Thursday, July 16, 2015

Posts factual backstory to a fictionalized ("based on actual events ") libretto

I well recall the very first time I first read, in the book "YELLOW MAGIC", how five gallon carboys of incredibly delicate penicillium slime effluent were daily - and carefully - taxied through NYC's hellish traffic all the way from Brooklyn to a hospital at the top of Manhattan.

All in a desperate effort to save lives and how, despite best efforts, the material often arrived destroyed and perhaps another life lost as a result.

At that moment, I shouted out to Rebecca : "MOVIE, MOVIE, MOVIE - finally a science story just made for the Big Screen !".

Too often a movie about an incredibly important science breakthrough has to compress time and 'gussy-up' the long drawn out and usually boring activities to make it dramatic enough for the camera.

But Dr Martin Henry Dawson's little Manhattan Project was a story so incredibly cinematic they would actually have to tone it down to make it seem creditable.

Others, I am sure, will make movies of Dawson's efforts (lots of movies because my writing has all been assigned to the Public Domain).

But I won't take any part in it : why set my sights so low ?

I began to see that Dawson's tale was really the tip of a much bigger story and that cinema's commitment to realism would only graze the surface of its emotional core.

I began to see a sung-through pop-idiom musical, designed to be performed by amateur young people - High Schoolers and University undergraduates, or in church youth groups.

The musical would be set entirely in Dr Dawson's Presbyterian Hospital,in the period between October 1940 and August 1944 (with the final scene, in May 1945, set at his other hospital, the Goldwater).

In each of the musical's thirty scenes, the actors not singing at any particular moment would miming silently but broadly the appropriate physical activities for that scene.

The supporting actors would play many different roles, but within one broad type, indicated by three different colored garbs : patients and their families' green johnny shirt, good guys' white lab coat, bad guys' blue suit jacket top etc.

But the few actors playing the main roles ---representing (a) key individuals who were also (b) present through most of the four and a half years of the actual events --- would remain the same.

The facts of the story says there were only about seven - two patients and the four to five members of Dawson's tiny team.

Dawson's real life opponents were very many and each appeared in his part of the hospital too infrequently to be accurately cast as Dawson's 'main opponent' in the musical.

Think of them as a broad collective, "The Suits", rather than anyone living breathing individual.

A huge screen at the back of the stage would play faux newsreel type film footage, setting the contemporary context that month of the war for each scene.

I have long felt that amateur-oriented plays that force all would-be actors to be part of the live drama excludes many amateurs who might convincing play roles, if put in a situation where their role is filmed without a live audience, in little bitty takes, with opportunities for many retakes and then 'fixing in the edit.'

So this all this background newsreel material should be obviously recreated, clearly faux and well 'guyed up', to fit in with the staginess of the rest of the musical.

The volume of these backstage pre-recorded "voices & sfx off" would automatically dip down ("ducking") whenever the front stage live actors sing or talk in brief asides.

Spoken asides only, because there is no dialogue but plenty of feisty alternating singing duets and trios.

A single scene might have as many as six different solo voices and I very much see the voices as being untrained and of widely different timbre and singing capability.

This differing vocal timbre and vocal capability will help muchly to convey the conflict between the differing stakes for each person in each scene.

Instrumentally, the verse, chorus, bridge, intro, outro, solo etc remains much the same on each repeat but the lyrics above won't (though their vocal melody remains the same.)

But these differing lyrics will remain lyrically coherent because they remain fixated upon the same issue/conflict, merely expressed slightly different takes on it, upon each repetition.

For example, a patient gets bad news and expresses horror about her situation the first time her verse music comes around, then resignation the second time and finally a renewed commitment to fight it on on the third go around.

The music below her vocalizing, in terms of melody, metre , tempo, etc sounds roughly the same but is actually subtly different - going from minor to major, faster slower, etc to reflect her changing mood.

Basic opera stuff really (cantabile and cabaletta) but the music and the lyrics are more like Michael Stipes's verses in such songs as World Leader Pretend or Night Swimming.

It is singing but it sounds almost like conversational ad-libbed thinking aloud.

Currently, opera and musicals, to my mind, are self-hobbled by making an earlier technical requirement (the need to be profitable required big theatres which meant big voices before the era of microphones) into an aesthetic choice towards prioritizing big voiced singing.

I simply want them to embrace microphones in the same way they embraced electric lighting and the use of the internet to sell their tickets.

But before you can fictionalize a real life story, your potential Musical goers must know that real life story --- because half the fun is seeing it compressed artistically to wring out every last emotional bone in it.

So this blog's fact-correct posts (the more narrative ones in particular) will do that.

I don't plan them to become a book in the conventional sense ( but again as they are all in the Public Domain, for the Public Good, so others are free to do just that).

But for times away from a connection to the internet (and for those people who simply hate reading anything lengthy online), I will bundle the six or so character vignettes that represent the events of each scene seen from a wide number of perspectives, into little EPUBs and printable PDFs of about 10,000 words each.

Five acts, each representing about a year's worth of events but also representing the real life 'ups and downs' in the real life dramatic arc.

Thirty scenes, each set on one particular day but incorporating the backstory since the last scene ; each with about six separate character vignettes.

About 300,000 words in total.

The libretto to the "based-upon-actual-events" Musical, I will eventually publish, as a book, albeit into the Public Domain.

I will try, in words, to describe the music I hear for each set of lyrics.

But I doubt very much that I will actually try to write out the musical notes ----- or try to sing the complete demo of the Musical.

Let others fill out my skeleton ----- or reject it entirely.....

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