“Up Close” returns to the community theater for third year

Local composer and musician Grisha Krivchenia has worked with elders and those entering the end of their life stages to create songs telling the stories of their lives. He will be returning to the San Juan Community Theatre focusing on his collaborations with island elders, and adding youth into the mix as well for the third annual performance of “Up Close.” Performance times are Thursday through Saturday, Sept. 12-14, at 7:30 p.m. and Sunday, Sept. 15, at 2 p.m.

Tickets are $17 per person and can be purchased online at www.sjctheatre.org, or by calling the box office at 360-378-3210.

The Journal spoke with Krivchenia to learn more about this year’s event.

Q: This will be the third year for “Up Close,” correct? What keeps you coming back?

A: In short, it’s the people! Writing music together with elders who haven’t told their stories yet, or perhaps have not shared them beyond their own family, is a deeply satisfying process. For many “Up Close” participants, this is their first time writing music. And it’s magical to watch people creating in a new medium, guided by a skillful facilitator.

Q: What would you like islanders to know about local elders?

A: They are diverse and fascinating, often very funny. San Juan County has the oldest demographic of any county in Washington State. Our elders are one of our greatest resources, our local treasures.

Q: Why do you think music is such a comfort for those entering the end of their life?

A: For one thing, music brings us into the body. Whether we are conscious of it or not, we make subtle movements to the rhythms and our skin vibrates with the music itself.

For someone who is facing the natural decay and demise of the body, there is a tendency to ignore the body.

Q: Who are some of the people you are featuring this year?

A: We’re excited to welcome Kirk Fuhrmeister as a new composer-collaborator. Stormy Hildreth from Orcas Island leads the band, with her bold and gorgeous voice. And Darvis Taylor returns for his third year. We are playing a few songs from previous years, sweet collaborations with two amazing San Juan Island women: Nedra Thomas and Eleanor Parnes. We are also playing a work that I composed in 2017 with a history teacher and avid mountaineer in the 93rd year of his life. The new participants are a surprise. Come see whom we’ve chosen!

Q: How can we, as a society approach, death better?

A: Our relationship with death and dying is so dysfunctional that it can be hard to know where to begin. The starting point has to be a decision to embrace the truth of our mortality, instead of trying to deny it. And the earlier the better — if you can get cozy with death when you are still relatively young, then there is a good chance ” Up Close” can be a doorway into starting to contemplate the ways that human lives come to a close. In a non-threatening way, listening to beautiful music, stories, and poetry, the listener can begin to make peace with her own mortality.

Q: What is new and different in the performance this year?

A: We are no longer working just with elders. We are eager to tell the stories of anyone who might get missed. This year, we are expanding to adolescents. To get us started, we will perform one new song by a local teen. While we are still quite focused on hospice patients and local elders, we decided to add elements from the other side of the lifespan.