Today I’m making the bittersweet announcement that I will be stepping down from my role as the Associate Artistic Director of Collective Unconscious Performance. I am moving to Massachusetts this fall and will no longer be able to carry on my regular duties from that distance. I will remain a Core Collaborator with the company for the next year, mostly to finish up some artistic and administrative projects that were delayed by the pandemic.
Leaving is the bitter part, but reflecting on my time with Collective Unconscious Performance is oh, so sweet! I met David through E.W. Porter, the master stitcher behind many puppet gowns and the costume designer for Maiden Voyage. What began as an informational interview about their graduate school experience at a Caribou Coffee in a suburban strip-mall, turned into a six year mentorship, collaboration, and friendship. A year after that first meeting, David invited me to participate in an early workshop for the first draft of the sleeping beauty in the wood. (That’s me, kneeling in the front.)
I remember shivering on the concrete floor of (what was then) the Savage Umbrella (now Umbrella Collective) rehearsal space (which now belongs to SYT and where last fall’s production of Into the Darkness took place). It was cold that winter, but I also remember how warmly David invited everyone to play, explore, and create without judgement. We created stunning stage pictures on those chilly December evenings that eventually morphed into beautiful and terrifying moments in the 2016 production, which I had the privilege of assistant directing and stage managing.
In 2018, after a few years of collaborating, assistant directing, and stage managing, David asked me to join the company in a leadership capacity. I was thrilled to help Collective Unconscious Performance grow, and to give back to a company that had given me so much. My work as the Associate Artistic Director may not have been very flashy, but I’m incredibly proud of what I accomplished. I worked with David to refine and expand our social media presence. I collaborated with our legal advisor to create a company handbook and a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion statement, which we planned to implement at the start of Maiden Voyage rehearsals. I updated our box office and house management systems, and digitized our company records. I’ve been a part of every production since 2016 in some capacity: the sleeping beauty in the wood, Skins, Little Red, Le Cirque Féerique, and Into the Darkness.
My proudest accomplishment - conceiving, directing, and developing the script for Maiden Voyage (a new play written by Rachel Teagle) - may not have premiered this past spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but without the company’s support, the project would have never made it as far as it did. I sincerely hope that I can return to Minnesota within the next year so that I can still share this beautiful new play with all of you.
Before I leave, I have to extend my greatest thanks to David. Without their guidance, constructive feedback, and support, I doubt I would still be working in theatre. David was able to see past the blind ambition and naiveté of a recent college graduate, and help mold that nervous energy into the confident artist that I am today.
Unlike a fairy tale, I can’t ask a magical godmother or omnipotent narrator to tell you what happens next. And like many storybook characters, I’m also not exactly sure what dragons or mystical treasures are waiting at my destination. I know I am moving to Cambridge, MA this fall. David and I have been preparing for this journey for a long time, since my partner got a job in Boston and has been living out there for over a year. Back in February, I was meeting with directors and writers in the Boston area about possible collaborations, convinced that 2020 was the year I plunged into the world of freelancing. With all the new uncertainty in the world, however, I’m embracing the opportunity to start the next chapter without a plan. Inspired by the fierce pirates we wanted you to meet this spring, I’m going to see where the wind takes me.
I have loved every second of puppet movement coaching during Into the Darkness. The cast and artistic team has been so incredibly patient - puppetry involves many, many "takes" to find the right movement or gestures. Additionally, I have loved the generous and collaborative spirit of the team. Several times we've faced a challenge that the whole team has come together to solve. Working with puppets is a unique experience with it's own unique challenges. You have to work within the limits of the puppet and the space, all while attempting to craft gestures and movements that transcend the typical boundaries of human abilities. The performers in Into the Darkness have faced this challenge without fear or hesitation, and I am honored to have a part in their creation.
Into the Darkness will be performed November 15-24 at Shakespearean Youth Theatre (550 Vandalia Street, Suite 306, St. Paul, MN 55114). More information can be found here.
