Fun Home

I saw Fun Home at the Victory Gardens Theater. It was an incredible production. They invited cartoonists and visual artists to show their work before the show. I appreciated the interactive wall for audience members to draw pictures associated with their own memories. Prompts included drawing your home, your first love and other sentimental topics.  Through these activities, audience members were engaging authentically with the work from the moment they walked in the doors of the theater. I thought this was a smart way to connect audience members emotionally to the content of the musical.

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The musical is adapted from Alison Bechdel’s autobiographical graphic novel of the same name. I’m interested in the adaptation of a graphic novel into a stage musical. What elements are retained? I’m also curious about how the coming of age story of a queer artist is treated. I’d like to explore the musical with these considerations in mind.

Lisa Kron, who adapted the graphic novel to the musical, developed the idea of having three Alisons on stage (small Alison, college-aged medium Alison, and present day Alison). Kron talks more about the process, which she call painstaking in this interview. With the oldest Alison creating the graphic novel on stage, the creative process seems more present than in reading the novel. She describes her choices, how she is uses objects to conjure her memories.

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In the graphic novel, the literary references are much more prominent and run throughout. One of my favorite themes in the novel is how she connects her relationship to her father to the inverse to the story of Icarus and Daedalus. In the graphic novel, she is explicit about the connection to the myth from the start and end of the story with the game of airplane to Alison’s desire to enjoying reading Ulysses (with Stephen Dedalus) like her father, and the drawing of maps from a bird’s eye view. Journey and distance are evoked through literary references. Also, like Joyce’s Ulysses, the chapters evoke stylistic elements of English literature. Bechdel’s chapter titles harken back to famous English works of literature.

The references are intricate and consistent throughout the graphic novel. For example, the first scene shows the airplane scene with the book Anna Karenina on the floor beside her father. The book seems to foreshadow his suicide and calls forth the famous first sentence of the novel “All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” and Anna Karenina’s step in front of a train. Throughout the whole story, it’s as if we see the truck coming to hit her father.

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Although the musical shows that books are important in Alison’s relationship with her and in her coming-out, it minimizes the references in favor of capturing emotion. It seems fitting that the literary references should stay in print and emotions come alive on stage because this is generally what we associate with each medium. The airplane scene in the musical gets its own song rather than its own book. Musical themes are repeated in emotional moments and give depth to what the characters may be feeling.

In some ways, a graphic novel is particularly poised to transition to the stage. The panels can make up scenes complete with dialogue. Music helps us hear the many voices sounding at once. I think that is another reason why the three Alisons is all the more genius. We can hear her perspective concurrently at all three phases of her life. We also get a chance to hear a song by Alison’s father who we don’t have access to his inner thought process in the graphic novel. The staging allows deeper access to the internal thought process of more characters.

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The show feels closer, the emotions more reckless than in the graphic novel. The characters are right in front of us proclaiming how they feel through song, whereas in the graphic novel, the starkness of conversation in an east coast family leaves the emotions more implied and distant.

These different emotional registers make each interpretation effective in its own way. Both are playing with the idea of distance. The emotional distance differing in each, makes the themes of motion and physical distance even more prominent.

Both start and end with playing airplane. This game brings Alison and her father close physically, while an airplane implies travel or increasing distance. She says it is one of the rare moments they make physical contact, but it is through a game that imagines her soaring away.

Throughout both interpretations, we hear about trips, maps, and cars. In the musical, Alison’s coming out is phrased as she “leapt out of the closet.” The motion is all tarnished with Bruce’s suicide, stepping in front of a moving vehicle as she immediately adds. “I leapt out of the closet and four months later my father killed himself by stepping in front of a truck.” Motion is exciting, motion is painful. This is summizes in the perfect last line of the graphic novel “…he was there to catch me when I leapt”

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Throughout the graphic novel, we see Alison’s journey, like the Odyssey and Ulysses, twisting with her dad. Moments of motion are are emphasized with this mock-hero’s journey framework. Her coming out is navigating through Scylla and Charybdis, her exploring Joan’s body is “landing on a new shore” and the last “hurtling into the sea.” Traversing distance is a metaphor for the oscillating emotional distance between Alison and her father.

Ultimately, the graphic novel adds a layer of complexity to the prominence of distance metaphors through the hero’s journey that is missing in the musical. On the other hand, the musical gives greater access to the emotions of the characters to the audience. Motion and distance are essential to both portrayals and the way they are presented gives us an idea about what is different between the two mediums of storytelling.

