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South Side woman to perform with multimedia troupe

By GREG HAYES

Autumn Ayers understands the challenges of facing a project that forces people to think outside the box.

As a former Odyssey of the Mind participant and 1995 graduate of South Williamsport Area High School, Ayers is due to perform her latest piece "Mayhem and Majesty" here next weekend as lead vocalist with Squonk Opera.

The Pittsburgh-based multimedia performance troupe's show follows the city-sponsored street fair to help celebrate Odyssey of the Mind's 30th anniversary the weekend of the state tournament at Williamsport Area High School.

"Mayhem and Majesty" is the second show Ayers has been a part of writing, describing the latest piece as one that's "musical as much as it is visual."

"It's not really an opera, it's more like rock-opera," she said of the piece that interprets the creation of music. "There's no story to it. It's more just visual and auditory representations of music, what it means to humans and what it does to us emotionally."

She credits some of the creative discipline and problem-solving abilities she's acquired in working with limitations to Odyssey of the Mind, which she participated in while growing up in South Williamsport.

"My own music is really kind of literal, very wordy. I spell it all out and it's always personal and there's a story - a beginning, middle and an end," she said. "They (Squonk Opera) really kind of prefer me to write nonsense lyrics."

Faced with the limitation of constructing a "narrative-less" piece was actually very freeing, she said, as it encouraged her to think outside the box and "make connections" to develop something that will enable audience members to fill in the blanks.

"They might not fill in the blanks the way you might fill them, but it will have that much more meaning because it'll be personal for them," she said. "That's the thing we want to present to people. That's what we're about - to show you something and take you where you might not necessarily would have gone. We want to illuminate something that's otherwise hidden."

While establishing a foundation as an entertainer here, Odyssey of the Mind wasn't Ayers's only medium she used to sharpen her talent.

As a child and teenager, she also performed in other local venues, including the Community Arts Center's Christmas show, Millbrook Playhouse, Rockwell Theater, the Community Theatre League and in other area clubs.

Her career as an entertainer has gained her recognition in such publications as the Pittsburgh City Paper, which described her voice as "perhaps the one instrument audience members remember most," as it has "so much range and power."

As for coming back home - a trip she rarely makes - Ayers doesn't know what to expect.

"I'm sure I'll see old teachers of mine from elementary school," she said. "It'll be surreal, but that works, because Squonk is surreal."



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