For the first I’m creating an in-your-face drag-show tour-de-force for one of our leading ladies: the Troll Queen, played by Leif Jurgensen. It’s a good and tasty challenge for me, as in my own work in the realm of drag, I tend to veer away from the typical drag queen shenanigans. Creating something that would strongly refer to that genre while still feeling fresh and serving Leif’s character was a satisfying exploration, and I think we came up with something that will be a delectable diversion for audiences.
Rehearsal was lots of fun as I got to use some, shall we say, “colorful” language in my coaching that would be wholly inappropriate for any other kind of dance. And Leif brings his own “je ne sais quoi” to it that will surely make it all totally sickening (in a good way, I assure you). And you’ll all be like “fierce bitch werk queen” and all that jazz.
The second dance closes the show, so we knew it would be important to get it just right. Accompanied by the sublime Rachmaninov “Vocalise,” the actors, Kayla Dvorak Feld and Boo Segersin, essentially go from being best friends to falling in love. Realizing the weight of the material, we set aside extra rehearsal time to develop it. To develop the duet, the performers would need to try things out with each other in the space, rather than me coming into the first rehearsal with a set plan for exactly what it would be.
To our surprise, the dance sort of fell into place, largely thanks to Kayla and Boo, who were brave and adventurous. Their actual friendship served the intimacy of the process, and we found moments of subtlety and power that will make for stunning conclusion to what is sure to be a fascinating show.
Into the Darkness will be performed November 15-24 at Shakespearean Youth Theatre (550 Vandalia Street, Suite 306, St. Paul, MN 55114). More information can be found here.
I have been dreaming about creating a piece like Into the Darkness for many years, but I was always too scared to put it out into the universe. It’s taken me longer than I’d ever like to admit for me to find the courage to truly follow my heart (rather than to do what I think I should be doing), and I feel so incredibly grateful that this experience is finally happening (and to have such wonderful collaborators join me for the ride!!!!!!!).
Ever since I can remember, I loved to find strange little abandoned objects and make secret little puppet shows with them, just for my own amusement. The first time it happened I was three or four. I remember waiting for my mom to make some clothing returns at Rosedale Mall (these were the days when they still had large communal ash trays near the entrances, right inside of the mall), and I remember noticing the saddest little cigarette butt (all dirty and tattered) and realizing “That’s Cinderella!” I then noticed two haughty, taller, sleeker, much more “polished” cigarette butts, and quickly decided that they could play the wicked stepsisters. When my mom returned from her clothing returns, she was horrified to see me “playing” with cigarette butts in the communal ashtray (Little did she know it was supposed to be a fabulous Cinderella fairy tale puppet show! Oh, well...).
Years later, I went to graduate school because I thought I was supposed to become a “Serious Director” and direct plays by the “masters” like Shakespeare, Ibsen and Chekhov (emphasis on the air quotes), but no matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t shake away my fascination with puppetry. A few years after grad school, I was finally dipping my toe into puppet waters - this was when Sofia and I worked together for the first time on Collective Unconscious’ production of the sleeping beauty in the wood (which briefly featured a ghoulish puppet incarnation of the central character).
Right after the opening of the sleeping beauty in the wood, I remember leaning over to Sofia and whispering, “What if Collective Unconscious created an original piece with ONLY PUPPETS?!?!” Alas, I kept finding excuses to never make this happen… until now.
When Sofia and I were planning our season last winter, she twisted my arm and convinced me that now, three years after sleeping beauty had wrapped, it was high time that I finally created a full-length puppetry piece for Collective Unconscious. It’s been a deliciously challenging process so far, and I’m so glad that Sofia pushed me off the metaphoric cliff and into the icy artistic waters below.
