Next Saturday Rose Ginsberg and I are running what we think is a really cool experiment to help with Summer’s Twilight (my current big project and an adaptation of A Midsummer Night’s Dream). I’m writing a mime section at the opening of the piece, kind of like the dumbshows that we see before Shakespeare productions sometimes. It’s full of physical comedy, and actors tumbling over each other, and I need help to write it. We’re going to take a bunch of actors and dancers and clowns to the park, I’ll bring a nice picnic, and we’ll film everyone working through the scenes. Basically, we’ll get to see the piece up on its feet, and keep a film record of it.
Why do I need that? Well, for a string quartet it’s all well and good to imagine everything all by myself at my desk. But for theatre you have to be ready for a lot to change, and with physical comedy it’s even worse. If I’m going to write music to underneath some physical gags, I need to see them on their feet to make sure that they’re really funny, and to get a good idea of how long each physical beat takes to play out with real people. My favorite part of this experiment is that we’re filming it. That way I can cut the scene together to get the timing exactly the way I want it without having to rely on my bad memory for what was funny and the timings. And if I want to insert some extra time where we didn’t leave enough in rehearsal I can just do it, and see how it looks.
The film won’t be for anything pretty or finished, but I might share some clips here when they’re ready. Also, no matter how precisely I time out the film element, once I’ve actually written the scene, and we do it in a theater for real, the timing will change again. I can’t use this to plan out a future theatrical performance to the millisecond. But if you’ll come with me into the land of far too much detail for a moment, this exercise will also tell me where the timing is most rigid, and where it’s flexible. Knowing that will mean I can write a score that’s got room to adjust in the right places, and sharp timing when we need it.
Finally, we need your help. We have some great actors and physical comedians signed on, but if you’re in New York and this sounds like it’s up your alley, drop me a line! I promise I’ll bring an awesome picnic, and we’ll have a blast playing with Shakespeare!