Play to focus on improvised music

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Photo by Sara Miller.

While most plays are entirely scripted, an upcoming undergraduate production will have much of its content created on the spot.

“Household,” written by Jaime Sunwoo ’14 and Austin Jung ’14, opens this Friday in the Davenport Auditorium. The main characters are four objects: a blender, a vacuum, a curtain and a lamp. The actors will depict these characters’ interactions through a combination of choreographed movements, and four undergraduate musicians will play live improvised music in place of spoken dialogue. Sunwoo said the ensemble of musicians play a key role in shaping the play’s plot and characters, noting that it is uncommon for musicians to have this much artistic control over a theatrical production.

“Musicians are usually in the background of theater performances, but here they are very much a part of the characters,” Sunwoo said.

Gabe Acheson ’16, the show’s musical director, explained that each of the four objects represents a general personality type. For example, the blender embodies the characteristics of a young boy who recklessly throws props around the stage. Sunwoo said the storyline focuses on the conflicts that arise between the characters, who are unable to empathize with each other due to their differences. She added that each character normally behaves as if it inhabits its own world, oblivious to the others.

The blender, vacuum, curtain and lamp will be represented aurally by the bass clarinet, electric bass, alto saxophone and flute, respectively. Acheson said that aside from giving a few general suggestions on when musicians should create a harmonious or discordant sound to better match the characters’ moments of synergy and conflict, he has given the musicians complete artistic control over their parts.

He noted that while none of the four musicians have ever improvised music to choreographed movement, all of them have a considerable amount of general experience with improvisational music.

The only vocal element in the play will be a prerecorded musical part sung by a group of three sopranos: Mary Kleshefsky ’14, Shivani Bhatt MED ’21 Sylvia Rae Leith ’16. Jung, who wrote the lyrics, said the vocal parts of the production were inspired by ancient Greek plays, which usually featured choruses that served as a contrast to the actors.

Sunwoo said that while Jung wrote the text for the vocal parts, she let the play’s musical composer, Gideon Broshy ’17, decide how the words would be sung. Broshy said the vocal parts he composed are meant to sound harmonious and serene, noting that he wanted to create a contrast between these parts and the improvised instrumental music.

Sunwoo said that rather than simply acting like the objects they portray, the actors will wear costumes that physically resemble the characters, noting that building these costumes was difficult. Acheson said he believes that given the characters’ physical appearance, the lack of dialogue between them makes the play seem more realistic to audience members.

“I feel that the audience would not believe a talking vacuum or a talking lamp,” Acheson said. “Seeing these objects move around on stage makes the play more compelling.”

Sunwoo and Jung said they needed to overcome many technical and logistical challenges throughout the playwriting process, particularly in designing the characters. Sunwoo said she and Jung wanted each character to perform its function on the stage, noting that one of the original characters was a sink that was ultimately replaced with a different household object due to the difficulties of bringing water dispensers such as hoses on stage. She added that she initially designed the character of the vacuum to have a functioning mini-vacuum inside the costume, but had to eliminate that feature due to safety regulations concerning electrical cords in performances.

“Most of the changes we have made to the play were due to costume limitations,” Sunwoo said.

The last performance of “Household” will take place on March 1.

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