy, commentary, and communion, critics have said.

Keckler has performed his hybrid of opera and theatrical monologue at New York’s Lincoln Center, Hammerstein Ballroom, and Public Theatre and major venues across the country and in Europe. But he’s also at home in small clubs, fringe theatres, and rock venues.

In 2019, Keckler was the supporting act on tour with the Olympia, Washington’s own “Riot Girl” rock stars, Sleater-Kinney.

Keckler was born in Kalamazoo, Michigan, with a knack for the kind of dark theatricality you’d expect to see in the film “Harold and Maude.” A 2013 New York Times interview revealed that as a boy, he “staged accidents on the front lawn, positioning his body under a tricycle; the rule was he had to stay there until a concerned driver stopped.”

When he wasn’t staging tricycle accidents, young Joseph was listening to Bessie Smith, Cab Calloway, and Aretha Franklin, and when he heard Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, he found a new hero. Keckler still finds himself enamored with Hawkins’ signature song “I Put a Spell on You” saying, “he’s creating a theater of the ridiculous… but at the same time, his voice is so commanding and so powerful.”

Screamin’ Jay Hawkins’ blend of theatrical camp combined with vocal depth became a sort of gateway to opera and performance art for Keckler. Years later, as a student at the University of Michigan, Keckler would go on to study under renowned performance artist Holly Hughes and the ground-breaking operatic tenor George Shirley, graduating with his BFA in 2004.

Now an accomplished performer in his own right, when asked how he would define himself today, Keckler said he’s an “interdisciplinary artist… I’m a bewildered person who does things. I like traversing different forms.”

Smiling slightly, he added, “I would like to infiltrate the mainstream.”

And while Opera News said Keckler “resists classification,” other members of the press haven’t been able to resist trying to describe his one-of-a-kind allure.

The New York Times has called Keckler “a major vocal talent … with a range that shatters the boundaries… and a trickster’s dark humor.”

The Huffington Post heralded Keckler as “riveting and beautifully absurd … [with] the power and chops to legitimately modernize a dying art form.”

The Village Voice called Keckler “tantalizing” and “dynamic,” with “magnetism and poise so high that he seems to have been born onstage.”

But perhaps comedian Amy Schumer summed it up best by simply calling him “….[expletive] amazing.”

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