Over the past couple weeks of rehearsal, I’ve discovered that directing a full-length puppetry piece is 10 times more difficult than directing actors in a play. Why are puppets so difficult to direct, you ask? (They’ll do whatever you say. They don’t talk back to you. They’re always on time to rehearsal. They’re always prepared. You don’t have to pay them. Yes, but…)
For me, directing puppet-theatre is so much more difficult because the level of attention and focus that one has to give to each and every gesture that a puppet makes must be excruciatingly specific (I don’t know how many times I’ve turned to the puppetry movement coach or the assistant director and said “You watch the left side of the stage - I’ll watch the right this time!”). When you’re directing human performers, it’s sometimes possible to “get away” with a lack of moment-to-moment specificity, especially if there’s some thrilling chemistry between two actors or if it’s a kitchen sink play where small, quirky, behavioral gestures are the norm. But in puppet-theatre, every look, every gesture, and every breath with a puppet matters, because every look, gesture, and breath that a puppet makes is under a giant effing microscope.
This process has only reinforced for me the idea that with puppetry, the engaged viewer is forced to watch things more closely and find more personal connections to what’s being presented onstage. Perhaps more than any other art form, puppetry invites the audience to infuse characters and actions with their own meaning. This is likely because audiences have to work harder to decipher and interpret the movements and actions of puppets. This gives the audience a greater role to play - since there are so many possible implications about what a gesture could mean, they have to do greater intellectual work.
So, please - won’t you join us - and share with me, my long-held dream of creating an evening-length puppetry work? What’s more, the ensemble is oh-so-brilliant (seriously, this piece is possible only because of them!!!), and the live music will be gorgeous (there are some delicious ditties from Daniel Bonespur, which are music directed and arranged by company member Sarah Modena).
And, for this intimate event of puppetry and music, each performance can only seat up to 30 audience members maximum, so I encourage you to reserve your tickets while you still can. I look forward to seeing you in the audience this November!
Into the Darkness will be performed November 15-24 at Shakespearean Youth Theatre (550 Vandalia Street, Suite 306, St. Paul, MN 55114). More information can be found here.
We are beyond thrilled to reveal the incredible cast and team for our next production – and rehearsals are less than a week away! We hope that you’ll be able to join us for the performances this coming November. Tickets are now on sale here!
Kayla Dvorak Feld
Director, Adapter, Puppet & Costume Designer: David Hanzal
Composer & Lyricist: Dan Dukich
Musical Director: Sarah Modena
Assistant Director: Leif Jurgensen
Stage Manager: André Johnson Jr.
Choreographer: Justin Leaf
Lighting Designer: Søren Olsen
Sound Designer: Kevin Springer
Animal Puppet Designer: Eva Adderley
Box Office & Stitching: Libby Porter
Outside Eye & Producer: Sofia Lindgren Galloway
Almost exactly one year after the first Maiden Voyage workshop with Collective Unconscious Performance, Sofia returned to SpringHouse Ministry Center in Uptown to workshop a nearly final draft of the script. One year ago, the piece didn’t have a title, playwright, or cast. It was a bunch of women and non-binary folks running around a sanctuary shouting “Ahoy!” and turning old puppets into little glimmers of characters.
Left: Victoria Pyan and Mickaylee Shaughnessy; Right: Morgen Chang and Addision Sharpe
From those devising sessions, Sofia collected video that was passed off to Rachel. Over the next several months, Rachel turned those silly moments into a rollicking nautical adventure that had everyone laughing!
In both photos: Sulia Altenberg, Sofia Lindgren Galloway, Kelly Huang, Erika Kuhn, Ari Newman, Libby Porter, Victoria Pyan, Rachel Teagle, Mickaylee Shaughnessy, and Maria Signorelli
Now, a week later, we are pleased to say that we have a play! Rachel is putting the final touches on the script as we write this. The final draft also means we get to announce the incredible cast for this adventure!
Pictured from left to right. Row 1: Sulia Altenberg, Yvonne Freese, Kelly Huang; Row 2: Erika Kuhn, Sarah Modena, Ari Newman
And, lucky us, we can also announce a few members of the production team.
Pictured from left to right. Row 1: Ryan Lee - Live Music and Sound, E.W. Porter - Costumes, Eva Adderley - Puppets; Row 2: Rachel Teagle - Playwright, Sofia Lindgren Galloway - Director & Co-Producer, David Hanzal - Dramaturg & Co-Producer
Rachel’s play is funny and exciting. The cast is goofy and fierce. The production team is innovative and dedicated. We couldn’t be more thrilled to jump into this project. Thank you to everyone for your support thus far.
