The Pick: Artistic Director Andrew Vaught's influences for 'The Cradle Will Rock'
You love an artist and you love their work -- whether that be a set of paintings, a record, or writings -- so naturally you want to know about the art, the music, the plays and publications that have inspired their own work. "The Pick" is NolaVie's reconceptualized take on a guest music mix tape, featuring artists and makers of all sorts and the creative products within their own field that have influenced their work.
This Friday, August 7, Cripple Creek Theater -- a New Orleans-based not-for-profit performance organization that produces dramatic works of cultural, historical, and political relevance in order to provoke the general public into social action -- presents a reproduction of Marc Blitzstein's 1937 American opera "The Cradle Will Rock," tickets for which are available for free to the public. The ten-act musical play -- which was originally written as part of the Federal Theatre Project, but shut down because of its pro-Union message --traces a union strike in fictitious Steeltown, USA. The production's director and Artistic Director and co-founder of Cripple Creek Theater, Andrew Vaught, shares some of the theatrical, musical and visual influences that helped shape this iteration of "The Cradle Will Rock."
Orson Welles and the Mercury Theatre on the Air, War of the Worlds: Welles, the original director of The Cradle Will Rock in 1937, pretty much scared the hell out of the country the next year with this audio adaptation of H.G Wells' famous novel. There is a straightforward reporting quality to the broadcast, similar to Cradle's didactic and presentational form. But Welles and his company maintain a sense of simplicity and fun throughout the whole broadcast. There's a great mixture of experimentation, showmanship and dread in this recording that makes for a unique and captivating experience.
Threepenny Opera, by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill: Cripple Creek had the pleasure of co-producing this show with Dennis Monn and the Allways lounge a few years back and it was one of my favorite productions I've ever been a part of. Blitzstein drew a great deal of inspiration from this musical and from its authors. Cradle is, in many ways, a more idealistic Threepenny (Brecht and Weil's 1928 musical play, originally written in German, that offers a Socialist critique of the capitalist world).
Both works deal with the problems that beset society, but where Threepenny dives full into the muck and chooses its good to stay there, Cradle seeks to find a form of expression that will send the soul soaring. Both are great works and welcome contradictions to typical musical fare.
1776 by Sherman Edwards and Peter Stone: Despite the high ideals and lofty composition of Cradle, at its heart, it is a musical intended to bring joy to the people seeing it. This musical mixes (original) American values with an irascible and hilarious spirit; this keeps the subject and the occasional maudlin lyric from becoming textbook or cloying.
In that same vain, Cradle is an old show with whiskers and one of our jobs as a company is to maintain as many avenues for understanding, engagement and enjoyment as possible.
Teatro Campesino: Founded by Luis Valdez in 1965 as the cultural arm of United Farm Worker's Union, theatrical troupe Teatro Campesino combined Commedia Del Arte, religious drama, folk humor and Aztec and Mayan ritual drama to create an original, wholly specific form of theatre. Addressing the concerns of a the troupe's audience (migrant farmworkers) and evolving a method of performance unique to this audience, Campesino voiced the concerns of the migrant worker community and created an avenue within which these workers' concerns could be rendered into a life both farcical and true.
We've taken much inspiration from this troupe for the implementation of their politics and their hybrid style of performance.
Ten Thousand Things: CCTC has taken an enormous amount of inspiration from this Minneapolis theatre company. Employing extremely diverse casts, Ten Thousand Things brings classical performance and poignant stories to communities (for instance, prisons, homeless shelters) that don't normally get it. Their performances feature a stripped-down, modern aesthetic, which we have politely aped in many ways for Cradle. Additionally, Ten Thousand Things has cultivated a community of supporters who not only support the work, but also believe that everyone should have access to seeing it.
The Rock WWF/WWE: The hero of The Cradle Will Rock, Larry Foreman, is a larger-than-life loud mouth capable of inspiring multitudes to action. In exploring inspiration for the character's mannerisms and crowd working panache, wrestling entertainment company WWE (formally WWF) came immediately to mind. While we, as theatre makers, like to look to lofty and progressive styles, it is always wise to remember the extraordinarily talented and popular individuals who make up this extremely popular art form.
Speaking as a former wrestling enthusiast, I can honestly say that the greates wrestler to ever speak into the mic was Dwayne Jonson, aka the Rock. He is big, loud, vulgar, crass and unfiltered. Exactly what we want to see when we need to get riled up.
Hallie Flanagan and The Federal Theatre: Cripple Creek has been interested in the Federal Theatre since our founding in 2006. The Federal Theatre sparked a mass theatrical movement towards producing works that address, confront and seek to generate social change. We've previously drawn from the Federal Theatre with Revolt of the Beavers (which Cripple Creek produced this past March at Stein's Deli & Market) and now with The Cradle Will Rock.
American theater producer, director and playwright, as well as director of The Federal Theatre Project Hallie Flanagan once explained the necessity of this new breed of theatre:
"Our Federal Theatre, born of an economic need, built by and for people who have faced terrific privation, cannot content itself with easy, pretty or insignificant plays. We are not being given millions of dollars to repeat, however expertly, the type of plays which landed 10,000 theatre people on relief rolls. By a stroke of fortune unprecedented in dramatic history, we have been given a chance to help change America at a time when twenty million unemployed Americans proved it needed changing. And the theatre, when it is any good, can change things. The theatre can quicken, start things, make things happen. Don’t be afraid when people tell you this is a play of protest. Of course it’s protest, protest against dirt, disease, human misery. If, in giving great plays of the past as greatly as we can give them, and if, in making people laugh, which we certainly want to do, we can’t also protest—as Harry Hopkins is protesting and as President Roosevelt is protesting—against some of the evils of this country of ours, then we do not deserve the chance put into our hands. . ."
Diego Rivera, Man at the Crossroads: Much of the theatrical work produced in the 1930's bore a sweeping muralistic quality; Cradle is no different. One thing we have contended with in this process has been to present the multiplicity of action, with events occurring in front, within and around the audience.
Examining the work of Diego Rivera was extremely helpful, seeing how he pulls focus to various areas of his work and how he uses anachronism and specialized perspective to tell a global story progress and change. Blitzstein does a similar trick with his swirling mass of music, employing atonal piano notess, operatic voices, and unusual time changes to direct an audience, and a cast, towards a surprisingly populist style of entertainment.
Woody Guthrie, This Land is Your Land: Throughout his life, Blitzstein sought to create an American form of opera, one that could simultaneously adhere to classical discipline and reach a mass audience. Cradle is as close as he got. Sometimes though, simplicity is needed. Here is the unofficial National Anthem by Woody Guthrie who once said, "Anything more than three chords is just showing off.
The Cradle Will Rock will run from Friday, August 7 through Sunday, August 23 at The Marigny Opera House (725 St. Ferdinand Street), each Friday through Sunday at 8 p.m. each day. Reserve free tickets here.
Chelsea Lee is managing editor at NolaVie. Email comments to her at [email protected]