In our Writers and Music series, authors discuss the music that has either been included in their most recent play/novel/poems or the influence music has had on their work overall.
Scott Adkins received his MFA in playwriting from Brooklyn College in 2006. His plays have been heard via radio waves (WFMU and WNYE), appeared at the U.N., in unassuming locations under Brooklyn like RabbitHole Studios, in various NYC downtown theaters as well as in the Clubbed Thumb Summerworks Readings, at CATCH, in Little Theater and annually at the Cho Chiqq Backyard Theater Festival. His play The Anti-Gardener appears in the 2011 Spring issue of PAJ and his play Running Commentary No. 4 was published by 53rd State Press in the Joyce Cho Anthology. He co-founded the Brooklyn Writers Space with his wife, Erin Courtney, in 2002. He is a co-curator of the Obie award winning Little Theater that presents new work monthly at Dixon Place. He co-founded Sock Monkey Press in 1996 and has released a new book of poetry by Terence Degnan earlier this month.
I grew up singing, mostly in church. But I also sang in ‘that’ swing choir in high school, chamber choir, even sang for a couple years in college. Maybe I used to be a good singer but now, well now it is better for everyone that I don’t sing, too loudly anyway. I’ll tell you though, there is nothing more fun on a Saturday night than getting together with friends and picking up our instruments and ripping out a “Hey Good Lookin'” or a “Beat on the Brat."
My first plays had no songs in them or if they did they were other people’s songs, a lullaby or old simple melodic songs ("Hush Little Baby" and "Amazing Grace") that would evoke some memory for me.
My latest work, The Kioskers, which is about a mysterious family traveling the world in a floating kiosk, has all original songs and music composed by the amazing Alaina Ferris.
Alaina Ferris' music for The Kioskers illustrates her passion for Rimsky Korsakov, Eastern Europe lullabies and Sea Shanties.
I've also had the pleasure of working with Rebecca Hart and Robert Wagner.
Rebecca makes progressive folk rock magic and wrote the music for Running Commentary No. 4. I am thrilled to say that to this day she plays some of those songs at her gigs.
Robert Wagner comes from New Orleans jazz and composed most of the music for the Klezmer All Stars. He composed the music for Black Dot for three a cappella voices using his influences from the middle east, eastern europe and world jazz.
All these plays would deflate without the juxtaposing songs and music clocking the rhythm of each piece. There is something remarkable about having performers engaging with us, the audience, with spoken word then suddenly revealing a sincere song. As individuals we rarely tell stories just one way. We use monologues, dialogues, poems, exposition, narrative, gestures, visuals, and songs. So as a playwright, I do the same thing.
Songs being, in my mind, the most powerful way to tell a story, compress elements like perspective, exposition, raw emotion, memory, nostalgia, visuals and most importantly an opportunity for sincere goofiness. (Sincere goofiness being the ingredient of the most entertaining theater no matter how dramatic or sad or dangerous.)
My songs don’t always have overtly meaningful language. Sometimes they pop up in order to cast a different perspective on moments past or moments to come. Kind of like the sweet frosting in between the two chocolate wafers of an Oreo cookie.
Songs and singing and music let us get the crazy out as writers, performers and listeners. If we don’t get the crazy out, well we might just explode or something. Whenever I do a reading of a new play with songs in it, there is usually not an opportunity to compose, learn, and perform a song so I always have the actors use a melody they know well and fit the words to it. Then I say commit, fearlessly commit. It is always beautiful when a performer fearlessly commits, and also I get to really see if the rhythm of the lyrics is working.
Anyway, I have songs in my work sometimes simply to break the predictability of what we are seeing. A kind of way to say directly to the audience, come with us now. I use songs as tools to retell everything that has happened. I want songs to be gifts to everyone, the performers and the audience. I never want to torture an audience. I totally get it when you come to a play exhausted, have that one beer and after fifteen minutes of words coming at you the eyelids get heavy as lead.
So I put in a song, not so intentionally or formally, but I know that when someone who has dozed off snaps awake for a song they won’t be lost, they’ll be right with the play. Maybe in a way the songs are there to minimize any sort of theatrical suffering that might be happening, but mostly I can say I put them in instinctually because they make me feel good.