Richland grad making waves in the Big Apple

Submitted photo by Martina Gomez Santander
Submitted photo by Martina Gomez Santander

By KAYLA PONGRAC
Our Town Correspondent

Say hello to Maxim Orlando. He’s a singer, writer, director, actor . . . a jack of all trades when it comes to the stage.

“Amazing, talented and unique” is how Michael Bodolosky, Pasquerilla Performing Arts Center executive director, describes him. Bodolosky is one of many local residents who have watched Maxim Orlando — better known locally as Max Fedore — grow as both an artist and an individual.

And the Richland High School graduate continues to grow, determined to pursue his dreams and make his family, friends and community proud. 

Fedore has been interested in entertaining audiences for as long as he can remember. His parents, Andy Fedore and Dr. Mary Lou Astorino, own Meadowbrook School Bed and Breakfast, and, as a child, Fedore enjoyed entertaining guests.

“We had all these wonderful people coming in every weekend,” Fedore said, “and I would always sing for them or tell them stories. I was always trying to get people involved in what I was creating; I always wanted to entertain and perform.”

These days, Fedore is a senior at New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, where he is majoring in film and television production and minoring in psychology.

It’s fair to say that he’s been keeping rather busy, entertaining and performing.

On Feb. 26, for instance, he’ll be singing inside the David Rubinstein Atrium at Lincoln Center in New York as part of Lincoln Center’s College Cabaret. Fedore auditioned, made it into the public voting round and secured one of the five coveted performance slots.

“Thanks to my friends in Johnstown and New York, I now have this incredible opportunity to perform at this unique event,” Fedore said. “It’s an extraordinary opportunity for someone my age to perform at this venue. Lincoln Center has this great reputation as being the epicenter of high art in New York. It’s an opportunity for some really great exposure, and I’m very excited.”

Fedore plans to use his 10-minute slot to perform three or four songs, one of which will be a love song from his film-in-progress, “Opera of Cruelty.”

“I look forward to talking about the film and letting everyone know that this crazy project is underway,” Fedore said. “It’s going to be a really fun night.”

His performance at Lincoln Center is just one of many unique experiences Fedore has been afforded while working and playing in the Empire State.
One of the latest and greatest experiences involves his aforementioned thesis film.

The surreal drama tells the story of Young Victim, who is invited to an opera orchestrated by Famed Fiend. Young Victim quickly becomes infatuated with one of the performers, Tigress, and, before he knows it, is caught in an elusive trap from which he must escape.

“The film is very much a play on what is real and what is performance,” he said. “It asks the question, What are we willing to watch?”

After workshopping the script for “Opera of Cruelty” with his peers and director Mary Lambert (best known for directing Stephen King’s “Pet Sematary”), Fedore successfully pitched his script to Lambert and his fellow classmates, all of whom were competing for a limited number of allotments to make their films with assistance from the university.

“At the end of the thesis class, you do this final pitch in front of the whole class. You talk about the script, the vision, what you have in place as far as production . . . basically, you have to prove that you deserve NYU’s assistance. There are only 24 slots, and only half of the students in the class receive them. It’s interesting because you’re up against your peers, but it’s very much like the real world,” he said.

Fedore’s successful pitch resulted in him receiving the insurance and equipment needed to begin shooting his film at the end of April. He and his crew will have approximately six days to shoot, and he hopes to make final edits by October so that it can be entered into the film festival circuit. In the meantime, he’s looking for filming locations in and around New York City.

“Most of our cast and crew are based in New York, or are NYU students, so our game plan is to shoot in New York,” he said.

Working on “Opera of Cruelty” has allowed Fedore to collaborate with fellow artists, including Juilliard alum Nathan Prillaman, who composed the score, and acclaimed fashion designer Asher Levine, who will create otherworldly costumes for Famed Fiend and Tigress.

“Working with Nathan was the most exhilarating experience,” Fedore said. “We spent hours discussing the sounds and style of the opera and then met almost three times a week for a month as each piece was crafted. He would create a mock-up of the orchestration, and I would then let the music wash over me and give notes.”

“I wrote the lyrics for the individual songs and this inspired much of the music. Of course, when I heard the final score, I was inspired to rework and refine the words. But I wish someone had been filming my face the first time I heard the opening music for the film: It was so perfect and spectacular that I was in complete shock,” he said.

“What most excites me about creating this production is the process of crafting a film to music; it is truly a new experience for me to be working so closely with music before the production begins. It’s very much a choreographed piece. The direction will be influenced largely by the music. Hearing the grandeur of the sound will influence every decision, from camera angles to how the actors move through the space.”

