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CoS Post-Performance Wrap-up

"The evening began as the Idyllwild Arts Academy Orchestra took the stage, some with gigantic teased hair, all dressed in vivid black and red, no two alike, with painted and sequined faces.  It was an elegantly astounding image and they were conducted with panache by Peter Askim. Then came the band in period costumes, led by Thompson in a long double-breasted overcoat and top hat. They proceeded to play 23 songs that portrayed the lives of characters ranging from, but not limited to, a glutton, a love-lorn broken heart, a gangster's moll, an art critic, a religious hypocrite, and a war financier.  Projected images on a backdrop advanced the stories in the songs and effectively reinforced the fact that we were in the In Between. There was also one great lighting effect that bathed the upper part of the hall in angular, dappled light to magnify the dankness." - Mike Finkelstein, The International Review of Music

Congratulations on a spectacular performance. Bravo to you, maestro, and to the entire cast and crew for the devilishly delicious extravaganza!

First, your thoughts on the West Coast Premiere, please.

RT: I thought it was a great success. It exceeded my expectations considerably. Having it in full costume and make up for the first time took it to another level.

     

Please continue with your impressions of each supporting cast member/musician/
performer
:

Peter Askim
conductor

Peter was co-conspiratorial in commissioning the work in the first place along with Madeleine Crouch. Peter has been a real supporter of the cause from the beginning. He is an accomplished classical composer, I am a musical naïve, so I never stop learning from him. He has brought more and more energy from the musicians with every performance.

The Idyllwild
Arts Academy Orchestra

Violin I - Dorisiya Yosifova,
Kristina Zlatareva,
Min Yeong Kim

Violin II - Xiao Fan Liu,
Fu-Yen Chi, Carmen Ang

Viola - Rayna Chou,
Joyce Huang, Howard Cheng

Cello - Ting-Yu Yang,
X-O Liu, Tiffany Christensen

People in the audience were amazed to find out the ages of the string section - 15 to 18 years old! They played really well, with great energy after a long few days of rehearsal, performances and travel, and they had an absolute ball with the make up and costumes! My heartfelt thanks to them all, and I hope we can do something again.
     

Harry was never a doubt as a narrator, but I didn't know he was such a good bass singer. He owns the role.

 

Judith Owen
vocal

These songs really give Judith full rein as singer and actress. She was stunningly good at Royce.

 

Filling the big shoes of Danny Thompson was a lot to ask, but David has his own style. He was tremendous, note perfect.

 

Debra Dobkin
percussion, vocal

Does brilliantly with the combined roles of percussion and vocal. Again, who else could fill that role?

 

Pete Zorn
vocal, flute

Pete's talents are underused in this piece, as they are in most situations, but in future productions, I'll try to give him more to do.

In the LA Times Music Blog you described
'Cabaret of Souls' as a 'folk-oratorio' with the premise as follows:

"Originally, it was about a talent contest in the underworld. It's now less that; that's a bit of cliché these days, I suppose. The premise now is the audience walks in and the audience is dead, but they haven't realized yet that they've crossed over from life into death. They are in the underworld: (UCLA's) Royce Hall is the reception area for the underworld. The keeper of the underworld likes to greet the new entrants with an evening of entertainment. He drags one or two people out of the dark and they join in. These human souls are still sort of dreaming about their former lives. This is what the songs are about: who they were, what their characters were, what their personalities were. Every song is a new character, and at the end of this process, after every song, the keeper of the underworld and his assistants are singing their own little song of sarcasm, parody, commentary. They basically hate everything."

     

Would you describe how UCLA's Royce Hall was transformed into the 'Land In-Between'?

 

 

 

 

 

Producers
Nancy Covey
Sam Epstein
Debra Green

Costumes
Ann Closs-Farley

Make-up
Haylee McFarland

Stage Design/
Lighting/Projection
Edmond Deraedt
Tuce Yasak

Audio
Simon Tassano
Russ Cole

Instruments
Bobby Eichorn

 

My production team and I - Sam Epstein, Debra Green and Nancy Covey -  theorized long and hard for many months before the Royce show, about how we could take it to another level theatrically. We knew we had no rehearsal time until the dress rehearsal on the afternoon of the show to pull any visual ideas together. We decided to treat it like a theatre workshop, i.e. a work in progress, and were recommended Ann and Hayley as great costume and make up artists, who basically donated their services to the show. They both came up with fantastic ideas, borrowed a huge selection of costumes, and created the looks that transformed the performance. Edmond, who is our regular lighting designer, and his assistant Tuce, came up with visuals for back and side projection, which very economically enabled us to set the various scenes. They also dressed the stage. The audio crew were able to practice at the two Idyllwild performances the previous day.

