“Fantasia on Mysterium”: an immersive theatrical experience

“Fantasia on Mysterium: The Epic Immersive Theatrical Recital” is not your typical production. Artist, playwright and pianist Michael Yannette, has dedicated 18 years to the crafting of this reimagined show. Simply calling it a recital would be a severe understatement. 

Photo by Cora Haste.

The production, which premiered at WCU, was intended to bring Russian composer Alexander Scriabin’s unfinished work, “Mysterium”, to life.

Left incomplete after his death in 1915, Scriabin’s “Mysterium” was intended to be a musical work that would employ all the senses. According to Scriabin there would be no audience for the piece, only participants.  

“Nobody knows him here. And here’s…one of the most intense personal histories and dramas in music history,” Yannette said.  

Intended to bring Scriabin’s “Mysterium” to life, “Fanatasia on Mysterium” evoked all the senses in a transformative story of coming into one’s own. 

Through his time working on the project, Yannette began to incorporate parts of his own life into the production.  

“I thought I was writing a show but what I was really doing was writing the footprints of my own healing,” Yannette said. 

The recital chronicles the self-discovery that took place as Yannette researched and wrote the show. Cosmic coincidence, injury, mediums and heartbreak paved the path to production. The tone shifts as Yannette invites audiences to a vulnerable time in his life. 

Yannette discusses his sexuality, identity, past relationships and his ever-changing understanding of self.  He is an open book narrating over the sometimes dissonant and often haunting music of Scriabin. 

“The show dives into so many emotions and experiences felt by this super creative person that I just didn’t know before,” said Alex Manley, a senior show attendee. 

The show premiered Jan. 25 at the Bardo Arts Center. The Thursday evening performance was a sold-out show. The Jan. 26 and 27 shows also packed the theater. Guests bought tickets to view the show and be immersed into the world of Alexander Scriabin’s music. The music was brought to life through floor-to-ceiling projections, lights and aromas.  

“The layout is very different from what I’m used to, I mean you’ll see it if you see the show. There’s really not a whole lot of set pieces, there’s not a whole lot of props. It’s mostly focused on lights and projections,” stage manager Annie Watsic said.  

The show also featured fractal animations created by renowned artist Julius Horsthuis. Horsthuis’ animation work has been featured in award winning films, festivals and art museums across the world. His work is considered ‘transportive’ and ‘mesmerizing’. The graphics move across the screen as Yannette plays Scriabin’s etudes and preludes, fully immersing the audience into the mind of the Russian pianist and composer.  

The projections made the show unique, but they also made it difficult to coordinate.

“I’ve never done any shows with this much projection surface. So, it’s really immersive,” said Leo Lei, assistant professor of light and sound at WCU.  

Lei worked as the director of entertainment, design and technology for the show. 

“When everything works well [it feels like] all the hard work, all the time we spent, is worth it,” Lei said. 

Animator Joshua Norman has been a large part of the creative process for the past decade. He animated a large portion of the projections. 

All the work that went into the projections by animators and the technical crew created an amazing experience for the audience.  

“The visuals were spectacular, and, for lack of a better term, psychedelic,” Manley said. 

The cast and crew knew how important this production was to Yannette. That theme of passion carried through every rehearsal, technical run through and meeting. 

“This isn’t just a show that we were just like, ‘Oh we just feel like putting on something’. This is Michael’s baby. This is what he’s been working towards for the past 18 years,” Watsic said.  

“Being able to be immersed in the music at certain parts that correspond with what’s happening in the story and in Michael’s life has been really cool to see and kind of understand in a deeper sense than just hearing it from word,” said McKenzie Yazan, assistant stage manager. 

Photo by Cora Haste.

To Yannette, it felt important to share. His intention was not to inspire or convince anyone but only to tell his story. 

“I didn’t write that show as a message to anyone. I wrote it because the only way that I was going to fulfill my soul contract with it was to completely tell whatever that thing inside of me said I needed to do to be free of it,” Yannette said.  

There are no current plans to tour but Yannette is preparing the show for that opportunity. Going on tour or having a good reaction from the audience were not the most important aspects of this journey. For Yannette, it was about accomplishing something he has poured so much time and effort into. 

“So, for that person that’s writing that novel, or that person who wants to write that show or write that thing,” Yannette said, “if you get to the finish line the satisfaction is crazy, so worth it.” 

Later this month the Bardo Arts Center will be hosting Sing and Swing: A Jazz at Lincoln Center Presents Production on Feb. 28. Tickets can be purchased online at wcuarts.universitytickets.com.