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What is Artistic Quality? On Dog Art, One Minute Plays, and The Musical of a Generation

 

Rent was a huge component of what got me interested in adaptation. La Boheme turned 90’s Aids Crisis, how did Jonathan Larson, musical wizard, create this masterpiece?!? That sincerely spoke to me when I was in high-school, full of angsty and artistic dreams.

But there are moments of the story that can come across as heavy-handed or cliche. It’s not perfect. A 1996 reviewer for the New York Times states it well as “one forgives the show’s intermittent lapses into awkwardness or cliche because of its overwhelming emotional sincerity.”

This staging of RENT at Theo Oubique had a stunning balance of pluck and intimacy. It was an incredible set for the performance and the artists made the audience feel as if they were another member of the circle of friends.
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This staging made the elements that are still relevant today shine.  Continue reading

Inside, Outside

I scanned my book shelf looking for something that was a classic and had some artistic depth. I ended up pulling out Henrik Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House”…

Good news friends, I’m starting a new page to stage project! I’m adapting classic literature into musical pieces. There is more that can be explored in the relationship between music and writing than just song lyrics. I intend to replicate moods, tones, structures, characters of great works of literature through music alone.

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BUT in my process of digging up research for exploring music related to “A Doll’s House,” Continue reading

Seeing Eye to iPhone

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Before Turkey Day, I went to another Thursday event at the Harris Theater, Mix at Six featuring Lucky Plush Productions.

The Mix at Six structure is interesting. Affordable, short performances on a weeknight so people can attend after work at 6pm. They build enthusiasm for the artist’s other full length performances at the Harris Theater.

A social event for young, hip artistic types that otherwise don’t have plans on a Thursday. It’s a smart move to increase audience awareness, but are there some flaws? But what about people who don’t work in the loop? Is the concept popular?

Seats were general admission, which would make it easy to invite friends at the last minute with tickets only $10 at the door. But, everyone at the performance fit on the orchestra level. Considering there are 3 balconies, it certainly wasn’t a full house.

I’m in full support of low ticket cost and promoting theatrical events to make them more accessible to the community. Mix at Six is an excellent test case to see what this type of series could do for a community. I think much smaller scale cities would see brilliant results from this type of program with not a lot of competition for a Thursday night slot. I’m curious to see what it looks like as the series continues.

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Lucky Plush Productions seemed to be a great fit for the evening as well. I’ve wanted to see them perform for a while and admire their mission to create “work that is richly complex while also being broadly accessible.” It’s a challenge to strike that balance, which makes the troop especially intriguing in my mind.

Their work has a delightful fusions of dance with theatrical, comedic story arcs. I was impressed with the honesty of the performance.

Especially the second number, struck me as an inventively realistic critique of reality tv. A part that really stuck with me was one of the performers dancing with her phone between her ear and her shoulder all while carrying on a conversation.

We are drawn to watching one another in “real” form on tv and on stage. This is essential to performing arts, but also eery with technology observing our every move. Even the first piece “The Queue” set in an airport also had awareness of being watched as inherently important.

Lucky Plush reminds us that the performing arts are about being watched. And in our world full of technology, it’s trickier to define what it means to watch or be a consumer of performing arts. And they do so with an affable sense of humor mixed with a critical eye to deliver very entertaining work.

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I’m a fan of this Lucky Plush clip from “Punk Yankees” in 2012    Watch it!

The pervasiveness of technology is used a lot as a theme these days. We are both drawn in and creeped out by all that the capability of the technology we use everyday. Especially for the arts, artists can use technology to help create/stage their work (youtube, garageband, vine etc.), but art can’t be done without humans at all. Different from the work of engineers, artists can’t be replaced by computers because their work is inherently humanistic. And that’s the important part.

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I drew on this theme of technology and the ever watching eye. I recreated the iphone with signature background as a pencil drawing. We spend so much time staring at our phones like little zombies. I thought, what if the phone looked back at us? (…besides from the obviously creepy “periscope”-esque camera functions). So I added a subtle face in the stars peering back at the viewer.-

How much art is around us everyday that we don’t really see? How much art could there be around us if we were just looking in the right ways?

Lucky Plush shows the beauty, the humor and the poignancy of real life. When we engage with the world around us, art can be anywhere from an airport to the cell-phone in our pocket. Mark your calendar for their show Trip the Light Fantastic: The Making of SuperStrip at the Harris Theater on March 3!