Starting the Experience at the Door: Theatrical Hors D’oeuvres

You walk into a party and the host takes your coat, slings a drink into your hand, introduces you to a few people – makes you feel comfortable, gets you prepared for what the night has in store. Theatrical experiences should be no different. You are already prepared to enter another story for the evening –  best to ignite the senses the minute you walk in the door.

The best example I have seen lately was the interactive wonderworld before a performance of The Nether, a show dealing with the danger and imperceptibility of the digital realm and its communities, at the Kirk Douglas Theatre.

Upon arrival, guests were immediately invited to create their own “avatar,” the ideal virtual version of themselves that would represent them for the evening. There was a pinboard to select your favorite character from a variety of games and online communities. Large glass bowls were set out with titles such “I met someone that I only had ever spoken to online,” and “I have friends that I only know through the internet,” with a bowl of round markers in front that guests could drop into whichever corresponding questions matched their own truths. IMAG1951

Most notably, there was a wall hung with clothesline and a large stack of cards entitled “nobody knows I dream about.” Over the course of the evening, the wall quickly filled with secrets more often left unspoken.

IMAG1952

Each game and activity eased you into the experience of The Nether which asked audiences to consider the ways in which we communicate now and notice how the digital world has swiftly become meshed with our own. It offered a stark warning for the future, and most importantly made us feel welcome as we prepared for an entirely new storytelling experience.

What Goes Around Comes Around: Here We Go ‘Round the Song Cycle

Song cycle: a group of songs designed to be performed in a sequence as a single entity. As a rule, all of the songs are by the same composer and often use words from the same poet or lyricist.

The song cycle is one of my favorite mediums for witnessing a collection of musical work. A set of story songs is as satisfying as a tapas dinner. You get a taste of everything, you leave feeling like you learned something new. Without a libretto, the song cycle depends on the music to tie the show into a cohesive evening. This unity is often underlined by musical themes that weave their way back into the work.

But perhaps what’s most impressive is how lyrics are now thrust into the spotlight to stand on their own. There is no longer a text surrounding the work, or breaks between songs to help move one from the beginning of a story to its end. Lyrics must carry new weight.

Songs For A New World: abstract musical/theatrical song cycle with the central theme: “the moment of decision.”

Taste of what’s inside:

“God knows it’s easy to hide,
Easy to hide from the things that you feel 
And harder to blindly trust 
What you can’t understand 

God knows it’s easy to run,
Easy to run from the people you love 
And harder to stand and fight 
For the things you believe”
– I’d Give it All For You

Closer Than Ever:  A meditation on urban life through the lens of real individuals’ experiences with security, aging, mid-life crisis, second marriages, working couples, and unrequited love.

Taste of what’s inside:

“If I sing you are the music.
If I love you taught me how.
Every day your heart is beating
in the man that I am now.

If my ears are tuned to wander.
If when I reach the chords are there.
When there is joy in making music,
it’s a joy that we both share.”
– If I Sing

Myths and Hymns: Song cycle by Adam Guettel, based on Greek myth and lyrics found in an antique hymnal. It concerns the relationship of humans to gods, past and present.

Taste of what’s inside:

“I don’t know what I hunger for,
I don’t know why I feel the hunger more
And more with every passing day.
I don’t know from where the hunger springs,
But that it’s there and that it sings of someplace far away.”
– Saturn Returns

Even in these moments, do you notice the repetition? The words ground themselves: “God knows…”, “If…”, “I don’t know…”. These simple phrases reinforce the idea that a song does not need to be verbose to hit home. These song cycles are memorable because they feature honest human stories told simply, an utterly effective means of storytelling.

What’s your favorite way to hear a story?

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3

What’s So Attractive About the Rise and Fall?

Watching the ebb and flow of real women’s lives have made for some of theatre’s  most surprising success stories. So what is it about their tales that gives us that extra dose of catharsis we crave?

Evita. Follows a young, ambitious, and fame-hungry Argentinean, Eva Peron, on her quest to ascend the ranks of the country’s social and political circles. Seen as a savior by most and a terror by some. Dies at 33. Crazy successful musical.

Anna Nicole: The Opera. Takes a lens to the life of Anna Nicole Smith, the waitress who became a Playboy pin-up and billionaire’s wife, before dying penniless at 39. Features extreme language, drug abuse and sexual content in the style of author Richard Thomas’ explosive and exhibitionist approach to opera.

Amy Winehouse Musical. A musical play based on the singer’s life that  will be performed by the Danish Royal Theatre in 2013. Said to focus on “the enormous pressure a sensationalist public put on a young superstar when her problems began.”Found dead at 27 in her home. Does it have what it takes to make it on stage? Is it still too fresh in people’s minds?

Yes, their lives are inherently theatrical. Eva Peron was an actress-turned-politician.  Anna’s life was a soap opera come to life. Amy’s last few years read like a tragic fairy tale. But what else draws authors to write about them and audiences to come and witness a retelling?

Perhaps, as evidenced by the public’s unending attraction to trash TV (from the early days of Jerry Springer…to more recent staples such as Toddlers in Tiaras), people like to be able to feel better about their lives in comparison to the train wrecks of others.

There is also the “gone too soon” factor, as these ladies left in the peak of their popularity or soon thereafter. This leaves us to wonder “what if” and explore the causes that led to such short lives.

Of course, some individuals’ lives are just inherently interesting. Through strokes of luck or hard work, the bullet points from their lives read like a script rather than an obit. And so onto the stage they go, to get the chance to live again.

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3

Eurydice’s Ascent

Orpheus:

If love was enough,
it might crack through our ever tightening chests locked up

one              two            three times
with separate keys.

Perhaps the light, faintly glowing beneath the skin,
would be enough to illuminate
the caverns that
await
us.

The
path out
of hell is dark
yes
but its shadows only make for temporary blindness.

Lead on, you of gentle song.
I will follow
though                             the
way
is                            winding.

Let faith alone
(Don’t look back dear one.)
guide weary feet
(Your gaze would ruin us.)
up the steep trail toward the dawn.

Fame’s No Easy Substitute For Love

And you, who knows me better than all, a touch is all it takes. 

Our communion has been treasure enough, but oh, to have this promise.

“But how, with all this light?”
“Can’t you see the constellations?”

Their eyes like our eyes, darling. 

He’s not the only one who waits for you.

Another season gone by. The crown you said you didn’t crave keeps you from us here. 

Words are fleeting, love. What’s left are memories.

Image Sources: 1, 2,34&5,  6, 7, 8
Visual storytelling for Rachel and Andrew Jackson à la Bloody Bloody Andrew Jackson

Life On the Frontier

Home is a place you make. We’ve learned the neighbors’ names. They sound different than ours. 

His hands were always a sea of calluses. I can’t remember them any other way. 

We had only what we needed once. Happiness snuck up and found us here. 

More than a touch, not quite a caress. 

They’re leaving now. He says to a better land.

Home is a place you make. These are just the boards and nails and prairies we thought we deserved. Home feels different now.

 

Image Sources: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6

I Was Just A Card

There’s something so addicting about this choreographer’s work. Her young dancers are well trained, yes. But the true power of her pieces comes from a true understanding of how to convey human emotion through performance. Instead of peacock-ing and showing off the talent of each member of her company, she showcases their vibrancy through storytelling. And we all love a good story…