Friday, June 17, 2011

CYCLOPS: From the Getty Villa, to Pasadena Playhouse, to the NEW YORK MUSICAL THEATRE FESTIVAL (NYMF)!

by Chas LiBretto


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:

- A fragment of Sophocles’ incomplete Satyr Play “The Trackers,” discovered in a garbage dump in Oxyrhynchus in the 1907.

- 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

- Stophe/Epode

- 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:

- “Put Your Elbow Right

- “More for the Whore

- “Here Comes the Cyclops

- “Nobody, Nowhere

- “I’m a Cyclops

- “There Goes the Cyclops.”

Katharine LiBretto provides the poster for Cyclops: A Rock Opera at the 2011 SOSE Company Creation Festival!

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’sAcis 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.

A new trailer is released… as is a new poster.

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!