This project fell into my lap when a cellist compatriot sent it my way, along with a slough of other gigs and one of his students! Thanks Geoff! The music director/composer of this production was looking for an improvising cellist, but beyond that I had almost no coherent idea of what this production would be, but how bad can a gig be if it involves cello and improvisation? I don’t have an answer to that question, but I signed an agreement to do the show nonetheless.
I attended a production meet-and-greet party before rehearsals began, and within minutes I knew I was going to get along with the cast/crew. My first impressions were of a very intellectual, artistic and easy-going group (which turned out to be 100% true), but what had me a little concerned was that after talking with everybody at the party, the only new information I had about the production was that the composer hadn’t written a line of music yet. Turns out, the reason nobody knew anything about this piece was that the director, Mohammad Ghaffari, intended it that way; his vision for the piece was 360° of collaborative creation, in which drama, dance and music all took form simultaneously during rehearsals with as little premeditation as possible. Ballsy to say the least.
I walked onto the rehearsal scene when the script was still being edited/pared down, dance choreography and music were in the early stages of composition, the narrator (the talented and lovely Anika Reitman) had about 30 minutes of solid text to memorize…and on and on. What musicians typically expect in preparation for drama productions is to attend about 3-6 rehearsals (2-4 hrs. each) to plug in and polish the music, having received sheet music about a week or two before that. Let’s just say that’s not at all how it played out, which was a mixture of pro and con. The biggest issue was that the stage action and music were developed in tandem over the course of about 15 long rehearsals, and the majority of the music was structured improvisation in close communication with the movement and drama on stage. This made it impossible to rehearse effectively without the live musicians present and visa-versa, but this co-dependency was also a huge strength of the production since the various elements were so thoroughly entwined/mutually supportive.
When I first had a chance to sit down and play music with composer/music director Yukio Tsuji, my first impression was that he really didn’t want to have to tell me what to do. haha. When I told him I didn’t need any music written down and that I’m comfortable improvising he was hugely relieved, because his music only suffers the more specifically it’s notated since it’s very spontaneous, organic and reactive. Mr. Ghaffari made it a point to take me aside and said something along the lines of, “Yuki is the best at what he does, and nobody knows drama like Yuki,” and I’m totally on board with that assessment to say the least. So during rehearsals I payed as close attention to his playing as I could and wrote down all sorts of notes in my score to make sure I remembered what we’d decided to do in different moments. The various textures ranged from sound effects to modal non-metric improvisation, diatonic song accompaniment, percussion ensemble and various kinds of transition music.
Since Yuki gave me the freedom to try virtually anything, while providing constructive feedback, I ended up composing/improvising most of my parts. This low-pressure opportunity was a perfect environment for me to explore my voice as a composer in a dramatic underscore situation and I quickly discovered that I already speak the language pretty passably. So when an opportunity arose to compose the music for After the Quake, my first instinct was to confidently say “yeah, I can do that.” When I asked Yuki if he thought I could manage writing/performing the score he didn’t hesitate to encourage me, saying something like “oh yeah, you’ll do fine, but it might not be any fun.” haha. (luckily that was not the case and I had a blast)**
And I can’t write a post about this production without mentioning that lead dancer/actor and choreographer, Eddie Oroyan, would be anybody’s pick for the hardest-working and most influential member of the cast. Eddie was in extremely close contact with Mohammad (who’s an incredibly accomplished dancer and actor himself) and spent countless hours creating and rehearsing some of the most acrobatic dance I’ve ever seen live – the guy was probably airborne for a good 10 minutes out of any given hour of rehearsal, and that’s hardly even an exaggeration. If you see this guy’s name associated with any performance you’d be doing yourself a favor to attend – and prepare to have your mind blown by his shocking artistry and physicality.
There’s so much more great stuff to say about the production, but instead of writing another 10 paragraphs I’ll just say that I hugely enjoyed working with the entire cast/crew and I really hope I get a chance to work with each one of them in the future! Check out this 10 min. excerpt of the show <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wNReFplAHLY>