Working in the Theatre: Casebook with Hadestown


[Music] [Singing] Young man, I was young once, too. I once sang the young man’s blues. Women come and women go. Gets you high and gets you low. One day she’s hot, the next she’s cold. [Still singing] Women are so seasonal. Women leave again and again, take it from an old man. Now I sing a different song. One I can depend upon. [Still singing] A simple tune, a steady beat. The music of machinery! You hear that heavy metal sound? The symphony of Hadestown! And in this symphony of mine, are power chords and power lines! [Still singing] Young man, you can strum your lyre. I have strummed world and wire. Young man, you can sing your ditty. I conduct the electric city! [Laughs] I think one of the things I personally feel some concern about is whether the art form of theater is actually going to make it much longer into the twenty-first century. Such an ancient and non-technology-connected event. In the theatre, we try to sustain and nurture an audience. We have we try to have a continuing conversation about life as we are living in on the planet right now. We have all kinds of workshops around that, that try to extend or amplify that experience of just sitting in the theater. When we get to the end of the second chorus, after bar fifty, repeat bar thirty seven through fifty. To be in a room with people who are sixteen years old all the way to eighty years old has really affirmed for me personally that theater has great appeal, even in the face of technology. Audience members always seemed so anxious to have a peek inside the process of making something. Often audiences come to a show without understanding all of the work and intentionality that has been put into the process. The key thing that we do is this program called Casebook. We pick one play each season and we attach a class where we follow the production from its inception to the opening night. This idea of Casebook was so that when
they sat down to see a play, they had a little bit more information about how it got to be what they see. Each class is designed around one of the production elements. Participants get to interact with the writer. They get to interact on one day with the director, with the actors, with designers. The members who do participate will never sit in a theater the same way again. [Music] [Applause] We have many programs to support the
artists that we believe in. We have a community of artists, about five hundred, that are called The Usual Suspects. I’m a Usual Suspect at New York Theatre Workshop, so I think I’ve known that Casebook is a program here for a while but this is my first personal encounter with it. Aaron Malkin, the dramaturge here
at New York Theatre Workshop, reached out and explained what Casebook was then asked whether we would be willing to do it. I think my initial reaction was fine
but also protectiveness of a new play process because by its very nature it’s clunky and clumsy. That’s essential that it be allowed to be so. Aaron basically said if you’re willing to be witnessed, then cool. And I said yes. We felt that it would be good to do a musical because we hadn’t done one thus far. The complications in doing a musical project is that it adds more collaborating artists into the mix. Hadestown is a folk opera that is based on the Orpheus and Eurydice myth. And it was written by Anais Mitchell. [Music] Musically the style is a mix of American
idioms; folk, bluegrass, blues. This is a really different sort of musical. I don’t see this as being a traditional or a Broadway musical where every song sort of completely tells a story, and there’s an absolute underlying narrative. [Dialogue] I joined the project in 2013 and began developing the story with Anais and it became increasingly clear that it was of the utmost importance that everything really remain in the land of a poem. That’s one of the first things that Anais said to me was that this is a poetry piece and not a prose piece. [Singing] Hades, my husband. Hades, my light. Hades, my darkness. If you had heard how he sang tonight… The three plus years of development has been this slow move towards making it as coherent and flowing a story as possible that’s following both character logic but also music logic. I think it’s equal parts concert and play. [Chatter] [Music] [Singing] I don’t know about you boys, but if you’re like me, then hanging around this old man… A few years ago I was walking through the park and I heard this incredible music being played. The music was so beautiful and it has such a narrative quality to it and being an artist I could just see it in my mind [Music and singing] When I saw that there would be a Casebook study about it then I decided I really wanted to participate so I could get to see the process that goes into putting a play together. [Singing] Brother, what’s my name? My name is [Ensemble singing] Our lady of the underground! I took Casebook because I wanted to understand how the New York Theatre Workshop created its magic. This is an opportunity to read a play before
I’d seen it performed and understand how it’s leapt from the page to the stage. The first show that I saw the New York Theatre Workshop was Lazarus. I left the theater with a lot to figure out and understand and that’s what I loved about it. [Music and singing] I was interested in Casebook because it
was something where I’ll be able to learn about the creative as well as
the financial arc of a production. [Music and singing] I called in because I was curious as to the actual audience that they were trying to target with this class. What Alex communicated to me was that it’s for a wide audience. It fulfills and it satisfies a lot of
different curiosities. I grew up a performer and I built sets and painted so what I love about it is that it feels like that same kind of spirit. That same sort of sense of community. I wasn’t familiar with any other theatre companies that were inviting the community and sharing their process. I was very interested in how all the different factions came together because I myself, along with my theatre company, would like to do something similar with a musical. [Singing] Why the struggle? Why the strain? Why make trouble? Why make scenes? There’s a moment when the Fates are singing along with Hades and it was very interesting because Rachel was actually blocking that scene when we were watching her. They were having this back and forth like, where should he travel or how should the fates block him? Should they really get in his face or what should he do? [Singing] Why waste your precious breath? Why beat your handsome brow? You have those moments as as a creative person that you feel stuck; when you see them do it in such a good scale, you feel encouraged. You feel like, look they figured it out. It was feeling like it was going to be impossible that day but look at them; they did it. [Singing] The river froze. The trees were bare. And all the birds, they disappeared… Anais and Liam both were talking about the idea that sometimes the music can and should stand on its own. It’s a feeling in and of itself that the first priority can’t be to push the story forward necessarily in that moment. And I thought that was so interesting and so necessary. [Music and singing] I think sometimes we get used to the
