Today feels special like a birthday or a really cool new pair of shoes Something’s in the air saying “Today is the day! Get out and have fun – you … Continue reading Today Feels Special
So Monday night I sat amid giants & idols like Missy Mazzoli, Beth Morrison, Royce Vavrik and David Devan; producers of contemporary opera in America – women & men spearheading the future of this medium for the rest of the world to follow. If you can imagine what a flea hovering about your head must feel like as you swat it out of the way, well, I was that flea Monday night
sitting in the Peter B. Lewis Theater underdeath the Guggenheim museum – only difference was I wasn’t buzzing around anyone’s head. That would have been weird. I was a well behaved flea who didn’t get in anyone’s ointment or march defyantly around the rim of anyone’s coctkail glass. I’m taking the metaphore too far…I am not a flea, I am a human being and if there is any great difference, truly, between a flea and a human being it’s that I make meaning of things where the flea does not. In fact I am unable to not make things mean things but that’s a story for another day.
So there I was, a virtual flea, listening to giants discuss the creation of a new opera, Breaking the Waves, that premieres at Opera Philadelphia next week. I paid the equvalent of a good seat in the Family Circle at The Metropolitan Opera on a Saturday night to listen to a select number of chamber pieces – performed by the amazing lead cast & musicians – and hear the composer, librettist, conductor and director discuss their process. Why would I do such a thing? Wouldn’t the value have been in networking like crazy and leave with at least one good contact? That is what a flea would have done.
That is not why I was there. At another time I will do that, probably yes, but this was the beginning of a grand adventure that I’ve been working my way towards for the better part of five years.
Attending the Works and Process event made manifest (even for just a tiny fraction of a moment) what I have been saying I want…to be a librettist and be part of the modern opera movement. I did have one interaction with a person-of-note (nobody mentioned here thus far) that didn’t go so well. We chatted a bit and when she asked me what I was doing there I blurted out “I want to be doing what they’re doing!” pointing at the stage filled with empty chairs and music stands. She quickly ended our conversation and I sat in my seat feeling the sting of having been swatted out of the way. I deserved it. Did I show up to this most intimate of opera events unprepared? Well, yes I did. I went in there with one intention; to fully immerse myself in the Society of Amazing Peole who Produce Opera for a Living. SAPPOL – and damit that’s exactly what I did!
Back to giants and idols: Being Jewish, I have learned that idols are bad, bad things to be shunned and avoided at all cost. I can and do ascribe to the principle that bowing down to a piece of brightly painted clay begging for salvation, or a new job, is something rediculus and potentially damaging. But then I went to the dictionary to broaden my meaning of the word.
- Word Origin of idol from Late Latin īdōlum, from Latin: image, from Greek eidōlon, from eidos shape, form – courtesy of dictionary.com
So breaking it down, an idol is basically a mental image or a physical shape or form worth one’s time to comment on. An idol stands out, an idol is attractive, an idol is – ultimately – unrealistic. So if I want to be doing what Royce Vavrik is doing, for example, and doing it in my own way and at my own pace then his status as an idol really morphs more into that of a model, a suggestion of what I could be some day. I admire the work he does as a librettist and I know he puts one foot in front of the other as he walks down the street. He just happens to be WAY further down the street than I am. I feel as though I keep starting even though each foray I take into the world of opera seems to bring me ever closer to the vision I have; perhaps there is nothing but starting from wherever I happen to be right now…hmmmm.
What’s my point here? So inspired as I was after Monday night I went back to investigating Master’s Degree programs in musical theatre. NYU being the logical place to look (‘cause that’s where Royce Vavrik went…probably when he was 25!) I got all excited all over again reading all about the program, how they put composition students together with playwriting students – colleges are starting to catch on about this medium called Opera – and then I read “applicants must be full-time students.” And I stopped. Here I am, 52 years old now, working a full time job ‘cause I have to, ready and so able to take this program on with more gusto and passion then I ever had as a 25 year old and I simply cannot fit my square-self into the NYU round hole: what I am is more of a hexagon, really.
And so, this realization brings me back to the idea I launched at the beginning of this year – to make my own course of study and stick to that course building my vision block by block by block.
The Mott Academy of Writing Librettos fall semester has officially started!