Just as Fedore reached out to Prillaman, he also took a chance in reaching out to Levine, who has designed custom outfits for celebrities such as Taylor Swift, Lady Gaga, Bruno Mars and John Legend.

“When I was thinking about this film, I knew that I needed someone who could create not just fashion, but a whole creature,” Fedore said. 

“If you look at Asher’s work, he has great, animalistic qualities to his designs. It was a dream come true when he said, ‘Yeah, let’s work together.’ So, he’s bringing my sketches to life. It’s surreal.”

Though Fedore said it is difficult to act in the same film that one is directing, he is taking on a challenge; in the film, Fedore will play the role of Famed Fiend, a character with whom he has a lot in common.

“The Famed Fiend is the master of ceremonies of the opera,” Fedore said. “He’s the brains behind the operation, the world outside of the cruel and evil place. He wants to create beauty in the world and he sort of loses himself in that quest.

“I think that every time you turn on the television or open the newspaper, it seems like our world is getting much darker, more brutal. Even though the world outside seems cruel, I want to create art that can inspire people and offer some beauty.”

“Opera of Cruelty” is inspired in part by French poet and dramatist Antonine Artaud, who composed a manifesto in his 1938 book “The Theatre and Its Double,” detailing why theater needs to contain elements of shock and surprise for audience members.

Artaud wrote that the theater should be a “communion between actor and audience in a magic exorcism; gestures, sounds, unusual scenery, and lighting combine to form a language, superior to words, that can be used to subvert thought and logic and to shock the spectator into seeing the baseness of his world.”

Fedore became acquainted with Artaud’s writings in his dramatic literature class.

“He was really out there, really forward-thinking,” Fedore said of Artaud. “His famous theory, called ‘The Theatre of Cruelty,’ sort of started the whole idea for my film. The film is surreal and impressionistic, and my whole goal is to use the film to create a magical experience.”

Fedore mentioned that his opera is also inspired by animals that have been released from captivity into the wild.

“About a year ago, I started watching these videos that allowed me to follow this tiger in Russia named Cinderella,” he said. 

“It became this obsession. The handlers rescued the tiger and they nursed her back to health. When they released her back into the wild, they set up all these slow-motion cameras, and when she jumped out of the cage, you got this incredible experience of watching her run to freedom. That inspired the idea within the film that there’s this wild creature that’s being caged, but it might be for the creature’s own good. That very much inspired the Tigress, the prized performer of the opera. She wants nothing more than to escape.”

Fedore described the thesis film as not only his “most ambitious undertaking yet,” but also his most expensive.

Considering Fedore’s attention to detail and motivation to produce a high-quality film, he’s seeking individual donations via an Indiegogo campaign. Each tax-deductible donation and grant that Fedore receives will help with the film’s $20,000 budget. (For more information about the Indiegogo campaign or to donate, visit www.indiegogo.com and type “Max Fedore” in the site’s search bar, or use this direct link: igg.me/at/operaofcruelty.)

Fedore said it feels exhilarating to create a film that combines his passions for music and filmmaking.

“I’m so excited that everything is coming together,” he said. “I sort of feel like, after all these years, with my performing experience, my filmmaking experience . . . everything is culminating in this final project.”

He added that his time in New York has been invaluable.

“I think that coming to NYU is one of the best things I’ve ever done. I’ve been able to work with some of the most talented people from all over the world and that has helped me grow as an artist and an individual,” he said.

“Just from living in New York, I have had the opportunity to see so many incredible live performances in theater and live music . . . I’ve absorbed as much as possible.”

Despite his love for New York, it’s always a thrill to return home to Johnstown.

“As much as I love New York, I’m so blessed to have a community of people back home who seem to be behind me in whatever I want to do,” he said. “I always love coming back home and sharing my experiences and my work with people who have supported me creatively and financially. There are so many people I’m still in contact with in Johnstown. It’s overwhelming to think about the support I have in Johnstown.”

After earning his degree from NYU, Fedore intends to market his work at film festivals; he hopes that will open some doors for him. He hopes the same of his internship.

Fedore has been interning with Killer Films, a New York-based production company, since December. Killer Films’ film credits include “Carol,” which stars Cate Blanchett and Rooney Mara and is in theaters now, as well as the Oscar-winning drama “Still Alice,” starring Julianne Moore, Alec Baldwin, Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth.

“I’m learning how really great independent films are being created and learning as much as possible,” Fedore said of his internship.

His ultimate dream is to direct a feature-length film and to keep challenging himself.

“I just think you should always challenge yourself to do things that make you nervous and make you uncomfortable because, otherwise, you’re not going to grow.”