When I made the commitment to graduate school, I did so with the understanding and companion decision that I would not be able to do any music or theatre projects of great significance. In fact, I had settled on the basic idea that I probably wouldn’t be able to do anything else in the context of working full-time and school. If I learned anything in the couple years prior to starting the Masters, it is that my fuel tank of time and energy is hardly bottomless. I would really need to give some careful thought and analysis of how any side project might impact my studies, before adding it to my stack.
The first thing that came up was doing the sound design for Chesapeake Shakespeare Company’s Fall 2013 production of Dracula. Doing a sound design is the kind of work I can schedule anywhere, and most of the work is done once the show opens. It also isn’t necessary to be at a large number of rehearsals, although I tend to go to more than just a few as part of how I approach a sound design. Based on these facts, I decided to just go for it even though it came up during my very first semester of study.
This one was a lot of fun, and the most challenging aspect was finding enough different and realistic versions of wolf howls and bat sound effects. I also enjoy the opportunity to do a sound design with lots of underscoring. The basic idea was to make it seem more like the audience was watching an old, Gothic, horror film. This production was a moveable production, where the audience moves around to different sections of the ruins for each scene. This, of course, presents certain technical challenges in terms of producing the sound. One of my favorite experimental ideas was using a wireless bluetooth speaker for some of the scenes. For one, the audience was standing and surrounding the players, and we hid the speaker in a bowl of fruit on the table. The sound person played the cue from their mobile device while standing there amongst the audience. The background music for the scene was relatively subtle and unassuming, but also quite spooky. And the audience could see no obvious source for the music which was clearly coming from right where the players were. This technical choice had some shortfalls and issues, but I look forward to a chance to try it again and improve upon the idea.
The next opportunity to present itself was music directing CSC’s summer 2014 production of As You Like It. Since CSC productions aren’t really musicals in a traditional sense, but productions that incorporate live songs and music, this project would also be more about preparation. My spring semester would also wind down just before the need to make some stronger commitments of time and energy for the show, and my one Summer class would not start until after opening when I would no longer really be needed. So, this was another easy one to say yes to, and I think it is CSC’s strongest presentation of live music in one of their productions so far. This can be highly attributed to the fine pool of musical talent (and enthusiastic giving of energy) that was available in the cast. Preparation, guidance, and decision-making were certainly involved, but everything went so smoothly that it was a magical and rewarding experience for all.
I could say that the next “possible” project proved a bit more challenging to consider. It really was more of a no-brainer, and I simply had to make it work. Not many people actively involved with a theatre company have a chance to be a part of the grand opening of a brand new theater unlike any other. Whatever I might be asked to do, I would very happily do. As it turned out, I got to music direct, play piano, and appear on stage as Snout for CSC’s inaugural production of A Midsummer Nights Dream. To make this possible, I decided to take both of my program electives in the Fall semester, which were online courses. So, I could more flexibly schedule the coursework around the time commitments required for the production. Since I could go on and on about this experience, it’s probably best if I just say that it is certainly at the top of the list of most rewarding experiences ever.
Following this, was a very light commitment to help music direct a choral piece used in Richard II. And then, was our first of what will be an annual production of A Christmas Carol. Christmas Carol was definitely one of the more challenging nuts to crack. It is much closer to an actual musical than anything done so far, as there were many musical selections incorporated into the production. But, we also had 2 professional musicians, and that was a big help. My personal favorites were the rendition of Sleigh Ride we presented, as well as a very charming and laid-back version of Good King Wenceslas. Both are holiday favorites of mine. A lot of important lessons were learned in the first production, and I have no doubts that those lessons will be very helpful for the company when we do it again next year.
Wrapping up 2014, and leading in to the first week of January 2015, I took on a little project for The Vagabond Players production of Interlock. This is a seldom-performed play by Ira Levin, who wrote Deathtrap and Rosemary’s Baby. One of the characters is a piano player who wrote an award-winning composition when he was 14. I provided pre-recorded piano music for the production, coached the actor a bit on the mock playing of the (non-working) stage piano, and one of my pieces was used as the piece the character composed.
Right now I am in one of those moments where a project has just wrapped up, and I don’t officially have a next project lined up. This is okay, because I certainly have plenty to worry about with the two main priorities of the day job and the graduate school. Until I have the piece of paper, I will continue with the current approach. If something falls in my lap, I will carefully consider if it is something I can devote the right time and energy to doing well without negatively impacting my grades. Clearly, I’m managing the balance okay, since I’ve kept up the 4.0 GPA.
In the meantime, I ordered a book and picked up some other books at the library. I’ve had an idea for a musical bouncing around in my head for a about a year now, and it is about time I do some research. But, this is a subject for a future post…