Ps. When I make it across the pond one of these days to visit family in Chichester I will make a point of dropping in on a coffee house near Dorset named Amid Giants & Idols.
Assignment #5 Write a scene about a moment of crisis, slowing and/or speeding up time for dramatic effect. If possible, have the location play a role in the crisis. Night time … Continue reading Setting, Pacing & the Structure of Time/Place in Theatre: Abduction of the Chibok Women of Nigeria
If Lucretia Mott was alive today she’d be very cross with me. She’d be standing firm, eyeing me straight on whilst giving me a strong piece of her mind…something about perseverance, commitment, honesty to my own self. Truth! Truth to one’s own God-given Inner Light and how I have been squandering my energies. I’ve been dark. For a month this blog has been dark. Nothing posted, no excuses, no explanations…just…nothing. Yeah, sometimes nothing happens.If you are reading this then I commend you whole-heartedly and promise to post things worthy of your exquisite time in the days ahead. Thank you for giving me a bit of space to process here.
I live one foot in the digital world and the other in the analog world. I keep a paper date-book and on the cover of my paper-date book – which, yes, adds weight to my bag – are three quotes:
· First say to yourself what you would be; and then do what you have to do – Epictetus
· Nothing can be created out of nothing – Lucretia Mott
· We can know only that we know nothing. That is…human wisdom – Tolstoy
Epictetus, Lucretia Mott and Tolstoy; that is quite a literary cocktail. I may add
· We chase the melodies that seem to find us /until they’re finished songs and start to play – Lin-Manuel Miranda (from his moving acceptance sonnet from last night’s Tony Awards)
The lesson here is to take life, whatever comes at you, and make art! I started this blog as a way to gather my thoughts about opera (a new art form to me at the time.) Now I am taking it as a tool to push myself to learn, grow and produce librettos. I fell off. Today I get back on and I have a few revisions to make to my syllabus.
It is still imperative that I write every day. It’s not so important that I post something every week simply because “every week” becomes about just posting shit and not about producing something worth reading. I don’t want to waste your time. The new requirement is that I post something I’ll be happy about you reading. Hopefully that will make you happy too.
I’ve got three stories in development
The Light Within – on the life and times of Lucretia Mott: Quaker pacifist, warrior against slavery, poverty, war and the oppression of women, not to mention her own inner daemons – based on the book “Valiant Friend” by Margaret Hope Bacon
Goatscape – a fairy-tail about a police officer, a homeless vet, a hospital janitor and a goat on-the-lam in Bed-Stuy in the middle of the night
Soferet – a drama about a woman becoming a Jewish scribe in the early 1980’s and the effect she has on the Orthodox community she must count on to help her in her journey
Once – long ago – I was a bookbinder. I made books for a living. It wasn’t much of a living so I moved on to other more profitable pursuits but the art of book-making has never left me. I make books, I can’t stop myself from doing so. Since I don’t have a bindery any more I do scrappy little projects that keep my hands and my heart at peace. As I was thinking about writing librettos I realized that a component of these works are the source elements I use to create the story. Naturally I look to making a book.
Here are two books I’ve made specifically for the early stages of writing – brainstorming, character development etc. It all goes down in these lo-fi memory storage units and they are part of my story. So I may not have been writing but I have been creating and here is the beginning of these two tales
Scene: a cozy, darkened bedroom in the middle of the day. Sounds of the city float in through the opened window. A woman, Amy, lies in a hospice bed. Her husband, Sam, is bedside. It is the appointed hour of her death.
Are you there?
Yes I’m right here
Are you there?
Yes I’m right here
Where are we, Sam?
One more hour, maybe
Take my hand
Don’t be frightened
I remember running in the park with you
You held my hand I wanted to let go
To run free
And you had to let me go
You are ever right here with me
Even in the tightest spots
Time to run
Are you there?
Are you, Amy
Please be there
Please be, Amy
Sam, let me go – now
Let me go
This libretto comes out of my studying theatrical beats this week, as in, moments that make up a play. I wanted to try making a one-beat opera. Lacking any sort of focus I went to my playlist and found Cylinder Six. It gave me a perfect structure to build this monumental moment between two people. I didn’t expect to end up in tears by the time I’d finished. Read the libretto, listen to Chris’ piece then put the two together. Tell me if any of it worked for you.