Next up, Into the Darkness. Rehearsals begin in just a couple of weeks! Seating is limited so get your tickets soon.
Pictured: Anna Hashizume
Our Associate Artistic Director Sofia Lindgren Galloway writes our newest blog post:
On a sunny Saturday at the beginning of June, I sat down at Empire Coffee and Pastry with Maiden Voyage playwright Rachel Teagle to talk about her process and why we need more adventure stories featuring women. If you’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting Rachel, you know that this conversation was filled with humor and hope. Rachel is bright. Both her spirit and her mind are big, bold, bursts of light and energy. I wish I could include every inspiring word she shared with me but, instead I’ve attempted to narrow her radiant wisdom into the paragraphs below.
The other wonderful thing about this conversation was the fantastic playlist playing at Empire Coffee and Pastry as we spoke. I’ve recreated it and included it here. These feel-good tunes were the perfect background to the morning. I encourage you to listen along as you read. The final track might just be a perfect summary of Rachel’s unique aesthetic.
Playwright Rachel Teagle
Who is Rachel?
SOFIA LINDGREN GALLOWAY: For folks out there who don’t know you, I wanna give them a quick introduction. So, if you had 5 words to describe who you are and what you care about, what would they be?
RACHEL TEAGLE: Playwright, storyteller, rogue, brevity, and women.
SLG: By rogue, is that, like, DnD rogue?
RT: I think more of like, a mischief maker, in terms of being playful. And I think that’s something that’s very important to my work is that there is a bit of a mischievousness to it. I like to invite people in with comedy and then punch them in the face with truth. So, if that’s five words, that’s what they would be.
SLG: Hey, this is an interview with a playwright, not a mathematician. So, whatever 5 words means to you is fine.
RT: Yeah, language is malleable! Hyphens are important.
SLG: Hyphens are important. You have opinions about hyphens.
RT: I do actually have really strong opinions about punctuation. I didn’t realize that until I started really working through things and trying to edit and I realized, “Oh no, this comma is really important.” And then, sometimes I’m wrong. An actor will come around and do it completely differently and not listen to my punctuation. And I’m like, “Oh no, actually, you are correct.” And that’s kind-of the beauty of writing for other people. You surprise yourself and [those actors] make you look better. And you know, my favorite thing to do is to write, and listen to people say it, and listen to people make it better. I didn’t get into theatre to do all the work myself, you know? That’s the joy of inviting all these other brains and bodies into the room, they make something bigger than all of us. And right now, I’m really excited to get the chance to tell so many stories. This is a frickin’ cool year.
SLG: So, lets talk about that. What else are you working on right now?
RT: We’ve got the Maiden Voyage coming up in June, and actually, right now, Sofia and I are sitting in a coffee shop about to go into auditions for our play with Theatre Pro Rata where, once again, Sofia is directing a play that I have written. It is about cockroaches, and the end of the world, and women’s bodily autonomy. And I’m disappointed that it is so relevant, consistently, but I’m also excited to be telling this story right now. And, on my own, I’m working on developing musical. One of my collaborators from Nautilus is taking one of my children’s scripts and musicalizing it. I’m putting it out there in case anybody wants to work on some children’s musicals, send me some development opportunities! Oh, and I’ve got a piece in the Minnesota Fringe, I’m part Danger Vision Productions, it’s called Visitation, it’s about grieving, and I have a scene in that. They’ve tapped five writers, and they have some filmmakers, and they’re making a whole exploration of grief, and mine is super weird. It involves a large, dressed up lawn goose. So, it’s gonna be a trip.
Playwriting and Process
SLG: When did you become interested playwrighting?
RT: I always liked telling stories; writing things, making things up, doing elaborate parody videos in my English classes. But I walked into college convinced I was going to do film. And it wasn’t until I actually got to a setup that involved some more set dressing, and you looked in a camera and it looked like a dressing room, and then you leaned out and realized, “Oh, these are three coats in an empty room!” and it felt like a trick. And then I would watch a play and someone would lift a box and say, “This is a ship!” and it felt like magic. I realized, I don’t want to play tricks, I want to make magic. So, that meant theatre for me.