conventions of how we do things and we don’t question it beyond that point. I think Hadestown is a coming together of various groups of people. And they come in and they each question each other. They each go, but does it have
to do that? Do we have to accomplish this? I think that that creates the best artistic process, too, because everybody’s holding each other accountable. It’s always great to talk to stage
management. They usually are the most aware of all the ins and outs of what’s going on throughout the process. My question is how much choreographically do you record? One of the things that’s really lucky for us
at New York Theatre Workshop is under the Equity agreement we have the new media buy-out plan, which allows us to video tape things for production purposes. Which is super helpful because I have the run throughs from today on my laptop as we speak and I’m going to use that to go build my count script tonight and get ready for tech. Essentially calling the show is
like being a conductor for the show. Like if you’ve ever seen like a really great light cue that just blasts right in time and sometimes you have to feel that in your body, which is very different than writing down notes for a rehearsal. [Music] It’s so exciting to see a whole bunch of people that have varying levels of experience in theatre and they get excited about things like stage management. I can’t imagine anybody being really excited by paperwork and it’s just kind of fun to meet with them. The first thing I said to Rachel Hauck, our set designer, is this takes place in a Greek amphitheater as well as this idea of let’s gather around a tree. I wanted that feeling of a essentially a
campfire story telling act. [Music] So basically I design the envelope
that holds the play. There are so many different ways to realize the very specific intentions of a playwright. It’s a very evolving conversation about how that world feels, how that world evolves over the course of the play. What the tone needs to be. Does it need to be tense? Does it need to be light? Does it need to be dark? Ideally, we are all having those conversations together; lighting, set, sound, costume. Because together we’re going to make this world. It’s deeply collaborative. Rachel always knew that
the tree was essential to her. It was the very first conversation. She knew that this tree was a part of it. This is based on this thing here. What
that actually is the real Manzanita roots, so it both looks like a sort of supernatural tree and like a root. Meaning, with light, it can feel like it’s
over you or you can feel like you’re under it. Was it based off of the budget and going from the budget to decide really what the space needed or was the foundation based off of the artistic conception? We did not know the budget
until after everything was designed. We had mistakenly imagined we had
more resources than we did. So then we had a huge re-conceiving of what was possible and we were able to preserve the heart of the design. To anyone who’s not familiar with the
artistic process, what can seem like the obvious choice and an inspired moment,
that doesn’t come without craft and time. And I think more than anything that’s
probably what the Casebook audiences saw. At its core, theatre is people coming
together to have a conversation and often the means of production of theatre are set aside from that conversation and Casebook turns that on its head. It’s saying, no, audiences can and should interact more closely with the artist. No other theater I know provides this level of access during the development process of a work of art that we’re ultimately putting on stage as part of our season. We’re entering the last week of previews. Previews are just an extension of rehearsal and we don’t know as artists and as a theatre, we don’t know what we have until we put it up in front of an audience. There’s been a lot of tweaking over the last two weeks in terms of cutting some musical bits, rearranging a little bit of text. But there’s been a big question remaining around the final moment, the final thrust of the play. Why does Orpheus turn around? And what
does that mean to us? Which is really the eternal question, as old as the myth. I’m excited to talk with the Casebookers about it and to hear what their perception is of how the play has evolved in the last week and a half, two weeks since they’ve seen it. The last installment of the class was filled with drama, as theatre normally is, because of last minute changes and things like that. So that was exciting. We saw their final dress rehearsal. It
was scheduled for Thursday evening and it ended up getting moved back to a
Friday afternoon. We were all ready to go see the show Thursday night and they pushed it back and what I loved about it is that that’s how it has to work. Everything has to serve the show. And Friday evening was the first preview. [Excited chatter] It’s gotten so much tighter. The choreography, it’s incredible. Just to see the changes. The ending was changed yesterday. I spoke to Aaron during the intermission; he didn’t even know what it was going to be. For me, it’s less about what’s revealing and more about what’s affirming. The opportunity to be in a place where you can just observe and learn and take in and try to look at other techniques and see how things manifest over time from rehearsals to tech to performance is a rare opportunity. The most exciting thing about Casebook for me was the discussion after the dress rehearsal because it was like the culmination of all of our conversations before that. We’ve learned how to be critical in a
particular way. Not so much criticizing the work but finding out what was the process of the artists to make certain choices. I’m trading up to be a Patron. Knowing all the people and knowing how hard they work and how much they love what they’re doing. You just want to be a part of it. I’ve been so inspired that I’ve actually volunteered to be an usher during the performances of Hadestown. [Music] The people that do go through Casebook with us feel very specially involved with New York Theatre Workshop on into the future. We’ve gotten a board member out of our
Casebook enrollees and many members. I don’t think we’ve found a better way to deeply bond with some of our audience members than this. That makes me very happy. I think it has really made some friends for life. Thank you all so much for a wonderful ten weeks! I hope you learned and enjoyed and had a fun time. Here, here from all of us! Thank you. Thank you. People come away with a renewed sense of advocacy for the theater. And people continually want to come back. That’s the biggest feedback I get at the end of classes. What is the next one? When is the next one? How can I sign up? [Music]

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