Thanks for reading!
© Marianna Mott Newirth
A middle aged woman sits at a table with a journal open in front of her and a pencil in her hand. A light on the table illuminates the pages in a glow of warmth which washes up onto the woman’s face as she stares down at a blank page.
Here I am
It’s four AM
The house is quiet for now
I left my bed
So warm and cozy
The dogs won’t leave their lair to join me
In my cold endeavor
At my little desk
In the dark of night
Before the dawn’s floundering light
To be a writer is to be alone
A single entity who can dive into limitless waters of thought
Who can swim to the very bottom of the pond of possibility
And dredge up a moment’s consideration
For compilation in a composition yet to be named
No, there is more to this than meets the eye
I do not rise in the death of night
Out of some sense of obligation
I rise because I have no choice
My characters call to me
They disturb me from my sweet slumbering
Yearning for resolution of the situation I wrote them them into the night before
They all want to know – what happens next!
So here I am
It’s four AM
The house is quiet for now
And I – I cannot think of a thing to write
Two character scene:
First character wants a tangible object from the second character while the second character wants something intangible from the first character. Neither character can get what they want, at least not easily.
Look at what time it is
Time – such a silly little human construct
Was I not made for greater things than this?
You washed your hair
How did you know I like lavender
It was the shampoo in the shower
Shall we get started
Maestro strikes a chord on his piano and straightens the blank sheet music in front of him
Nice piano – Your pencil’s not sharp
Maestro takes a small hand-held plastic pencil sharpener and sharpens his pencil
Where are we tonight?
I prefer Florence
Jacopo Peri would hold me on his lap as he worked, you know
I would turn pages for him
A page-turner is not what I’m looking for
Let’s get to work
I enjoyed twirling his moustache until it stuck straight out
Why do men shave these days?
I’m getting to work
Will you come?
If you fondle me right, I just might
I’m working now
Something new, if you like
It struck me crossing Waterlooplein square
So you want to play then?
I like to play
As do I
What you have in mind will keep me from my work
We have an understanding, you and I
Ah my composer, you think you know me so well
After sixty-years I’ve picked up a thing or two about you
Sixty years – You’re a child compared to the giants I’ve worked with
There’s a reason you are here and it’s not to distract me
What are you doing in this time-riddled, shit-hole of a culture anyway
This is the only time I have been given (yelling)
I get angry when people waste my time
Oh, is that it? You’re comparing me to people now?
Let’s get to work
Just imagine me lying naked in your bed
wrapped in your sheets
ripe for the plucking
I want to write
I need insight
Your help would be appreciated
You arrogant bastard
You must work for my attention
I’m not some easy thing you can get at any opening night party
I don’t do that…
I know, my darling, I know.
Did I call you or did you grace me with your presence? I can’t remember now. How have we ever managed to work together
I can’t remember
Tell me now – what do you feel?
My feelings border on hatred
Do you hate when you make love
Of course not
Do you hate when you compose
I cannot hate when I compose
Hate is a mear mask people hide behind
What are you holding on to then?
I’m holding on
I’m holding on to
I’m holding onto the one who bears witness to my work
And who, pray tell, is that?
It is Phil
The Phil who washes his hair with lavender soap
The Phil who sets a watch and calls you at midnight
The Phil sitting here arguing with his muse
He is insufficient to the task
He will never get this done
And besides he’s really no fun
He does the best he can in a mad world
Take him off the shelf where you keep him
Smash his ceramic face upon the floor
Have sex with me
You’re my muse not my lover
Our session is over
No, it is not.
You don’t want corporeal sex, Calliope
I am old and counting every heartbeat
You want a sacrifice
The Greek choir slowly enters singing
You’re the daughter of Zeus and Mnemosyne
A goddess of music, song and dance
You want the “I” that is watching me talk to you*
The witness has to go* – I relinquish him to you
the one always peering over my shoulder|
commenting on every thing I do
Have your way with him
Slit his throat for all I care
Take it – this power for me to see myself – take it, Calliope
Take it and suck away at his delicious banality
A Greek choir walks around the two – conveying the thoughts of the maestro as he separates his daily-self from his artist-self and sets to compose in earnest. The choir echoes the mans constant comment…the incessantly nagging voice in his head droning on and on about nothing of consequence. They keep this up while the Maestro and Calliope sing their duet and the Maestro takes his place at the piano while Calliope takes her place on the floor eating away at a puppet that resembles the Maestro. In the end her face and dress is covered in a sticky, grotesque mass of humanity. Her glee cannot be contained.
