1990–Part Three of the American Trilogy

Composer: Paul Dresher
Director: Robert Woodruff
Writers: Rinde Eckert - Terry Allen - Jo Harvey Allen
Producer: Robin Kirck
Set Design: Terry Allen
Lighting Design: Larry Neff
Sound Design: Jay Cloidt
Costume Design: Beaver Bauer & Esmeralda


Junior: Rinde Eckert
The Widow: Jo Harvey Allen
The Other Man: John Duykers


Guitar, Keyboard, bass, Electronics: Paul Dresher
Percussion: Gene Reffkin
Keyboard: Phil Aaberg
Violin: Craig Fry
Production Director: Melissa Weaver
Technical Director/ Set Design Consultant: Justin Hersh
Design Consultant: Chad Owens
Assistant Technical Directors: Zachary Shapli, David Mc Cullough
Technical Services: Delphi Productions
Film Production/ Film Designer: Bert Sun, 1 Studio

" Yo Ho Ho" and "Big Ole White Boys" written by Terry Allen

Premiered in May, 1990 at the Spoleto Festival USA

Pioneer was commissioned and co-produced cooperatively by the Spoleto Festival USA, Hancher Auditorium/University of Iowa, North Eastern University, Cal Performances, Robin Kirck and the Paul Dresher Ensemble.

Pioneer was commissioned through a major grant from the Lila Wallace-Reader's Digest Fund. Additional support for the creation of the work was received from the National Endowment for the Arts, Opera for the 80's and Beyond, the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation and the California Arts Council.


PIONEER celebrates and exposes American explorers and the myths of the pioneering spirit. In examining the destruction and greed of colonialism, PIONEER completes a thematic circle, which began with SLOW FIRE, the first of three works in the "American Trilogy." PIONEER deals with issues of expansionism, sexism, blind ambitions and progress. It is also an emotionally riveting love story, full of humor and warmth. The three performers, Rinde Eckert, John Duykers and Jo Harvey Allen, assume roles that are at once wicked, pathetic, humorous and strong-willed. Eckert plays 'Junior,' a history buff explorer who speaks to us from cryogenic suspension hoping to be wakened to explore the future, the last frontier. Allen plays Junior's grieving widow, and Duykers moves between his central role as the 'other man,' a sleazy lounge lizard, Columbus, Cortez, and President McKinley. The sub-plots employ actual quotes from these historical figures as they move among vignettes in the past, present and future. They further reinforce the theme of conquest and greed in the guise of protection and religion. PIONEER explores these themes at the personal and political level.

The set is constructed almost entirely of sofas, the most banal symbol of American comfort, representing everything from mountains to phone-booths. As the musical fabric resonates with songs, arias, Tex-Mex music, and experimental electronics, PIONEER forces us to rethink our most precious American myths, and speaks to us of our fascination with uncharted territory. PIONEER breathes new life into American mythology by confronting our origins and speculating on our future.

PIONEER premiered at the Spoleto Festival USA in Charleston in May, 1990. Principal collaborators include composer Paul Dresher, visual artist/song writer Terry Allen and director Robert Woodruff. It was co-commissioned by Spoleto, the University of Iowa/Hancher Auditorium, Northeastern University, the University of California at Berkeley/Cal Performances and was produced by Robin Kirck.

Opera/New Music Theater


"Its funny, its serious, its compellingly scored and brilliantly performed...a culmination of all the promise the group has shown...Director Robert Woodruff and the three magnetic performers pack the show with inventive sight gags and surreal vignettes that play off the text and score to create a three-ring circus of sights and sounds...It's audacious and it's brilliant, pioneering its own form of political music theater."
  —Robert Hurwitt, San Francisco Examiner


"Satire, devastating messages and yes, controversy this year surround the Paul Dresher Ensemble's PIONEER…The Dresher Ensemble has given '80s avant-garde a purpose…PIONEER also happens to be wonderful theater. It oozes irony, it is fast-paced and superbly written, and it demonstrates total command of the technical aspects of staging. It is also enormously innovative…brilliant work."
  —Barbara Zuck, The Columbus Dispatch