Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Premonition of Nostalgia

After opening last weekend in Staunton (with a preview show) and in Philadelphia, The Ballad of Dido closes this weekend. At least for now, unless we book performances at a fringe festival or another venue. So I am already starting to miss it. There have been many wonderful moments...

...Tony getting a text from his friend in Philadelphia, saying she couldn't get "Gaetulian King" out of her head...

...the preview audience laughing uproariously at funny bits in the show...

...the small but enthusiastic audience on Sunday afternoon in Philly, also laughing uproariously...

...Celi sharing with the cast that she heard a member of our preview audience humming a song from the show to herself in the dining hall...

...Our line-through in the car in which everyone said their line and also their motivation...
(My favorite quote from that event: ACHATES: What now, goddess born? AENEAS: I'm going to sing! ACHATES: I'm going to harmonize with you!") 

Several of us have friends or family who may come see us this weekend, and our Staunton show tomorrow at the Darjeeling should sell out (so if you're planning to come, come early!). But if our audience doesn't get anything else out of the show, I hope they can sense how much fun we have had and continue to have working on this project. As an actress, I feel like I've really only begun to scratch the surface of this version of Dido and what she can be, and as a composer, there are things I would like to change. So I hope there will be more iterations of this show, and with at least some of the same cast.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Ear Worms/Next Steps

Something that's caught me off guard is how many people have told me, or we've noticed singing the songs from The Ballad of Dido after seeing ones of our performances. I don't think there's any better compliment we could have than having our songs sticking in the ears of our audiences.

This is a weird phase in the production for me because I need to stop thinking like a director and start thinking like a writer again. I don't know of many plays that didn't change between their first and second productions, and thanks to the great input I've got from actors and audiences alike, I've already got some ideas about how it might be better in the next iteration. The catch is, I'm not entirely sure what that is yet.

We still have a performance in Staunton ahead of us, not to mention one more weekend in Philadelphia, but I feel like I owe this company so much more than that. If all goes well, we might try our hands at a decent sized fringe festival, or perhaps a music theatre festival. Whatever the after life of The Ballad of Dido may be, our upcoming performances are your last chance to see this truly epic musical. Don't miss out!

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Bad Quarto does a... wait for it... Bad Quarto!

If you've looked at Bad Quarto's website recently, you've noticed a new face.
Hello all! I'm Shannon Schultz and I'm directing the next staged reading being put up by Bad Quarto Productions.

No so long ago, Tony (our fearless leader) got this crazy idea that Bad Quarto needed to put on another "bad" quarto.  I put bad in quotes because most "bad" quartos can actually tell us a lot about textual transmission and rewriting and are often just as good, if different, from the "good" versions of Shakespeare's plays.

To that end, Tony wanted to put up the first "bad" quarto of Romeo and Juliet.  So, he set his brain to work on who he knew that knew the most about Romeo and Juliet.  He landed on me, probably because I wrote both my MLitt and MFA theses on Romeo and Juliet.  His conclusion was that no one in this town knows more about Romeo and Juliet than yours truly.

The only trouble is that I know very little about what makes the first quarto of Romeo and Juliet different from the folio text.  This journey will be just as much about finding out what makes Q1 Romeo and Juliet special as it will be about putting up a staged reading.

Once I have a cast, I'll be sure to post more of my ramblings.

I look forward to taking this journey with y'all.  Here's to Q1R&J!

Monday, April 16, 2012

Long Overdue Thanks

I've said this often when people have asked, but I think it's worth repeating here that I am truly blessed to be working with such a committed, enthusiastic cast and crew on The Ballad of Dido. Their efforts have inspired and sustained me through those dark moments when it all seemed like we might be reaching a bit too far with this, and their hard work in and out of the rehearsal room continues to show every time we get together. Thanks to them, the show will be magic.

There's another group of people whom I also want to thank: those generous donors who have contributed to our Kickstarter campaign to help bring The Ballad of Dido to Philadelphia. Thanks to them, the show will be, and I would like to give them all an electronic round of applause here. Thanks to:
Linda Brown
Rose A Leininger
Mary McDermott
Jeremy Fiebig
Alison Garrigan
Bryan Inderhees
Kelly Elliott and Josh Brown
Although I feel the need to mention that it wasn't just this group who helped fund The Ballad of Dido. A number of our donors have not yet confirmed they would like public acknowledgement of their gift, and as we live in a world of increased privacy concerns, I don't want to add anyone's name to the indelible ink of the Internet without their approval. Whether named here or not, I am deeply grateful to all of our sponsors for believing in this show. We'll do you proud when we open this weekend.

Thank you.