SLG: Where do you pull inspiration from? Like, for Maiden Voyage, inspiration has come from a lot of strange places. Everything from a Hasidic folk tale to The Odyssey to My Little Pony. Or, for The Ever and After, with Theatre Pro Rata, you’ve got politics and Sci-Fi simultaneously.
RT: I feel like, as a writer, you’re always listening. You always have one ear to the ground to see if something is gonna resonate. And when you find two disparate things that spark something, that’s where you go from. So, it’s finding moments that you carry around and then it’s like, a rock tumbler, you let it roll around for a little bit and then you pick it up and go “Oh, this is actually very shiny, and I would like to put it into something.” And I watch a lot of TV, man. I tend to watch a lot of cartoons, partially because I have a three year old, although, I watched a lot of cartoons before that. But, I like the malleability of the universe and the fact that literally anything is possible. And I like when people stretch the form. I don’t do as much reading as I should. But, I tend to pick up a lot of stories that don’t take place in reality, and think that’s where I tend to find some information. And then I read news stories and thing in that tends to click with things in [cartoons] and that’s where the stories end up coming from.
SLG: What do you think is the benefit of placing contemporary news stories in made-up worlds?
RT: It’s a lot easier to listen when you’re able to have some distance. And you’re able to see different things. If I tell you a story that touches on issues but kind-of, goes around this sideways, Twilight Zone back door, then you realize, you can hear the stories differently, and it kind of sneaks up on you. And, you also get to play with monsters. The monsters that we fight every day are exhausting. But when we fight monsters that feel a little bit more like fairy tales, we’re able to fight better in the real world.
SLG: What stories are missing on stage? Who do we not see enough of.
RT: Women who talk. Non-binary people, at all. I think also, the different kinds of strength is important. You know, finding ways for there to be room for femininity and strength and femininity that’s not just for female people. And, ways to distribute power among folks who don’t look like those in power. I know for me, there’s a caricature of me in my mother’s house where I’m reading a book that says adventure along the side. The artist asked me what I like to do and I said, “read.” So, they said what do you like to read and I said, “Adventure Books!” Those are all books with male protagonists and male stories. And at that point in my life it was really important that I wasn’t like other girls, and there was a time when all the stories I told were about boy people. Looking back, I just want to hug my 12 year old self and say “Girl, you can be you, and you don’t have to escape into male people to have adventures.” But, the more stories that are out there, the less we have to conform to one story or another.
SLG: Yeah, I remember, specifically in 5th grade and into middle school, I was really into the Artemis Fowl and Pendragon books which are magical, fantasy, adventure stories with male protagonists. And, the only other kids at my school reading those books were super nerdy, video game playing boys. But, I wasn’t a super nerdy video game playing boy. And, I don’t think I ever read Babysitters' Club, or some of those “teen girl books” and it was really alienating. Like, what stories are for me? I think I found the Chronicles of Narnia came close, because they had more than one protagonist story.
RT: Well, I think that notion of splitting the protagonist journey is really rich and interesting because we’re not all gonna be King Arthur. And to pretend that you’re only worthwhile if you’re Kind Arthur, that’s a really upsetting thing to put into people’s hearts. But making sure there are adventures that have cooperation, that have stories you can solve with someone else, and it’s okay to reach out for help, and it’s still a victory if you do it with other people. And that’s part of what we’re doing with Maiden Voyage. We’re trying to find a way to make a new protagonist who can ask for help.
SLG: So, why do we tell stories?
RT: I think its partially to shape the way you interact with the world and to project a better tomorrow on it. I think telling a story that connects you to your childhood self and all the hope, and the fears, and the joy, and the potential that you had, remind you that you still have potential today. And I’m so excited to play, and to tap into this magical sea voyage with everybody.
SLG: Me too.
