Upon Further Reflection

It’s always about the music.  My heart and soul lies in musical theater, Sondheim will forever be the most brilliant composer and lyricist of all time, Les Miserables will always bring me to tears as soon as the overture begins, and theatre will continue to be amplified by the musical choices made by it’s directors.  Last year I saw War Horse at Lincoln Center and what struck me the most was the use of music throughout the production.  Maybe this is because I pretty much have a constant soundtrack to life running through my head at any given moment, continuously singing melodies to myself, suppressing the urge to belt them out at the top of my lungs.  My rendition of  ‘Everything’s Coming up Roses” remains one of the shining moments of my 10-year-old life, but this remains safely locked away in the deep recesses of my parents storage, where no one will ever ever see it.

I think NPH sang it best at the Tony’s.

But in all seriousness the choice to include or exclude music can be a tricky one for a straight play.  Is it appropriate?  Does it enhance the story? Will it lessen the authenticity of the play by using a ‘gimmick’ like music?  I’ll admit that sometimes music is an inappropriate choice, it can lead the audience to a specific emotion rather than letting them get there on their own.  But I think, more often than not, it is the right choice.  It creates an internal connection with a person, whether they realize it in that moment or not.  There’s a reason the human species created music in the first place, a reason that everyone listens to music in some form or another.  It might not all be your cup of tea, but I would venture to guess that every single person has at least 1 favorite song.  It’s why movies have soundtracks, why we whistle while we work (well maybe we don’t all whistle) but you get my point.  So why am I rambling on and on about music in theatre?

Well, last night I had the pleasure of seeing Black Watch (in full this time) at The Shakespeare Theatre Company.  I knew what I was getting myself into from the preview I was invited to a few weeks ago.  I’ve been out of town a lot recently, dancing my little feet off on wedding reception dance floors, and didn’t know whether I was going to get a chance to see it before it closed.  But I did, and can I just say that STC’s  $18 under 35 ticket discount is AMAZING.  As a person who currently works 3 part-time jobs in order to continue this dreamlife of living in our nation’s Capitol, sometimes my tight purse strings can get in the way my theatre going plans.  But I was able to snag a ticket to Thursday night’s show, which also just happened to be #STCnight.  As I settled in for the 2 hour, no intermission production, I was anticipating how many times I would go flying out of my seat due to ‘loud noises’ cautioned on the signage outside the theater ( I tend to startle quite easily), and how I would nonchalantly play it off as intentional to the 2 strangers sitting on either side of me.  I wondered how much of the play would be set in the field, and how much would be brought back to the pool hall.   I knew I would probably tear up, just a little, as I often do when faced with anything regarding war and soldiers, I expected that.  What I didn’t expect was that what would resonate most in this production would be music, sung by these soldiers, these boys; or rather I wasn’t expecting much music as all.

It seems like such a small thing, two soldiers singing a tune that I’ve never heard before.  It sounds traditional, but I can’t be sure.  Standing above us, across and diagonal from each other, their harmonies meeting in the middle, and washing over the theater.  The Golden Thread that they spoke about earlier on, seems to make its connection here.  This song must be old, a piece of the past, a tradition that connects the soldiers of the Black Watch regiment to their predecessors and now with their comrades.  This was what connected me to Black Watch, the moment when all the pieces sort of fell into place.  That goose-bumpy feeling.  ‘Twa Recruiting Sergeants’  And rest assured, this is about to be on repeat on the good ‘ol iPhone, though I doubt any recording will do it the justice that this production did.

So here I sit, typing away, attempting to express what it is that I love about the theatre as best I can.  And what it boils down to this.  Sometimes I think we’ve lost our sense of wonder in the world, our sense of simple joy.  Everything is so serious, we don’t sing enough, we don’t dance enough, we don’t enjoy enough.  I don’t really wish that the world were a constant barrage of people singing and dancing in the streets (well actually I kind of do) but whenever I am sitting in that dark theater, and someone starts singing…out loud…I’m reminded that even at its saddest, music lifts.  When that music is intertwined with the real life (ok sometimes make believe) stories on stage, something truly great happens.  It’s why I love theatre.  Plain and simple.


Black Watch


You know those moments when it just makes sense, when you’ve stumbled upon the thing that breathes life into your universe, the very thought of it can raise the little hairs on your arm and send a jolt like electricity through you.  These moments are small,  often quiet, and a bit contained, they are remembered because they are perfectly ordinary, but then again, maybe not so ordinary at all. 

