Monday, November 15, 2010

Creating Euripides' CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera

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Special sneak preview of music from "Cyclops"
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By Chas LiBretto

People have been asking me what I’ve been up to these last six weeks or so and I tell them I’ve been living in the Cyclops Cave. It’s not far from the truth. The windows of our living room are covered in sound-absorbing blankets, and barely any light comes through. There are the occasional waftings of body odor, experimentations in facial hair, and a daily intake of "bachelor food" (the beans and corn, of course, are canned). Occasionally, I have to remind myself to venture outside and make sure the Zombie Apocalypse hasn’t occurred.

Mustaches and huevos rancheros aside, what we’ve really been up to has been pre-production and crafting of music for Psittacus Productions' new show, a rock & roll epic adapted from Euripides’ “CYCLOPS” – the only fully intact Satyr Play.

And what, pray tell, is a Satyr Play? I’m glad you’ve asked.

During the 5th century BC, the Greeks would hold a Festival for Dionysus, the God of Wine and Theater (haven’t you always wondered why your actor friends seem to drink so much?). Three Tragedies would be presented back-to-back and, directly following this fun-filled day of matricides, homicides, incest, and rape - and the occasional deus ex machina - a "Satyr Play" would be presented.

These productions would feature the same casts as the Tragedies, and were a big tonal departure. Much shorter in length, the Satyr Play would continue the evening's theme of presenting a story with which Greek audiences would have been familiar - in the case of “Cyclops,” it is the story of Odysseus landing on the Island of Polyphemus and using his considerable wit to escape becoming a meal. The story would then be subverted (perverted, even!) by the presence of Satyrs. While all Greek plays feature a “Chorus,” usually servants or assistants to the protagonist, or a group of the city's elders, Satyr Plays feature a Chorus of...Satyrs: hairy, horny, hedonistic, drunken goat-men. Hijinks ensue, and all in celebration of the God of wine, sex, and storytelling.

Of course, when we tell people this, many seem perplexed: “Why would you do that? You boys have just finished a critically beloved adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s greatest plays, and you follow it up with a dusty museum piece of an extinct genre nobody’s even heard of!” While we take the point, our adaptation began with a translation by Percy Bysshe Shelley - he's no Shakespeare, but he wasn’t exactly a slouch - and we felt that this particular piece was a perfect fit with our Mission: to explore the ways in which the classic informs the modern. Greek play and rock music? Done.

From the beginning, we’ve been adamant about creating a show that isn’t just a straight-play with musical accompaniment but, rather, an evening focused on the music. While much of the script we’re working with is in verse and lends itself rather easily to songwriting, much of it isn’t - there are large chunks of dialogue rich with humor, but little musicality. We found this odd, given a translation by an iconic Romantic Poet. It is more odd still when one takes into account the amount of language in the play concerning music and dancing.

Taking a cue from our favorites in the musical theater genre - Hedwig, Tommy, Rocky Horror, etc. - we’ve set about crafting a show where characters sing, not merely because a writer has put in a song, but because the characters literally cannot convey what they need to communicate to their fellow man with anything but music. It helps when the wine starts to flow, too.

Finally, what we’re left with is a manic musical evening with lyrics that are about 60% by Shelley, and 40% by Psittacus. We hope to have you laughing and singing (and drinking) along with us when we open January 22nd, 2011 at Son Of Semele and, at the very least, wishing antiquity had left us a few more Satyr Plays to mess around with.

And now, as promised, the first single from CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera....

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