Thursday, December 8, 2011
From this past September until just now, I wrote a Production Diary for the Folger Theatre's production of Shakespeare's Othello, directed by Robert Richmond. It was pretty decently read, and I thought it might be nice to continue on blogging regularly, and to invite some of those readers to come on over here.
If you are joining us from the Folger, welcome! This blog goes back to March, 2010, so there's plenty of stuff to sniff around. Click here for one of our very first posts about the name Psittacus (SIT-ih-kuss), and why we chose it.
If you didn't catch it, definitely check out some of the entries in the Folger blog. Click here for a post on how Shakespeare Changes Your Brain.
Here's a few words about what's ahead for this blog...
1. Alabama. I'm heading down to the Alabama Shakespeare Festival in Montgomery to do Henry VIII, a re-mount of the production Robert Richmond and I did last year, The Merry Wives Of Windsor, and The 39 Steps. I have a feeling there'll be a fair amount to talk about on that subject.
2. CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera. This is our original musical, based on Euripides' Satyr Play of the same name, which we presented as a live rock concert in Los Angeles and New York City. Comprised of 24 brand new tunes - which you can listen to here - CYCLOPS won the New York Musical Theatre Festival Award for Excellence, and sold out it's run at 47th Street Theatre. Plans for a studio recording and future gigs are underway. Click here to see a trailer.
3. Folger Theatre. After collaborating on two shows with the Folger Theatre, myself and Robert Richmond hope to continue the relationship in the New Year. We have pitched a fascinating project combining research and staging - more news on that as it becomes available.
4. Considering Richard. We are now in the early stages of research and development on our next project. Much as we did with our A Tale Told By An Idiot - ie a comic book flavored deconstruction of Macbeth - we now plan to take on the character and story of Shakespeare's Richard III. We'll keep you abreast of how that goes here.
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It would make a nice holiday treat - and year-end tax deduction!
OK. Thanks again for swinging by. More very soon!
Tuesday, September 27, 2011
Some thoughts from Director Louis Butelli
As I write this, the cast and crew of CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera are just beginning a break-neck sprint to the finish line – Opening Night at the 2011 New York Musical Theatre Festival.
We open on Thursday, September 29 at 8pm. There is a sick afterparty later that night. Let me tell you a little about what our day leading up to that party will be like.
7:30am – Full Company meets at Starbucks, 47th Street and 8th Avenue. We drink coffee and tea and coconut water, and generally fuel ourselves for the day ahead.
8:00am – We arrive at the 47th Street Theatre to start a day of utter madness. We load in all of our instruments, amps, cables, our scrim, our costumes, props, assorted bins of extra bits and pieces, lots of gaffer tape – all of the necessaries.
We hang the scrim, we get the stage set-up organized, then we cable, patch, and test the 12 vocal mics, the four guitar amps, the two mics for the drum kit, etc. Meanwhile, front of house team starts assembling the programs for that evening’s patrons, the cast find their costume pieces and set their props, stage management and LX department fire up the light board and start to run through the preliminary cues the designer has programmed.
9:00am – Tech begins. We work our way through the show to finalize all of the looks for the lighting design. This can be tedious and long. The cast hit all of their marks so that the final design can make them look their absolute best. We’re also adding a follow spot, and the operator needs to know where everyone moves so they can catch them with the light. Basically, we do this for every single look in the show. We’re a rock show – so we have a lot of looks.
1:00pm – Having moved technically through the show, we now re-set to the top of the show, fix any glitches, work out any spacing issues (obviously, the dimensions of the stage are different from the dimensions in the rehearsal hall – so some things will have to change), and run any complicated sequences for human traffic patterns.Then, we sound check. Sound is the number one component of our show. The lifeblood of CYCLOPS is the music, and the spirit of CYCLOPS is in the Sound. We absolutely MUST get this right. Our TD (and lead guitarist) Ben Sherman and a number of staffers from our team and the 47th Street Theatre will go to work to be certain that the monitor mix on stage is perfect for each musician, that the vocals are crisp and clean, that the tones of each guitar are correct and in harmony with each other, that this vital “additional character” in the show, the Sound, is perfect.
We do it all again! Only, this time, it is a Dress Rehearsal – performances at full show levels, all of the lights and sound as they will be in performance, essentially, it’s a run with every element in place…except for the audience. This is pretty much the last chance we get to perform the show before inviting people to come and watch it. Adrenaline levels will be high.
Between the Tech, the Sound check, and the Final Dress, we’re probably at around 5:30pm by now.
At this time, we’ve got one hour for anybody in any department to address any major issue they’ve got left to fix.
At 6:30pm, the cast takes a dinner break for an hour, and the director, the producers, technicians, and front of house staff have a meeting – we’ve got to be sure all of the technical components are completely flawless and ready to go, we’ve got to be sure box office count and guest list are in place, and we’ve got to set the tone for an amazing evening. We get an hour to do this.
