When it became clear to Philadelphia-based playwright and dramaturg Jacqueline Goldfinger that her newest play, “Click,” was going to be produced, she knew whose sound would make it whole.
“I immediately thought of Pax to create the music and soundscape, as their deep knowledge of both traditional theater music and other forms — including opera, cabaret and chorale — have been enormously important in creating the complex on-and-offline worlds of the play,” Goldfinger said.
Pax is Pax Ressler, the non-binary Philadelphia theater multi-hyphenate whose compositional soundscapes surround and infest “Click” like a virus and move like a tech-savvy monolith.
“The sound in this show is a character unto itself,” said Ressler, who goes by the pronouns “they/them/their,” during a lengthy rehearsal.
They reflected on the wealth that is “Click,” a complex theater piece that finds Goldfinger writing in bleakly humorous fashion about disasters gone viral (college students in a frat rape) and the future-forward consequences that follow.
“While evolving technology is part of what violates a character such as Fresh’s consent in the first place, technology is also how Fresh harnesses her power and connects to her world,” said Ressler. “I really love the duality that Jackie has written into this script, which echoes my own feelings about technology in my life: an incredible tool, and an isolating cage.”
There are no cages for Ressler, who is a living, breathing participant in how Philly theater accepts non-binary participants, be it the newly changed gender-neutral Barrymore Awards or last autumn’s Shakespeare in Clark Park’s non-binary production of “Twelfth Night” where ze/zir pronouns were used to great effect.
“Non-binary theatre artists are a vibrant part of Philly’s arts community, and we’ve made great strides in visibility and understanding in recent years,” noted Ressler. “We’re committed to making space for non-binary people, but we’re also looking for people to operate in solidarity with us. We hope that our friends, theater artists and institutions — almost all run by cisgender people — will advocate for us, and follow our lead in making change for transgender and non-binary people.”
Ressler, who has worked as a composer for locals such as Nichole Canuso Dance Company, Arden Theatre and The Bearded Ladies, is renowned for a musical sensibility that is both old-world and ragingly futuristic, and decidedly diverse.
“I often describe myself as a neoclassical and choral composer, but I write for whatever the project demands. In the past few months, I’ve written country-gospel, sacred, electronic and ambient music for projects. I’ve had to stretch myself as a composer and experiment with new sounds for each new piece.”
Most recently, Ressler developed a collaborative relationship with Philadelphia’s University of the Arts. Not only is “Click” a co-production between Simpatico (at the Drake) and U-Arts, but Ressler also was the music director for the colorful “Marie In Tomorrowland.”
“I feel lucky to have worked with UArts students on ‘Marie in Tomorrowland’ in the Polyphone Festival,” said Ressler. “The students I met are incredibly skilled and collaborative artists. This piece lived or died by the cohesion of the ensemble, and their commitment to supporting and being generous with each other onstage really spoke volumes to me. It felt rare and special to have over 25 female and non-binary artists performing onstage in the cast and band. It’s the first time I’ve been on a project where men weren’t onstage.”
For, now, however Ressler remains focused on “Click,” moving quickly, furiously and darkly through what Goldfinger described as a story of “virtual-reality identities blurring time and space” in relation to a crime and questions of consent.
“I’m really compelled by the dark, Black Mirror-esque world that Jackie has created and was sonically inspired by what she’s written,” said Ressler. “The sound in this show is a character unto itself — it embodies a lot of the ‘invisible tech’ of the world, including high-tech motion-activated screens. Using sound to help the audience ‘see’ this futuristic tech truly feels like the magic of theater.”
“Click” premieres at Simpatico Theatre at 850 S. Second St, Philadelphia, this week and runs through April 14.