The lights above illuminate the thin haze of smoke and dust as it begins to settle onto the stage.  Our small group makes its way down the steps of  Sidney Harman Hall to the front of the house.  There are a few members of the crew scattered about the theatre, but for the most part it’s empty.  We’ve been invited to preview The Shakespeare Theatre Company‘s current production of Black Watch.  As I take my seat I look down, the stage is level with the floor of the auditorium, I look up into the fly space, exposed to the audience, expansive and a bit jarring, I look out across the stage where a block of empty seats stare back at me, I watch the dust float under the lights, and I pause. That’s the moment.  Surrounded by the world created inside of this theatre.

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I love watching dress rehearsal, I even love watching tech rehearsals, probably because I am not the one rehearsing them.  There’s a feeling of being let in on a some sort of a secret, an anticipation of seeing the creative process in action.  I had the same feeling as I entered that theatre.  No, we were not watching a full dress rehearsal run through, but we were being shown two scenes of a production that had not yet opened.  My little theatre heart could hardly contain itself.  This would be my first time in an STC space since they were awarded the Regional Theatre Tony Award in June.  I must say I was quite proud of our DC theatre that night, and I was looking for an excuse to see one of their upcoming productions.  So when STC invited me to preview Black Watch, and not only allowed, but asked us to snap photos and video a few scenes, I was all aboard and let’s get going.

Viewed through the eyes of those on the ground, Black Watch reveals what it means to be part of the legendary Scottish regiment, what it means to be part of the war on terror and what it means to make the journey home again. John Tiffany’s production makes powerful and inventive use of movement, music and song to create a visceral, complex and urgent piece of theatre that is as relevant now as ever. (Shakespeare Theatre Company)

Presented by The National Theatre of Scotland, Black Watch has returned to DC after a sold out run at Sidney Harman Hall in 2011.  The story was drawn from interviews conducted by Gregory Burke with soldiers in the Black Watch regiment who served in Iraq.  Black Watch is directed by John Tiffany who recently won the Tony for Best Direction of a Musical.

So basically I was invited by a Tony award winning theatre company to watch a production by a Tony award winning director.  Needless to say I was eagerly anticipating what was in store for us.  Tiffany stood on stage and explained they would be performing two scenes.

The first scene, a red carpet runway of sorts, took us on a journey through the evolution of the Scottish Black Watch military uniform.  As Cammy (Ryan Fletcher) is hoisted into the air by four soldiers, and two others quickly remove and replace pieces of uniform, we are told the story of the Black Watch regiment.  Where it began, why it persisted, and how it came to find it’s soldiers in one of the most dangerous regions of an American War.  The staging is spot on and the costume changes, I think there are about 16 in this one scene alone, give us a visual connection to the story.  As the lights were brought back up, my first thought was “Can we just keep going.” takes out phone, marks calendar for next available open evening.


The second scene, inserts a bit of humour into the show.  The soldiers, back from Iraq are discussing who will play them in the movie adaptation of their story.  A writer has been interviewing them about their deployment in Iraq, and they want to ensure that they are accurately portrayed, it seems Ewan McGregor is just the man for the job.  Finding relief in the seriousness of their stories, perhaps?  It’s a hard topic on any front, but from what I saw it seems that Burke and Tiffany have done an excellent job of telling this story.  I will most definitely be catching it, in full, before it closes on October 7.

For social media folk out there October 4 is a Twitter night, Shakespeare Theatre will be hosting conversations online before and after the performance #STCnight.

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We had some time before being let into the theatre and so I started reading through our press kit materials which included an article written by Nicholas J. Cull “The National Theatre of Scotland’s Black Watch: Theatre as Cultural Diplomacy”  It’s not often that an article by an academic is included in a production press kit, but I had some time to kill so I set about reading it.  Its actually really interesting.  It walks you through the creation of Black Watch the stage production in the context of cultural diplomacy within the theatre as a whole.

There are so many details that were included in the conception of this production down to the configuration of the seats within the theatre.  I mentioned that there was seating on the other side of the stage.  The set is designed to mimic the armory near Edinburgh castle, where Black Watch first premiered at the Edinburgh Fringe.  The armory is home to the Edinburgh Tattoo, a parade performance of the Scottish Military, a source of pride in Scotland.  At first wary of the Tattoo, Tiffany ultimately decided that this armory-like arrangement within the theatre would re-inforce this sense of Scottish tradition and pride.  As an audience member the un-traditional configuration only enhances the uniqueness of the production.