6/5/2019 0 Comments
Six years ago, I had just wrapped up my MFA degree at the University of Iowa. Upon moving back to Minneapolis, I was quickly snatched up to teach on the faculty of a local university theatre program. During my summer orientation, the chair of the theatre program introduced me to four students who were entering the program that coming fall. One of those students turned out to be Sarah Modena! Immediately, Sarah and I clicked, and in the two years that I was on faculty, we collaborated on multiple productions and projects. I still remember the day that Sarah came in to audition for my 2014 production of Rat’s Tales. It was here that Sarah sang for me for the first time, and I still remember the chills-up-my-spine-feeling and just being completely gobsmacked by her pure, gorgeous singing voice. When I founded Collective Unconscious, I knew that I wanted Sarah involved in our work, and I’ve enjoyed the evolution of our professional collaboration. With each new Collective Unconscious production, I’ve tried to find new ways to continually challenge Sarah. With our fall production of Into the Darkness, Sarah will be taking on multiple new roles--singing, playing the piano, and music directing. Earlier this week, I sat down with Sarah to chat about her new roles for this production, and the process of workshopping the songs with composer-lyricist Dan Dukich this past May. Here is an excerpt from our conversation together...
DAVID HANZAL: Can you tell me about the first time that you heard music that deeply affected you?
SARAH MODENA: I heard music a lot in church growing up. It was the same kind of sound all of the time, but it was really pretty. The first time, though, that music really affected me was watching The Nutcracker. Tchaikovsky’s music was so dramatic and conveyed so many emotions--I didn't realize that instruments could sound like that!
DH: When did you start making music yourself?
SM: There are lots of videos of me as a little kid constantly banging on the piano and singing. My parents had me start taking piano lessons when I was six, and I kept on studying through high school. Growing up, I also studied viola, guitar, hand bells, and organ. Church was also a big influence and something that I was really highly involved in all through high school. I was in church choir all growing up.
DH: When did you start studying voice?
SM: When I was fifteen, I began attending North Hennepin Community College and I auditioned for chamber choir. I don’t think my voice was well developed or particularly good, but Karla Miller [the director] liked me and she could tell I had an ear for music and harmonies. From then on, I started taking other voice classes and acting in musicals. Eventually, I transferred to Minnesota State University Moorhead for a year. It was there that my teachers started talking to me about pursuing operatic training, due to the quality and color of my voice. They told me that I needed to really kick it into gear and get into a conservatory before I got too old. Even though opera might have been something I could have been really successful at, I was more passionate about theatre so I didn’t pursue opera beyond a few years of private voice lessons with Judy Bender.
DH: You’ve performed in every Collective Unconscious production since our inception. Into the Darkness will be unique in that for the first time you won’t be playing a character onstage, and instead you’ll be wearing several other hats--singer, pianist, and music director. In these new roles, what has been the biggest challenge so far?
SM: Learning--and helping notate--Dan [Dukich]’s songs. I love Dan’s songs--they are poetic and ethereal, and the melodies are soaring and beautiful. But while Dan’s music is really beautiful, it’s also really hard. He doesn’t take shortcuts or write in easy keys There are lots of sudden key changes and time signature changes, as well as vocal harmonies that you can’t learn by ear.
DH: Dan is a very experienced singer-songwriter and sound designer, but I believe Into the Darkness is the first time that other people are singing and playing his music without him. Because of this, we had to spend time notating everything for you and the other musicians. I noticed that during the May workshop that you worked very closely with Dan in notating the vocal music, as well as the piano accompaniment. What was that process like for you?
SM: Initially, I thought I could just listen to Dan’s demo recordings and that I’d be able to pick it up by ear from the basic chord structure. It wasn’t like that at all because his music is very specific and complicated. It turned out that we actually had to notate every single note, and we had to painstakingly go measure by measure to make sure it was exactly correct. Dan had partially notated some of the songs in a way that made sense to him, but he didn’t always know how to put his vision on to the paper--but he always knew what he wanted it to sound like. I had to fill in the rhythms for him, which is hard when the time signature is constantly changing. During the workshop, we worked hand in hand--I would often sing or play options, and he would say yes or no, and then we would transcribe that down on the paper so that it would make sense to another singer.
