As you know, we’ve been all about Fabulous Fictions–the zany combination of art, poetry and now theatre and music. This week’s post comes to us from Richard Whiteman, a versatile musician who can play and compose music in virtually any modern style. We were treated to his talents first hand as he joined us in workshopping the Fabulous Fictions cabaret, performed at the 2015 Pages UnBound Festival. What follows is his account of working with the cast and crew to compose the music that brought the whole performance to life.
When Tony Calzetta asked me to provide music for a short theatrical presentation of Fabulous Fictions, I was delighted. Tony’s vibrant work combined with Leon Rooke’s wildly inventive prose make an irresistible creative cocktail. I wasn’t sure how music could be added to the mix, but I was eager to participate.
Veteran actor/director David Ferry was remarkable in transforming the text into live theatre with the clever use of props, choreography and lighting. He was able the use the cast of sixteen students from the Randolph Academy to great advantage. This group of young adults was very eager, talented and rapid in its ability to take direction and incorporate new ideas.
Once the overall shape of the “play” emerged, David suggested that an Andrew Sisters type of piece might be effective way to employ the voices of the female actors and introduce a tap-dance routine. I suggested a song in the manner of “Bei mir bist du schön”, one of their hits from the 40’s. I improvised a minor-key tune to fit the four lines of text starting with “the very grasses of the earth”. Two minutes later, the song was completed. When we rehearsed the song with the students they proved to be a very quick study-they learned it almost instantly. In the live performance one of the actors sang the song slowly, torch-style, before the tempo changed to the perky swing tempo.
Music was needed for the “ye-owling” episode. I suggested a “2-beat” bass groove over which the actors improvised a rap/song using the lines “Along comes a boat! Inflatables! Light! Fancy Dress! Hats!” Their spontaneous and infectious reading of the lines solidified into something that made the performance sound like a fully detailed composition. Good work, team!
I was able to incorporate some of the instrumental talents of some of the students during the “Death of Cezanne” scene. Built on an open 5th drone in the bass register of the piano, the piece developed with the addition of boron (Irish hand-drum), violin , guitar and some vocal chanting on an A harmonic minor scale that suggests to me much Mediterranean and Middle Eastern music. This seemed to be fitting underscoring for on-stage wailing and keening. Much of the short composition was controlled improvisation over the left-hand piano drone.
“Resurrection” music was needed for the closing scene. David Ferry asked me to come up with a melody to fit the words “On into spring when she becomes as one with the blossoming”. I chose the key of E major to contrast the “death” key of E minor. I improvised a simple melody that I thought would suggest hope and re-birth. The actors sang the song beautifully.
David Ferry had the actors hum the closing theme in an earlier episode in the “play” making its actual appearance even more satisfying. That was a great touch. Thanks David.
I was impressed at how the whole thing came together in in such a short time. It was exhausting and nerve-wracking, but the brilliant performance of everyone involved made it worthwhile.
“Fabulous Fictions” has a lot more theatrical potential than just one twelve- minute “act”. We can only hope that funding will be found to make a full-length production in the near future. The talents of Tony Calzetta, Leon Rooke, David Ferry and the Randolph students are formidable.
Thanks for reading everyone! We hope you enjoyed this post. If you’re interested in hearing Richard’s music, you might catch him and the Richard Whiteman trio in Toronto at The Rex.