Friday, April 13, 2012

That One Song

One of my decidedly modern inspirations for The Ballad of Dido was The Threepenny Opera. I've always been a fan of that show, and was fortunate enough to have been able to direct a production of it with Clarkson in 2004, but what's I'm talking about is Brecht and Weill's original process. They didn't set out to create a new musical; the original plan was for a fairly straight forward German translation of John Gay's Beggar's Opera, which evolved into a German adaptation with some original music, and by the time they were done, only one of Gay's songs remained. 

I was initially planning on The Ballad of Dido existing as a rather more straightforward cut of Marlowe's Dido, Queen of Carthage, interspersed with relevant early modern and roots ballads. Now that we're finished, only a few direct fragments of Marlowe, Vergil, and a little Shakespeare still exist in the script, and all of the songs are original, except one: "Don't This Road Look Rough and Rocky."

"Don't this road" (or "Don't that road") is one of those songs you've almost certainly heard before. It's been covered by just about everyone who plays roots music, and appears in a couple instruction books in the genre, and as it is, it seemed a great fit for the moment when Aeneas tells Dido he's going to leave her. Well... with some minor adjustments to the lyrics. 

To a certain degree, leaving the song in the show was its own logic. I have previously talked a little bit about why I find American roots and classical epics to be a perfect fit, but the genre of music itself didn't feel like enough of an anchor when characters talk about places named Carthage, Troy, and Ilium (although the show would be right at home in my native Upstate NY, where those, along with Rome, Vergil, Homer, and Ithaca are modern cities). Having a (mostly) intact version of a traditional song at such a crucial moment in the story helps serve as an anchor for audience's ear. 

So just like Brecht and Weill before me, Rachel and I have that one song that made it through to the final cut. I know it might sound a bit arrogant to be drawing such a lofty comparison, but it makes me feel better knowing that our new musical follows in the footsteps of giants in some way. 

Monday, April 9, 2012

A Chronology of Events

The question came up in some of our earlier rehearsals about when all of the things that happened in the play actually happened, and the answer is that they didn't. The chronology of events that Vergil describes in The Aeneid are inconsistent with the archaeological and historical records. If Aeneas showed up on the coast of Tunisia seven years after the fall of Troy, he would have to wait about a hundred years for the first colonial ships from Tyre to arrive and lay the foundations of the city that would become Carthage.

I have included events in this chronology beyond the scope of The Ballad of Dido. It's easy to forget that The Aeneid was written partially as a propaganda piece to create a mythical justification for the bloody Punic wars that Rome fought with Carthage, and lead to the latter's destruction, a century and a half earlier, in much the same way that former Confederate states try to create a founding mythology that excises the role of slavery from the history of the southern rebellion in the American Civil War.

I have also included significant dates pertaining to significant works about Dido that have served as inspirations for The Ballad of Dido.

~3000 BCE – Founding of Troy
~1400 BCE – Athens becomes a major hub of Mycenean Civilization
~1180 BCE – The Trojan War, combined forces from the Greek peninsula attack Troy, and lay siege to it for nearly ten years. The Greeks eventually defeat Troy through the now-famous Trojan Horse, kill or enslave its citizens, and burn its buildings and temples to the ground, not even sparing Trojan holy places.
~1000 BCE -- Founding of Carthage as a Tyrian colony.
~753 BCE -- Founding of Rome
~700 BCE -- Composition of The Iliad~700 BCE -- Composition of The Odyssey
573 BCE – Nebuchadnezzar destroys Tyre.
508 BCE -- Roman Republic established.
508 BCE -- Athenian Democracy established.
264 – 241 BCE -- 1st Punic War, Carthage’s power and influence weakened following their defeat at Rome’s hands.
218 – 201 BCE -- 2nd Punic War, Carthage is decisively defeated by Rome, and is reduced to a minor power.
149 – 146 BCE -- 3rd Punic War, Carthage is utterly destroyed by Rome. Only about 50,000 Carthaginians survive the war, and they are made slaves by the Romans. Over the course of about two weeks, Roman forces burn everything in Carthage that will burn, and tear down everything that will not.
29 – 19 BCE -- Composition of The Aeneid
27 BCE – Caesar Augustus becomes the first emperor of Rome.
1381 – 1386 CE – Chaucer composes The Legend of Good Women.
1594 CE – First printing of Marlowe’s Dido, Queen of Carthage.
1688 CE – Purcell’s Dido and Aeneas Premiers.
1985 CE – The mayors of Rome and Carthage sign a pact of friendship and collaboration to bring a symbolic end to the millennia of war between their peoples.
It's worth noting that the peace agreement of 1985 was always meant to be a highly symbolic gesture, but I have included it here because that is, after all, mostly what The Aeneid is. I like to think that, however many thousands of years it may have taken Dido and Aeneas to reconcile in the under world, we are all capable of making peace with the people we've hurt. If not in this world, than maybe in the next.