DH: Over the past four years, you’ve been very closely involved with all of Collective Unconscious’ work, and you’re considered one of our “Core Collaborators.” What is it like being a member of a company, versus a one-off collaborator?
SM: I enjoy both kinds of experiences. As a company member, I enjoy the rapport, trust, and shorthand that we can have. Something that I particularly value about working with Collective Unconscious is the importance of people’s energies and what they bring into the room that’s not just raw talent--kindness and a willingness to be on a team is valued as much as training and a good work ethic. It makes the rehearsal process a lot more enjoyable as an actor, and I can’t wait to see how it will be as a music director!
To support artists like Sarah working on our upcoming fall production of Into the Darkness, please consider making a tax-deductible gift on our GiveMN page here. Thank you for your support!
I first saw Dan Dukich onstage in Open Eye Figure Theatre’s delicious production of Elijah’s Wake in fall 2009, and I was immediately smitten by his commanding stage presence and quirky sensibilities. In January 2010, I had become fast friends with artist Laura Lechner, who just so happened to be roommates with Dan. While Laura and I devised puppet shows out of her living room, I tried not to fangirl out when I would overhear Dan writing music from his upstairs bedroom just above us. As he’s developed as a musician over the past decade (now going by the moniker Daniel Bonsepur), I’ve kept close tabs on him and his career (my favorite album of his is Daniel’s in Love, which you can listen to in full here). Over the years, I’ve frequently worked with Dan as a sound designer, but I’ve never had the opportunity to closely collaborate with him as a composer. When Sofia and I decided to curate an evening of phantasmagorical fairy tale puppet shows that riffed on the transformational power of love for our fall 2019 production (entitled Into the Darkness), I immediately knew that I wanted Dan to create original music and lyrics for us. Before the script was fully “on the page,” Sofia and I commissioned Dan to write a “concept album” of sorts that I would then interweave into our eventual script. I gave Dan copies of the two tales that I wanted to adapt, a very early proto-draft of the script that I had written, and some inspirational source material. From there, Dan has been pecking away at seven original songs for the past several months, which culminated in a development workshop earlier this month. I recently sat down with Dan to chat about his musical history and his songwriting process. Here’s an excerpt from that conversation...
Composer-lyricist Dan Dukich sips coffee while donning his favorite musical theatre memorabilia.
DAVID HANZAL: What’s your first memory of learning to play a musical instrument?
DAN DUKICH: My grandparents had this old piano from the 1930s that had real ivory keys--it was a gorgeous antique pianette--but my brother had bashed in the keys with a baseball bat. I remember playing the piano and cutting my fingers on the broken, jagged ivory.
DH: How old were you at this point?
DD: I think I was thirteen. Around that time I took one year of piano lessons with this elderly woman named Molly. She was a very beautiful, sweet person. We would basically hang out and play music in her cottage once a week. It was totally not at all a strict, regimented process. After that, I learned how to play the guitar. That was better because I could just be in my room by myself. I would listen to music and play along with songs that I liked.
DH: You mean you taught yourself to play the guitar by ear?
DD: Yes. I would listen to music and try to play what I thought should have been in the song--not trying to play with what is recorded but trying to add what I would have done had I been there on the day of the recording.
DH: At that time, what kind of music were you listening to?
DD: I really liked REM as a kid. I didn’t quite understand what I was listening to. It was opaque and oblique and open. I didn’t understand the words and I liked that. But there was still some kind of logic to it; it wasn’t complete nonsense. In high school I was also in a band with my friend John, and we grew up playing music together and learning about music together.
DH: When did you start writing music as a solo artist?
DD: Right out of college. After my friend John moved to South Dakota, our band Gladiola became a solo thing and I recorded an album of my own. Then I moved to the moniker of Daniel Bonespur.
DH: How did you make the transition of writing music for theatre?
