I am currently working on a spring 2013 staging of the play Tonseisha, by American play write Erik Patterson for saltpeter. The play tells the story of one Japanese woman’s search for love and her obsession with American beat poet Richard Braughtigan.
Tonseisha is a script that saltpeter has aspired to produce for some time, and from the outset I have been describing the piece as ‘operatic’ in nature. I am notorious for bandying around the words opera and operatic, and although these terms are often just a personal shorthand for my response to a work. However I have become convinced that in this instance I should pursue this sense of the operatic nature of the piece (fortunately I have convinced my collaborators that this is a good idea). We are therefore taking a new approach to the work, and with the agreement of the playwright, we will be utilising the skills of opera composer Kim Ashton to merge music and song directly into the piece.
I will try to clarify what I mean by operatic (particularly as they relate to Tonseisha). For me ‘Operatic’ describes a use of words, music, design/image/scale, and hyperrealism within a theatrical context. Tonseisha will not be an opera, nor will it be a play with incidental music and song
Key to our aim in introducing music and song into the piece is that it is integral to the work, never incidental, and developed with the performers through a rehearsal process. Our aim is ultilise many of the elements of traditional opera, and the standard play text to produce something that is more than the sum of its parts.
Music – it’s pretty obvious. Key to the operatic nature of the work is that the music and song (along with other sound) is integral to the production, it is never incidental. The text of the play could be thought of in this instance as a form of recitative.
Design/image/scale – the play will take place on a big stage, both literally (hopefully) and metaphorically. The scale of any set/settings should be large. Utilising light to paint pictures. It must be beautiful.
Hyperrealism – much of what the audience experiences will be heightened i.e. not naturalistic, but nevertheless real. It is key that we retain the nature of Eric’s intent, particularly in the juxtapositions between the mundane and the surreal.
Obviously we are not producing an opera, but (I hope) utilising some of its key elements, and merging them with a play text to produce something that is more than the sum of its parts. I am going to try to avoid using these words, though when I inevitably do, they should be taken as shorthand for an overarching vision of how the piece should work.
In addition to the song and music we will be seeking collaborators particularly from outside the UK to develop soundscapes in a digital format for use both within the main work, and as stand-alone pieces. How does Montana sound? What is the sound of loneliness in a Japanese bar? What noises do two cultures clashing together make? We will be open to the possibilities of these being combined with other digital media and/or film.
We will be seeking a large empty space somewhere in London in which to create this work, and have no fixed parameters as to its nature other than that it is large, and hopefully multi-roomed. Our occupation will ensure a welcoming environment for everyone, including collaborators, visitors, visiting artists, and audiences alike. Entry to, and time spent in, the space should be a pleasure for anyone/everyone.
Crucially we aim to occupy the space within which the performance will take place for 4 months, allowing us to both to develop the piece in response to the building itself, but also to allow other artists a workplace and forum in which to develop and show work created in response to ideas exchanged within the building. Our aim is to utilise the space to its full potential during our stay, in use by multiple groups and artists on a daily basis.
We have core team of UK based artists who have been developing other work with saltpeter already in place, but as part of the R&D process we now need to reach out to artists in both Japan and America to examine the nature of and clash between their respective cultures whilst at the same time exploring how we can develop the multi-media elements that will be used both within the work itself, and to create the immersive environment within the building.