At 7:30pm, the cast returns for their half hour call. We go backstage to get into costume and makeup, perhaps to say a few prayers. At 7:55pm, “places” is called. We get in a circle, we stand shoulder to shoulder, we take a few deep breaths, we bleat like goats and stamp our feet and then…
…well, what happens next is up to you. Hopefully, you get swept up, transported, moved, made to laugh, to smile, to think, and, it’s not a stretch to say that, by the end of the night, you might sing along.
As the Executive Director of Psittacus Productions, the producing entity of CYCLOPS, and one of the people who commissioned and assembled this amazing team, as the Director of CYCLOPS, and, most preciously, as a fellow performer in this amazing evening of music and theater, it has been my great honor to watch this project grow and evolve.
This extraordinary group of artists has been working on CYCLOPS for just over a year. It’s been amazing to watch them grow and evolve as well.
There are performers in CYCLOPS who have never been in a piece of theater before. There are people who have been asked to step far outside of their comfort zones, in some cases to transform into Goat Men, in others to become spectral Demon Women, and in three very unique cases, to embody the God of Wine, the hero Odysseus, and the complex and intriguing Polyphemus, the Cyclops himself.
I have been astonished regularly by the bravery shown by these performers. With their hard work, their passion, their dedication, and their immense talent, they will work magic at the 47th Street Theatre…and beyond. To say that I am proud of them would be an enormous understatement. To tell you of my love and respect for each and every one of them would not be enough. They are family.
Come and see our show…
You’ll be dazzled by the sexy Maenads, Nicole Flannigan, Madeleine Hamer, and Lauren Augarten.
You will fall in love with the nerdy and endearing, yet strong, savage, and rocking Satyrs Benjamin Sherman, Paul Corning, Jim Bertini, and Chris St. Hilaire.
You will fall through the looking glass, and share with Odysseus, Chas LiBretto, an immense sense of wonder at this strange new world.
Your face might melt off hearing the voice of Our Lord Dionysus, Korie Blossey.
Finally, don’t be surprised if you shed a tear at the fate of Polyphemus, Jayson Landon Marcus, who is also the show's Composer and Musical Director. He loves, he rages, he loses, he strives, he fails, he is duped, he is blinded, and, finally, he just accepts himself. It is the hardest thing to do, be you man or monster.
“He’s a Cyclops, baby. Isn’t he a bit like you?”
8:00pm – House lights dim and go out. The sound of water flowing through a cave swells. We notice shadowy figures on the stage, and then, “it’s time.” We begin. Come and join us.
Thank you to my Satyr Family, the entire cast and crew of CYCLOPS: A Rock Opera. I love you guys. Be brave. Be bold. Be confident.Happy Opening.
Friday, July 15, 2011
Friday, June 17, 2011
CYCLOPS: From the Getty Villa, to Pasadena Playhouse, to the NEW YORK MUSICAL THEATRE FESTIVAL (NYMF)!
Seriously! How did we get here?!
I will quickly go through just how this all happened, month by month (and hopefully not bore you all stupid).
August ’10: “A TALE TOLD BY AN IDIOT” closes. No next project in sight, though we're invited to present a new work at a festival scheduled for January. Louis and I attend a new version of Sophocles’ Elektra at the Getty Villa, directed by Carey Perloff and starring our very own Advisory Board Member (and Academy Award winner) Olympia Dukakis. Floored by it.
September ’10: Advisory Board member Homa Nasab gets Louis and me a gig interviewing Getty Villa Curator of Antiquities Mary Louise Hart for her blog MuseumViews about her brand new exhibit, “The Art of Ancient Greek Theatre,” the largest assembly of Greek Vases relating to theater ever assembled. We are particularly moved and startled by:
- The prominently displayed Pronomos Vase, depicting the God Dionysus (of wine, theatre, and epiphany) and attendant actors, celebrating what appears to be a cast party, following the successful run of a Satyr Play.
We are invited to a Symposium organized in conjunction with the exhibit, and a luncheon gathering scholars and theater people, whose purpose is to discuss, what else, the Satyr Play in contemporary performance.
By this time we’d settled on a next project: something Greek. A few false starts (an adaptation of a Tom Holt novel about a rival of Aristophanes even ending up on our website) lead us to decide the next project might want to actually be a Satyr Play. We soon discover that only one exists in its entirety: Cyclops, by Euripides, a strange adaptation of Odysseus’ encounter with Polyphemus from Homer’s Odyssey.
Turns out Satyr Plays were burlesque style deconstructions of famous stories, starring not a chorus of city elders or attendants, but hairy, horny, drunken goat people, or Satyrs. The idea of mixing a Satyr Play with a rock concert comes fairly early on.
