Musical theatre is one of the most collaborative art forms. So what happens when theatre artists work without a net? When twelve artists of wildly different backgrounds start to work on a musical with noscript, no score, and only a set of short stories by a relatively obscure Russian satirist as their starting point? What happens when the usual constraints of theatre production – the boundaries usually set by the authors’ or director’s vision – are taken off?
Talk Is Free Theatre is premiering a new musical, Scenes from the Bathhouse. In creating this work, a company of actors collectively improvised the book of a musical, working with the composer & lyricist team together in real time.
The team drew their inspiration from Mikhail Zoschenko’s (1895 – 1958) comical short stories, which dwelt on the mundane and somewhat absurd problems of the day, but occasionally skirted forbidden political topics. These stories appeared in daily newspapers and were read by millions in the Soviet Union during the 1920’s and 30’s, making Zoschenko the most widely read satirist of the 20th Century.
Zoschenko’s writing career and personal life story are eerily reminiscent of reports emerging from present -day Russia in terms of speech repression. Although hugely popular for several decades, at the end of World War II Russian dictator Joseph Stalin came to believe that his ambiguous satires were dangerous for Soviet readers and a potential threat to the regime. “Zoshchenko came under harsh criticisms from the highest levels of the Soviet state. Public ostracism and persecution broke his will to write, since he believed that his task as a satirist and proponent of rationalism was to educate Soviet readers…. Unable to understand why he was targeted, and unable to reconcile the gulf between his earlier popularity and the official condemnation, Zoshchenko struggled to regain his name, with little success.1”
“ In spite of their melancholy leitmotif when read in succession, all of Zoshchenkos stories are very humorous….Nearly all of the stories are written in a slightly spruced up version of common street language. Almost none of the characters are admirable, although Zoshchenko refrains from any true moral judgement of their character. He is, and rightly so, more concerned with the circumstance that surrounds them.” The stories are “down to earth and sincerely sad snap shots of urban life where families occupy bathrooms and priests, who themselves aren’t sure of their faith, listen to the confessions of others..”2
Never a company to shy away from innovative theatrical concepts or serious philosophical content, Talk is Free Theatre relishes the challenge of developing a new musical in a totally unique manner. This is what makes all their productions worth seeing. “Although our approach to this musical’s creation removed the conventional role of a writer, we believe that this process helped unify all of the creative elements in a collaborative, integrated fashion, instead of having the musical pass through several hands in a typically long period of development”, says Artistic Producer Arkady Spivak. “We feel that this new process was important to be reminded that musical theatre is, at its core, a collaborative art form that has an obligation to explore serious things”.
Scenes from the Bathhouse stars Adrian Marchuk (Frankie Valli in Toronto’s Jersey Boys), Shannon Taylor(National Arts Centre, Theatre Calgary), John-Michael Scapin (finalist of Triple Sensationsin its inaugural season), long time TIFT ensemble member Milosh Rodic, Alex Dvorakand Leanne Miller.
The score is written by Colleen Dauncey (music) and Akiva Romer-Segal (lyrics). Direction is by Aleksandar Lukac (The Inspector General, The Tale of Ivan vs. Ivan), Sets and Costumes are designed by Katherine Salnek and Lighting Designer is Sandra Marcroft. Assistant Director is David Dodsley.
Scenes from the Bathhouse runs at the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts
1 Dunlop St. West in Barrie.
The preview is May 23, and thereafter runs on May 24 and to June 1
(Wednesday to Saturday at 8pm and Saturday, June 1 at 2pm).
Tickets are $33 plus HST and service fee, available at www.tift.ca
Call: (705) 792-1949
or in person at the Mady Centre for the Performing Arts.
1 Tatyana Klevantseva for RT (russiapedia.rt.com)