We were still experimenting and fixing things at the dress rehearsal. Everything by the seat of the pants, and full credit to all involved for pulling it off so well.

Sam is an old friend, Debra a neighbour and parent at our son's old school. They have both been tremendously enthusiastic about CoS, and have helped to drag it along to this point.

This production must have been costly. Are there plans for other full-theatrical performances of CoS?

Very expensive. I'd love to think this is something we could just take on tour, like a band tour, but the costs are high. I think there is a total, musicians and crew, of about 22 bodies! Our hope is to get a run, at a festival or in a theatre, where the one-time costs come down, and it is more manageable.

Was the Royce Hall performance recorded for audio or visual release?

The audio was recorded, and if it is OK, we will release it. The UCLA location fee for video of the performance was astronomical, and
completely unworkable.

Thank you for allowing us an intimate look into your rehearsals, backstage costuming / makeup, and performance photographs through the work of Annaliese Moyer at
No Depression.com.

Please describe what we see in these photos. It seems there are many costumes and wigs that did not appear in the evening's public
performance.

We tried a lot of things at dress rehearsal, some of which did not work out visually, or else it was not practical, not physically possible, to get the costumes on and off. I had four or five different 'looks' worked out but it couldn't happen. You see in the make up room the Idyllwild kids having so much fun with the zany looks!

Did you compose each piece of music for each instrument?

Did I write the full score?
Yes I did.

Did you incorporate any suggestions or direction from the musicians or conductor?

A lot from the conductor. He helped to refine the string parts in particular. There are many ways of bowing a stringed instrument, and each technique brings a subtly different sound.

There have only been two other public performances of CoS:
June 11, 2010-Meltdown Festival, London Southbank Centre
& June 10, 2009-ISB Convention at State College, Pennsylvania

both featuring the double bass of Danny Thompson.

Was Danny unavailable for the West Coast Premiere performances?

He was not available.

Were bass parts changed or rewritten for David Piltch?

I thought some of these parts were tricky, so I told David I would take them over on the guitar, and he could concentrate on everything else. But he loves a challenge! And wanted to do the lot. Who was I to argue?

Have there been other changes to the work over the past year? (Judith's accordion was missed!)

It takes too long to get the accordion on and off, so we just dropped it.

The new Prelude was originally an improvised bass feature. We changed it to a composed conversation between the bass and cellos. It introduces the drabness and bleakness of the Underworld.

'Run Judas Run' replaces 'Time's Gonna Break You'.

Please can you explain how a six-minute tribute piece for Danny's 70th birthday transformed into an Afterlife Orientation / Interrogation?

I thought that to do justice to Danny, the piece had to be a bit longer, because there are so many facets to his playing. Then I thought there should be some interludes where he wouldn't play, to give him a rest. And then it got out of control, so I went where it took me.

     

Your inspiration seems to have come from a variety of sources…

I'd say the Iliad and Canterbury Tales are the main two.

How did you derive the names of Assistant Keepers Malpensio and
Grympale?

Pulled out of the air.

What would you like the audience to take from this experience?

When I see it, I see what it lacks, i.e. a narrative, character development,
repeating themes and leitmotifs, etc. - but I like the fact that I don't know
what it is, that it doesn't fall conveniently into categories, and that the audience seems to enjoy it as it is. I'm still finding out what the audience gets from it.

Did you feel the Royce Hall performance was well received?

 

Beyond anything I would have expected. The audience was engaged from the beginning, laughing in the right places, and a standing ovation at the end!

     

Have there been any production company or corporate sponsor offers?

We are talking about all those things.

Would you consider releasing a full-scale, film version of Cabaret of Souls?

 

We are also talking about that.

Do you plan to write / compose / perform other song cycles 'folkatorios' in the future?

No more folkatorios! My next 'big' project is a more simple song cycle, and then a very stripped down musical play - if I live that long!