I am sitting on a music bench
There is music on the stand in front of me
I am trying to write an opera
The piano has white and black keys
My nose has an itch
It might snow tomorrow
Calliope has beautiful breasts
Did I remember to plug my phone in?
Is this an A or an A flat?
What should I have for breakfast
Should I just stop now and go to sleep
How far is the taxi stand from the airport terminal
Will someone be there to pick me up tomorrow
I hope Paris will be a safe place to be
Did I pack an extra pair of underwear
The back of my head is itchy
Imagination is now open to you at every single moment of time*
Give me the guy who pays taxes and takes out the garbage
The guy who watches and has to remark on every little thing
Give him to me – I’ll get him done
While you swim in the spontaneous unfolding of life*
One foot in the world of clarity and power*
Don’t think about now it doesn’t matter
The sounds of Amsterdam at 3am overtake the music and drown out everything while the light tightens on the Maestro’s face as he composes, unaware of anything else going on around him. The the light clicks to black.
*Much of the inspiration for this piece came from Philip Glass’ memoir Words Without Music a gift that my husband gave to me for Hanukkah. I gobbled the book up in short order. There are a few lines marked with the * that are taken directly out of his book.
Glass, Philip: Words Without Music Liveright Publishing Company a Division of WW Norton & Co 2015 Pages 382 & 383
The picture of Philip Glass was taken by Anne Leibovitz
The picture of Calliope was taken by some guy who posted it on Google reference has been lost
If you have an issue with my using these images send me a message and I’ll take them down. I’m not making any money with this stuff right now – I’m just keeping one foot in the world of clarity and power and the other in the every day banality of daily life.
Weekly Reading Assignment : The origins of opera
The Cambridge book on Opera, chapter 2 covered the first operatic forms. Greek drama. It has been thirty years since I studied any Greek drama and I had to research the origins of strophe and antistophe, ‘cause I couldn’t remember what they meant. Strophe – to turn. Antistrophe – to turn back again as in a reply to stroph. I won’t get all up in this with you as I’m pretty sure if you’re actually reading this you DON’T want me getting all up in this. The operative thing here is that diving into the structure of Greek drama brought me to an unexpected place – PROSODY!
And where has the study of prosody lead me? To the basics of literary structure, of course. And then, just as quickly, to poetry. No surprise, really. My little web log entry tonight is actually a long-winded excuse to inform you (dear reader) that I abandoned my reading of chapter 2 and took a wild ride into the study of iambs and their many cousins: anapest, dactyl, trochee and others. I studied all this in college circa 1982 but today it lives for me as something completely new. Here’s what I did with what I learned.
Iambic dimeter – 2 iambs per line
There is a way
That I can write
Could be by day
Perhaps at night
There is one thing
That I must do
Put pen to pad
How ever bad
And write anew
Iambic trimester – 3 iambs per line
They’re working on the street
Jack-hammers on concrete
Ringing through the night
Who cares what time it is
Iambic tetrameter – 4 iambs per line
She stooped to pick the basket up
Filled with fresh washed cloths, it was
The weight of it surprised her some
As she carried it across the floor
Quite the shock for her to see
Two ears emerge amid the wash
Black and pink those ears appeared
In contrast to her nice black pants
Now covered in fur from waist to hem
The feline gave a quizzical look
Stretched its paw across her bra
To roll its head in its comfy bed
And reach its arm to touch her hand
As if to say “It’s all okay;
I’ll help you with the wash today.”
Iambic pentameter – 5 iambs per line
These walls contain so many stories told
Of love and life of a family growing old
Where once the toddlers played amid their toys
Two men now occupy the space of boys
This home is all that they have ever known
Of school and friends and kissing in the dark
We gave them all that they would need to live
And pushed to make the best of what we had
Today we must stand back and let them go
Into a world that we cannot control
Characters: Carl & Jeremy – a gay couple in their late 20’s. Both are baritones
Carl sits on the couch in his living room looking at his smart phone. He makes the occasional, swipe casually with his finger, slouches further down and puts a leg up on the coffee table. His boyfriend, Jeremy, comes in the room.