October ’10: I’ve now read through more than a few translations, none of which do a whole lot for me. I finally pick up Percy Byyshe Shelley’s 1819 verse translation, and respond very favorably to the wit, language, and over-the-top epic style of the piece. I start talking to Jayson Landon Marcus and Benjamin Sherman (who’d worked as Technical Director and Sound Technician on our previous show) about the idea of scoring the piece. I hand a short passage to them that becomes “For Your Gaping Gulf” and we are off and running.
The rest of the month is spent picking Shelley’s adaptation apart:
1. I We Identify verse passages that can be easily put to music. These end up being:
- “O Dionysus”
- “Cyclops Suite”
- “Soon a Crab”
- “Hasten and Thrust”.
2. - We write songs that help beef up the non-entity that is Odysseus, or Ulysses as he’s called in our translation (Shelley calling everyone by their Latinized names, for some reason). These are:
- “Siren Song”
- “An End to the Sea”.
November ’10: With demos for these tracks recorded, we begin the process of figuring out major plot and character moments in the text that simply should be songs. These are:
- “Nobody, Nowhere”
- “I’m a Cyclops”
We also begin fundraising for the project (click the orange "DONATE" button below please!)December ’10: Louis returns to LA, following his Helen Hayes Award winning performance as Will Sommers in Henry VIII at the Folger Shakespeare Theatre in Washington DC. We slowly begin to rehearse the piece, assembling the music and the remainder of the band, now called “The Satyrs”. Paul Corning joins as bassist, and Stephen Edelstein joins on drums. I begin learning the ukulele.
In adapting the script, we decide there’s room for some characters who don’t appear in the Euripides: the God Dionysus and his Maenad attendants. Casey Brown is cast as the God, while Liz Saydah, Madeleine Hamer, and Nicole Flannigan join the cast as Maenad backup singers.
A promo trailer is cut together, and causes a happy accident. YouTube suggests we look at another video, a recording of Handel’s “Acis and Galatea,” an opera adapting a story from Ovid’s Metamorphosis, about Polyphemus’ lost love Galatea. “Bloodier than the Cherry” is written as a better (more glam) introduction for the Cyclops in our piece, adapted and inspired by Handel’s “Ruddier than the Cherry.” We figure if Shelley can mix his Greek and Roman influences, so can we.
We all go home for the holidays and get trapped on the east coast by a blizzard. Luckily, I’ve a ukulele to learn as I watch the falling snow.
January ’11: We all eventually make it back to LA and begin feverishly rehearsing again, with stage manager extraordinaire Ashley Koenig. A final song is added, “Put Your Elbow Left” and "director-in-residence" Robert Richmond arrives to put some finishing touches on the project. Meanwhile, the glam aesthetic, which had for so long been discussed, is realized by our costume designer, and we open January 22nd. Steven Leigh Morris at LA WEEKLY calls it “scintillating,” while NPR affiliate KCRW says that “the concept is genius.”
February ’11: The show continues to play in rep with several other shows at the “Company Creation Festival” at Son of Semele Ensemble Theatre in Echo Park. We begin to think about life after SOSE, and begin discussions with Pasadena Playhouse, who have plans for their upstairs space. We also submit the show for consideration at the New York Musical Theatre Festival. We play on the sidewalk at Downtown LA Art Walk, a once-a-month event that draws close to 10,000 young people.
March ’11: The show sells out its final weekend and an extension is added at SOSE. It is officially added to Pasadena Playhouse’s calendar. We lose Dionysus due to a scheduling conflict, but the show, always organic, grows by three songs: “Wine Conquers All,” “Beside You” (which introduces the Goddess Athena), and “Galatea,” drawing further dramaturgical links to Ovid’s story from the Metamorphosis. Ian Vargo joins the crew as a sound engineer.
April ’11: The show opens at the Carrie Hamilton Theatre at Pasadena Playhouse on April 7th. Charles McNulty, head theatre critic at the LA Times gives a rave review and calls it “a thrilling freak show,” and “a musical for people too cool for musicals.” We are given two cases of wine to sell by a new label called "a-non-ah-mus," created by Ron Hill at Babcock Winery in Santa Barbara County. Drummer Jim Bertini and actress Lauren Augarten fill-in for two weekends. We also receive a special guest on Easter Sunday.
May ’11: The show closes May 8th, and Sarah Ellis, a writer who'd seen the show 8 times during its LA run, produces an "imaginary overture," and does so by ear. Two days later we learn we’ve been accepted to the New York Musical Theatre Festival.
June ’11: Rewrites of the script continue, and several new songs are added (“Sing Muse” and “Voice from a Beast”), with the promise of two others.
And that’s how we got here! Stay tuned to this space for new developments, as we move into this new exciting phase in the life of CYCLOPS: the New York Musical Theatre Festival!
Monday, January 31, 2011
Well, reviews for CYCLOPS: A ROCK OPERA are coming in. Here are the first...
"Saturates the audience in infinite pleasures of sight and sound!" - Sarah Taylor Ellis, Compositions On Theater
Saturday, January 1, 2011
Click each page twice to zoom in and read. Our review begins on page 2.