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 9th Season in Philadelphia. Thanks so much for tuning in and for staying Simpatico!
Music and rhythm play an essential role in creating the world of The Brothers Size. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney writes with language that’s inherently poetic and has a very distinct rhythm. McCraney also indicates many moments in the play where the characters sing or a song is heard (however, there is no suggestion of what song they should sing). This opens up a world of possibilities and I was curious to find out from Director James Ijames and Sound Designer Daniel Kontz how they created the musical landscape for Simpatico’s production.
McCraney certainly doesn’t leave the director and actors in the dark; the script is steeped with influences from West African Yoruba mythology. The play is set in rural Louisiana, where Blues plays an important role. Beginning with those important cues, Ijames and the cast experimented with many different songs during the rehearsal process. Because the timing of the piece is also somewhat vague, only stipulated as the “distant present”, Ijames suggests that the characters were possibly in their early 30s and began to think about the music of their childhood.
That led him to explore 70’s and 80’s R&B, infusing the piece with a sense of nostalgia. Of course, this gave the cast a lot to play with, experimenting during rehearsal with songs from many different artists. There is one particular scene where the brothers Oshoosi and Ogun sing along and dance to “Before I Let Go” by Maze. It’s a very touching moment in the show and it was important to find the best musical fit for the interaction.
Ijames had the actors play with 7 or 8 different songs including Al Green’s “Love and Happiness”. According to Ijames, that specific song was “too even” and didn’t fit the tone that they were trying to create. They finally settled on “Before I Let Go “, which had the driving rhythm that Ijames was looking for.
R&B influences also came into play in Kontz’s design for the pre-show music, which is always important in setting the mood for the audience. Designing for McCraney’s world, Kontz found it important to “find a lineage, to build a through-line in my design so I can make sound choices which unite in supporting the broader vision of the piece.”
There are two distinct worlds in the play: the reality in which the characters live and their dreams. Kontz created a unique soundscape for the dreams to make a distinction between the two worlds, “The soundscape of the dreams was created by blending the past with the present, Southwestern Nigeria with the Deep South.” The combination of Western African and Blues-influences music gives this production a rich and profound soundtrack.
If you would like to listen to the energetic and soulful music featured in Simpatico’s production check out The Brothers Size playlist and on Spotify!