DUNCAN — Comedic scenes from classic silent films will come to life Friday evening, thanks to the festive sounds of a traveling professional orchestra.
Throughout the evening, three silent films will be accompanied by their original orchestral scores, which 12 instrumentalists will play live, with sound effects.
The three films are:
• “One Week,” a 1920 film featuring Buster Keaton and Sybil Seeley, starring as newlyweds who receive a portable house as a wedding gift. When they try to construct it, things quickly go awry.
• “Get Out and Get Under,” a 1920 film featuring Harold Lloyd, who plays an actor who will lose his part to a rival if he fails to make it to the theater on time. Car trouble and more prove significant obstacles in his journey.
• “The Pawnshop,” a 1916 film featuring Charlie Chaplin, who competes with his fellow shop assistant, nearly destroying everything in the shop — and himself.
Rick Benjamin is in his 34th season as founder and artistic director of the Paragon Ragtime Orchestra, the world’s only year-round, professional ensemble re-creating the syncopated sounds of early musical theater, silent cinema and vintage dance.
In 1985, Benjamin discovered thousands of turn-of-the-century orchestra scores once belonging to Victrola recording star Arthur Pryor. In 1988, the Orchestra made its formal debut at Alice Tully Hall, the first concert ever presented at Lincoln Center by such an ensemble.
For Benjamin, it’s a joy to breathe new life into some of the earliest creations of American filmmakers.
“The general atmosphere of that time period was incredibly uplifting,” Benjamin said of the 1910s and ‘20s. “People were excited about technology and the prospects for the country.”
The Orchestra’s method of combining live music and film takes audiences on a “voyage of discovery,” Benjamin said, one often punctuated by applause, whistling and audible gasps.
“People talk about how meaningful films are to them,” he said, “but they had no idea seeing 100-year-old, black-and-white moving image could make them feel all the emotions they felt.”
The evening is also meant to bridge centuries and generations.
“Kids love this,” Benjamin said. “If they don’t already know about Charlie Chaplin, they will love him when it’s over.”
The Orchestra has appeared at hundreds of leading arts venues over the years, including the Smithsonian Institution, but for Benjamin, signing up to perform at the Simmons Center was a no-brainer.
“The orchestra and I are excited to come back to Oklahoma,” he said. “My wife and I have a close relationship with Lawton.”
Benjamin’s wife, Leslie Cullen, the orchestra’s flutist and company manager, was raised in Lawton. Her father, Col. Paul S. Cullen, served as director of the Field Artillery School at Fort Sill. Cullen has also served as Artist-In-Residence for the Oklahoma State Arts Council.
The event is sponsored by Bank of Commerce, and according to CTAC Executive Director Darcy Reeves, guests can also enjoy a pre-show by Southwest Pride Barbershop Chorus.
Chisholm Trail Arts Council is a nonprofit with a mission of “Promoting and Inspiring the Arts in Southwest Oklahoma.” CTAC receives support through Oklahoma Arts Council, McCasland Foundation as well as support from businesses and memberships.