Welcome to Simpatico Theatre Project’s blog-roll, What’s in the Wings, your window into “one of the best indie theatres in town!” You’ll find a variety of posts on this page from directors, designers, actors and special guests, giving you a sneak peek into our company, our current production, and our electrifying 10th Anniversary Season in Philadelphia. Thanks so much for tuning in and for staying Simpatico!
SARAH – This adaptation was your first encounter with the story of Watership Down. What jumped out at you about the Watership world when you first read the script?
JOSH – The characters go on a grand adventure of distances that they never would have dreamed of traveling in hopes of finding a home. They embark on an epic quest with all kinds of trials and tribulations. They experience all sorts of new amazing things beyond anything they could imagine. All of this happens in the story, and then you take a step back and realize: Wait…these are RABBITS! Their entire adventure happens within literally a few miles! It made me reflect on how large and wonderful and exciting and scary the world actually is!
SARAH – In this production, Allen [Radway, the director] chose to have cast members perform the music live, so you based your instrumentation on the actor-musicians’ particular skills. How did those boundaries affect your composition?
JOSH – As an instrumentalist, I have a certain skill set. So when I write, I tend to start from a place of what I myself can play. (Often that approach is out of necessity, because I will be the one performing the score live or recording it for a design.) Then when I have a melody or musical idea that I am playing with, I will let my mind wander to what another instrumentation might do for it. What story do horns tell? vs. What am I saying plucking the melody on a banjo?
With Watership Down, I was given the palette of sounds that I could play with right off the bat (violin, cello, piano, electric bass, percussion). This made me think about the score a bit more backwards than I normally would. I explored melodies, progressions, and arrangements with an ear towards how the sounds of each of these instruments would sing together.
SARAH – How would you describe the style of music you created for the production?
JOSH – It actually struck me in tech, while listening to the incredibly talented musicians play the score, that the show is a lot jazzier than I had anticipated. I use a lot of thick voicings in the arrangement to create moments of tension or wonder.
But I definitely wouldn’t call the style jazz. Possibly a cop out, but I am going to call the style cinematic. By that I mean it is definitely being used to heighten emotion or to manipulate the audience to feel what you want them to feel. That may sound like a negative way to describe it, but it’s really not. Film scores are said to manipulate our emotional responses to scare us, excite us, tug at the heartstrings, etc.—it’s just another layer of the storytelling. And Watership isn’t a musical, so characters aren’t bursting into song to express themselves. So the music is used to drive the story forward, and to help shape our feelings about the action.
SARAH – Watership Down is about an epic journey. How do you evoke the epic in your design?
JOSH – From a music standpoint, I try to evoke that feeling with sweeping melodies, great moments of musical tension, and then harmonic release. I try to make the five-piece band sound as big as possible by having them all play melodies in unison and then splitting them into a big chord to explode the sound. Also, there are definitely themes for various characters in the show, which I think of as necessary in epic adventures. We can always tell the exact moment Superman is going to fly onto the screen when we hear the big iconic brass. Or there is no doubt that a shark is close at hand when we hear “Da-nah, Da-nah, danahdanahdanahdanah.” When El-ahrairah is seen, we hear one melody. When we see Kehaar, there is another. General Woundwort has his own Imperial March theme for sure.
From a sound effects standpoint, we try to immerse you in various locales. A forest at night feels very different than a field during the day, so we try to tell the story sonically in the world as well. We want the audience to feel as if they are the same size as the Sandleford rabbits and going on the adventure right along with them!