‘Animal Show’ spotlights compassion for our fellow creatures

Michael Harren and one of his muses on the farm. (Photo by Diana Bezanski.)

The performance begins with a song about an injured chicken named Casey who found a home at Montague, New Jersey’s Tamerlaine Farm Animal Sanctuary, and in the heart of composer/performer Michael Harren. During his yearlong artist-in-residence stint at the farm in 2016, Harren met Casey, whose legs had been mangled, and experienced a sweet and affectionate demeanor that gave him a new outlook on his work as an animal-rights activist and vegan, and inspired his piece The Animal Show. It appeared in New York earlier this fall and makes its Philly debut at the Rotunda on November 16, 2017.

For some, it may seem trite to attend a performance about a man and his bond with a chicken, especially when our political system is fraying and mass shootings are claiming the lives of innocent people at concerts and church services. But at its core, The Animal Show is about the preservation of life and finding value in all living things, at a time when we could all use the reminder.

A New Yorker from farm to stage

Offering an insightful exploration of humans’ relationship with animals, Harren provides audiences with a multimedia performance (here’s a video peek) that blends emotional and humorous anecdotes with music and video from his experience at Tamerlaine and other activism to spread the message of keeping animals safe from harm.

The piece (directed by Adam Fitzgerald) incorporates a mixture of dynamic musical compositions. Accompanied by a string quartet, Harren plays the piano and fuses some arrangements with samples of animal sounds from the sanctuary and chants from animal-rights rallies, combined with ambient electronic rhymes. 

Harren, a Brooklynite, will be the first to admit he is not an outdoorsman and that his time at Tamerlaine (in New Jersey’s northwest corner) pushed him out of his comfort zone. But he found deep satisfaction in supporting the work being done at the sanctuary, which is home to more than 200 animals such as chickens, turkeys, goats, and pigs. The time he spent cleaning cages, feeding, and petting his new furry and feathered friends put him face to face with the animals he was advocating for.

“The big thing that I got out of the Tamerlaine, and my subsequent trips to other sanctuaries, was how similar the animals are to humans,” Harren shares. “They have their own personalities. Some will hop on your lap and cuddle with you. Some don’t want anything to do with you and just want to hang out with each other.”

Art as animal advocacy

The Animal Show is designed to help people understand that animals we’re usually interested only in eating have their own interests: they too want a life free from pain and suffering. This notion is anchored in the stories layered throughout the performance. Harren shares about a bond he formed with a special pig, immerses the audience in a video presentation of a slaughterhouse vigil that took place in Los Angeles, and sprinkles the show with comedic relief during an anecdote about cleaning cages in the scorching heat.

“The best way I can advocate for animals, and the best way I could be a performer, was to share about the real experiences that I had,” Harren explains. “It’s not always easy to be super-genuine and share in a way that people will be able to connect with, but this show has taught me how to take risks as a person and as a performer.”

The Animal Show comes to Philly for one night only on Thursday, November 16, at 8pm at the Rotunda (4014 Walnut Street). For tickets ($10 in advance; $12 at the door) and more information, visit online.