DD: I was always doing theatre and music, but separately--I didn’t see how they could overlap at first. Now, the music that I make for theatre more and more gets turned into the songs that I write and record on my albums.
DH: I’m always fascinated when I learn about different writers’ processes. For example, Fiona Apple is a wordsmith and will collect new words or phrases, and then after months of things spinning around in her head will sit down at a piano and write a new song in 45 minutes; whereas, Stephen Sondheim will fill up a thimble full of vodka and sip it while he lies on his couch and starts writing a song right away (re-filling his thimble full of vodka whenever it goes empty, as a means of gently letting go of his inhibitions). What’s your songwriting process?
DD: Maybe a combination of both? There’s some thimbles involved and some gathered lines and words. I’ve recently been on a thing of starting at the end of the song and working my way to the beginning. Like, with the song “Where All Eyes Can See” [to be featured in this fall’s Into the Darkness] that started with the title and then I had to work my way to the beginning.
DH: What was the process like writing songs for Into the Darkness?
DD: This was a unique process in that it lined up very cosmically with my own life. [One of the tales within Into the Darkness concerns a princess who loses her vision while she is in the midst of questioning if love exists in the world.] I found a personal connection to this princess. I am blind in my left eye right now, and I’m also in a place of pondering the transformational powers of love; specifically, being out of love. I had to find the inner logic that I needed for myself to form the point-of-view for this character. Before I could write the melody, lyrics, or chords, I had to first understand that inner logic. I had never done that so intensely before.
DH: What was the biggest challenge for you?
DD: I don’t usually write the songs before the play exists. That was a challenge--having such a great freedom. You often hear the classical thing--having restrictions and limitations can open up choices. Not having those limitations, it was hard to know which choices would fit well in the structure of the whole piece. Once I came to the understanding that the songs were like a concept album, it was a lot easier to let go of the intellectual understanding of how the songs would work in a theatrical plot with characters. Also, practically speaking, learning how time works was also a challenge. You can think on something, and think on something, and think on something, and it’s just with you all day every day for many days, and then it all comes out in the thirteenth hour. I learned to appreciate being in that head space and have songs be with me all day while walking through the world.
DH: Why should audiences come see Into the Darkness this fall?
DD: They will get to see a performance that is not only beautiful and dreamy, but is also critical of some of the oppressive systems in the world. Hopefully, this piece will inspire people to create a better world to live in.
DH: What’s your next adventure, now that you’ve finished writing the bulk of the songs for Into the Darkness?
DD: I’m developing a new play with Lisa Channer and Savannah Reich called Denim. We had a workshop of that with a group of students last fall, and we will continue to workshop the project again this coming summer. I’m also going to start recording another album this summer as well.
To keep up to date with Dan and his music, you can follow him here. And, to support artists like Dan working on our upcoming fall production of Into the Darkness, please consider making a tax-deductible gift on our GiveMN page here. Thank you for your support!
Our 2019-2020 season is here, and we’re pleased as punch! In our fifth year of creating original performance works in the Twin Cities, we are delighted to unveil not only a new logo but also THREE brand spanking new productions in-the-works.
Into the Darkness
A new music-theatre piece based on forgotten fairy tales about the transformational power of love, with original songs composed by
singer-songwriter Daniel Dukich. Directed by David Hanzal, this production will be performed November 15-24, 2019 at Studio 306 in the Vandalia Tower.
A new ensemble-driven play about women pirates written by Rachel Teagle and directed by Sofia Lindgren Galloway,
created in collaboration with the ensemble. This production will tour the Twin Cities metro area in May 2020, with SpringHouse Ministry as its home base.
An intimate toy theatre spectacle for intergenerational audiences, loosely based on the fairy tale “Thumbelina.”
Directed by David Hanzal, this puppet theatre production will tour the state of Minnesota in summer 2020.
We hope that you’ll be able to contribute to our upcoming season on our GiveMN page.
Your gift - large or small - makes a tremendous impact.
Thank you for your support this season, and we’ll be sure to keep you updated with all that we have planned for the year ahead!
David Hanzal & Sofia Lindgren Galloway
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