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CHAW Production of A Midsummers Night's Musical: An Interview with the Music Composer and Director

July 19, 2017
It was such a pleasure getting to sit down with Music Writer and Director, Barbara Schelstrate and Director/Adaptor, Lise Bruneau. These two wonderful creators, actors, muscians, and humble individuals have created true magic in this adaptation of "A Midsummer Night's Musical." Through honest admiration and full artistic trust in each other, the combination of two creative minds, mixed with the classic spirit of Shakespear, makes for an especially brilliant show! Enjoy!

How did you two meet?

LISE: It was the first show, which was, The Pirates of Penzance, right?

BARBARA: Yes, it was 5 years ago. So I had been music directing the annual Gilbert & Sullivan shows for Jill. We were without a director because the man we had been using moved to Philadelphia. And Jill knew of Lise because Lise’s company Taffety Punk is the resident theater company here. By the time we were able to snag her, though, we had already had auditions, so she got a show where she hadn’t even seen or chosen the actors, and did great!

As artists, what drew you to CHAW?

LISE: CHAW is the best thing going. It’s a community, an arts organization dedicated to teaching and developing people’s artistic skill. It is straightforward, friendly, homey, and inexpensive. CHAW is fantastic and the art it produces is high quality. It trains musicians, it trains actors, it trains artists, and it trains dancers and CHAW is really just the best.

BARBARA: It’s also a place that is willing to take a risk on new creations… like A Midsummer Night’s Musical. How wonderful is that!

What is the relevance of CHAW in the 21st century?

BARBARA: The arts are so important. You can’t be a smart, well educated person without having art in your life somehow. Being able to appreciate it is important, and one of the ways of appreciating it is to try to learn it yourself, which is so much of what happens here.

LISE: One of the things that is amazing about art is the circle it creates. I feel like artistic expression is a human need as one of the ways that humans learn what it is like to be human is through someone else’s artistic expression of humanity. Through looking at another person’s art, others can experience what it’s like to be human from another point of view and be reminded of how we’re all linked and how we’re all different. Especially now, I think it’s important to see the world from other people’s perspectives as much as possible.

Can you tell us something about your individual backgrounds? Did you start off working as an artist?

LISE: I did! It was very important to my father to have his children follow their dreams. When I discovered theatre and wanted to do it as a profession, he backed me 100% of the way. I ended up going to London to the Royal Academy of  Dramatic Arts and stayed there for 4 years. When I came home, I entered into a career as a regional artist and was fortunate to be employed most of the time.

BARBARA: I started piano lessons when I was 7 and sang in the children’s choir as well, and Madrigal Singers in high school and so on. When I went to college, I didn’t know what to major in. At that time, you were supposed to know what you were going to do afterwards to make a living, but I didn’t. I just knew I wanted to take music classes. When I learned that I could double major, I decided to major in music theory/literature and piano.  It’s really just – I don’t think I could do anything else.

How would you describe the way you two work together?

LISE: I don’t think that I’ve worked with anybody that I respect as much. I trust her so completely that I just throw the ball at her and I know that she’s going to take care of what needs to be taken care of. We both have the same goal, to make the best show possible. It feels direct, straightforward, and easy. Really easy.

BARBARA: Yes, me too. I trust Lise so much and she just has these terrific ideas. I especially trust her when she offers suggestions and though it may be a change to what I was imagining in the music, but it always works out much better. It’s great when you’re working with someone who you think is just terrific!

 

What were the challenges of putting on this musical?

LISE: The lack of rehearsal time. So instead of doing a full-blown production, we had to pare it down a little. [Barbara and I] are used to doing things that are a little more fleshed out and fully formed. We’re getting a full production both musically and theatrically, but it just won’t have full costumes, full set, and things like that. But Barbara is working on a simple but full orchestration with a stand up bass, a flute, and a piano and I think it’s going to sound fantastic.

BARBARA: But this is a black box and you can do all kinds of things in a black box. I had already written some music for this show, because a church in Arlington did a smaller version. [The musical] only had 10-11 pieces and the script had to be modified. The challenge of this musical was how I had to write more music, especially for one of the characters, Puck who is this mischievous fairy.

 

Have you had any previous experience with Midsummer’s Night?

LISE: I played Titiana at the Old Globe in San Diego in 2006. But my very first Shakespeare play was when I played Moth at 18 years old. I learned a lot from that production that has been incorporated into this musical.

BARBARA: The only experience I have had with A Midsummer Night’s Dream was in 2011 at the Arlington Unitarian Church. Originally, we were going to perform West Side Story, but because a regional theatre decided to put it on, we lost the rights for it. So the director suggested Shakespeare and we eventually chose Midsummer.  At that point I had four months to write music for it, and I was able to get 10 or 11 pieces done. As a musical, it was pretty slim, so I’m thrilled to have this opportunity to flesh it out! 

Why should people come to see it?

LISE: The music. It’s so beautiful and great!

BARBARA: The play is not too bad either. I mean, it’s Shakespeare!

LISE: There is a scene with the craftsmen putting on a play  that Barbara has written a whole score for, and it has a lot of mishaps and is an absolute delight. That scene is the end of the play and so the show definitely ends with a bang!

 

Will children of all ages enjoy it?

BARBARA: Yes! A Midsummer’s Night Musical is very fun!

LISE: The show is not geared towards super small children, but there is plenty of music, humor, and fun. It’s not terrifically complex and there’s lots of slapstick.

Come see A Midsummer’s Night Musical at 7:30 PM on August 3-5 and August 10-12 or at 3:00 PM on August 5 and 12! To order tickets, call (202)-547-6839 or email cgreen@chaw.org.  

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