I don’t know
It’s all bull shit
What’s bull shit?
Every God Damned thing. Trump, Fox News, Pokemon is 25 years old!
Well, Mr. Grumbleweed…
I hate it when you call me that, Jeremy
I only call it when that’s what your being. Now remember, Beth and Ben are here for dinner at eight
Can’t wait – Beth and Ben – sounds like a sitcom
Don’t let the fact that I do everything around here keep you from vacuuming this room
We should get a zoomba someday
Only if it comes with a cat attachment
Jeremy exits into the kitchen
I don’t wanna
Can’t make me
Nah, nope, no
Won’t do it
My but is stuck to the couch
my eyeballs glued to the phone
I could get up and do some shit but
I don’t wanna
I don’t wanna
Can’t make me
Nah, nope, no
make your boyfriend crazy
Carl, ya know, you’re such a slug
won’t even move if you get mugged
My limbs are heavy – too heavy to lift
I am suspended in misery
I just want to sit
Is that ok?
To sit and not be lectured?
Requirements of society
Piety and obedience to an entity stuck in Orthodoxy
Explain that one to me Rabbi!
Why should I obey you?!
I see a wall
A wall one hundred feet tall
Made of glass brick
I see the other side thick with potential
The possibility of possibility
The known unknowns
The dream of a someday
Hard and clear and cold this wall of glass
a hundred feet tall
which keeps me from reaching my fulfillment
reaching my fulfillment
I am meant to fill something
Meant for something…I don’t know…terrific
I do not know
Am I meant for greatness?
Is it meant for me?
I am great – my parents always said
My parents always said I was the best
What ever it was they always said I was the best
What can I be – should be – could be…would be…could be
Oh, I don’t know.
Oh Carl – poor Carl – Sad Carl
Are you done with your pitty party?
I didn’t fall in love with you because you were a tumbling grumblweed – you know
I love you
I love you
you find your way out of the tumbleweeds
you emerge from darkness into light
you give me hope for tomorrow
There’s not much light from here Jeremy
You are my light, Carl
Not right now
This is not the Utopia we were promised
That promise was a lie
It should die and we should be free to build a world of our own imagination
We’re too old
What do you want, Carl?!
I want everyone to shut the fuck up
And then what?
So then I can think
And when you can think – what then?
Then I would be able to see
Able to see that we are not what we thought we would be together
Jeremy – It’s not working
I think I should leave tonight
But our dinner with Beth and Ben
You’ll have to do the vacuuming yourself – I’m not good husband material, Jeremy.
Carl! You can’t just leave like that!
Carl puts on his coat, grabs his phone and walks out the door
The dreaded question every artists hates. I’m actually going to share something I did last year, a thing that really kicked my whole MAWL adventure into gear. Right as I was starting radiation treatment for breast cancer* I put myself into an artists beit midrash at my shul, Town & Village Synagogue @afinekehilla I figured it was best to put my mind into something creative. Our rabbinic intern, Bronwen Mullen, put together a great program and we had about 15 people participate from all around the Jewish community. Our focus of study was Pirkei Avot – Ethics of the Fathers. Right away I connected to the idea of transmitting knowledge from one generation to the next. Then I boiled it down to its elements; the Alef, Bet. What I came out with was this written piece.
Bronewn, rabbinical student with a degree in music composition, took what I wrote and scored it. BLEW MY MIND. In a flash we were putting out a call to musicians and singers. Within a month we were in rehearsals with 6 artists bringing to life an idea I had one night while walking home. Here is the final result. It’s an 8 minute piece. A bit rough around the edges but if you stick with it you’ll get the idea of the piece.
As gritty as this clip may be it was a miracle and one that opened up a world of possibility. It was a flash collaboration among an amazing group of talented men and women.
So this is what I’ve done lately. It took me nearly a year to get up the guts to post it.
*so yeah, I dropped the C word. Just so you can move on from it – as I have – I had it. They took it out, zapped me repeatedly with radiation & and put me on meds for 10 years. End of story. Really just an annoying reference point on my life’s map. But one that is an indelible mark, no doubt. Hope it never comes back!