Working with voice over artists, composers and visual artists of different disciplines (animators, dancers, virtual reality directors, 3D Projection Artists, and more) Max Rothman conceived of Campfire Poetry, a large-scale collaboration that take the ideas, themes, and messages from classic literary works but give the original language broader expression and interpretation by including multiple modalities of art. In this way, the poetry is modernized and made more accessible to an audience used to multi-sensory viewing experiences, yet still speaks to the timelessness of the messages contained within works of the past – some very noteworthy, others more obscure.
The process consisted of first choosing the poems, and then passing them on to voiceover artists who selected one for a creative reading. This reading was then passed on to a composer for scoring through his or her own interpretation.

The piece – now consisting of the poem, the reading, and the original score - was then passed on to visual artist, where it was again reinterpreted, this time through visual design and movement.

This focus on passing along one step of the process to the other created a unique form of collaboration, with one artist’s work providing the complete framework for an artist of the following discipline, thus bringing together an extensive set of different inspirations, ideas, and artistic strategies with the same goal – making an impactful and distinctive product grounded in the pre-existing ideas of poets from the past. 

In their own unique way, all the poems explore the emotional limits that curtail an individual’s understanding and appreciation of the world around them. Whether depicting a mother’s grief that turns to renewed hope, a young boy that transforms his fear into courage, or an African-American man that overcomes persecution through self-expression, this theme of controlling one’s mind and thus one’s emotions connects all the poems, each one revealing the fundamental truth that we are personally in control of how we experience and process the world.

The project is called Campfire Poetry because stories told around the campfire involve one person passing a story down to another, who in turns passes it down to another, and etc.  The final receiver hears something quite different from the original intention, yet still contains elements of the original telling. In my project, the audience is included as the final step of interpretation. As the films focus on the emotions and themes of the poems rather than telling the stories in a linear fashion, they are open for interpretation – thus making the viewer an active participant in determining what to gain from the piece. 

After the first stage - Campfire Poetry Cinema - we will be expanding to the forms of dance (Campfire Poetry Movement), virtual reality (Immersive Campfire Poetry) and 3D Projections (Projected Campfire Poetry), among others. 

The works included in the project are:

A Prayer by James Joyce

Behind the Bars by Edward Smyth Jones

Breton Afternoon by Ernest Christopher Dowson

Dreamland by Lewis Carroll

In White by Robert Lee Frost

Nippon by Alfred Noyes

Off Rough Point by Emma Lazarus

Quite By Chance by Frederick Langbridge

Secret Love by Bjornstjerne Martinius Bjornson

Stanzas by Aldous Huxley

Tears by Walt Whitman

The Dirge by Percy Bysshe Shelley

The Frost Spirit by John Greenleaf Whittier

The Village Street by Edgar Allan Poe