The casting of Iphigenia would be problematic because Doug Dyer, the director, and I had decided that only three people could speak in the piece – Agamemnon, played by Manu Topou who had played the king in the movie “Hawaii” that at the time was so popular, Clytemnestra, played by Madge Sinclair, who you might remember from long-running stint in the 1980s as nurse Ernestine Shoop on the series Trapper John, M.D. opposite Pernell Roberts. She received three Emmy nominations for her work on that show, or perhaps in 1988, she played Queen Aoleon opposite James Earl Jones‘ King Jaffe Joffer in the Eddie Murphy comedy Coming to America. Achilles was first played by a young Tommy Lee Jones.
All three were classically trained actors, perfect for the roles and would not sing in the show, but would handle the minimal Euripidean dialogue with aplomb.
The tough casting choice, however, was Iphigenia. She would have to be a young, beautiful rock/pop/folk singer with powerful acting chops and she would have minimal dialogue, but a tremendous role to sing. And we wanted a real authentic rock n’ roller – not some theater chick who thought she was hip enough to do it. We also needed to cast 12 ladies in waiting to be the Greek chorus.
We saw some wonderful talent. In that day everyone wanted to work at The Public, so the turnout was fantastic. We easily cast our Greek chorus with 12 of the top twenty-something ladies in NYC. I was absolutely thrilled with the potential of that chorus and could not wait to get into rehearsal.
But we could not find our Iphigenia.
Finally Joe Papp told us to go into rehearsal without our leading lady for he suspected that she would emerge in the course of our rehearsals from our wondrous chorus. When Joe said it; you did it, and so that’s what we did.
In the first week of rehearsals I taught only the music. At the end of each day Doug, Joe and I would meet and discuss our leading candidate for our starring role based on who had been our favorite that day. And at the end of each day we had a different choice. By the end of the week we were no further in casting our lead than we were on the first day of rehearsal. Then Joe had a fascinating idea.
“Let’s make ‘em all Iphigenia! They can all play her at once – each one a different aspect of her personality.” Remember that Joe loved experimental theater and that was also Doug’s root. Also it was an idea of the times. Joe had already directed a much talked about Naked Hamlet, so this would not be too far out there.
It was a bold, far-left-of-center choice, but it worked. And of course our chorus girls thought it was great. They had each gone from a chorus contract to a leading role in this most talked about production.
Looking back, it was a crazy choice, but the kind of choice one could make in the 70s and at The Public. Today it would be much more difficult because of money. Things have to be safer today because things cost so much and consequently the great adventure of the theater has somehow diminished in my mind.
Anyway, Doug and I worked like dogs night and day the next week to reshape the work towards this new idea. After just 4 weeks rehearsal, we performed a staged reading of the work in workshop fashion – no costumes, no lights, no set, no band – just me and my guitar – in front of a small invited audience of about a hundred people.
The audience went absolutely nuts. They stood and cheered and then stayed for 2 hours afterwards to talk about it. Seeing their reaction, Joe decided that instead of doing this one performance we should do six and quickly got the word out. That next night we had another full house and people begging to get in. The NY word of mouth was rampant. We ended up running the workshop for three weeks — no costumes, no lights, no set, no band – just me and my guitar – and that fabulous cast!
At certain points we wondered if we should just keep it that way – it certainly was economical. But as we watched the show each night and continued to tinker and make small changes, we began to learn more and more about the power of our show.
Also it was short – only one act really and that act ran for an hour. In yet another meeting with Joe it was decided that we should end the workshop and go back to work with the writing and figure out a way of lengthening it.
Taurus was Euripides’ first play, written when he was a teenager. Aulis was one of his last, written when he had attained his mastery of drama. Aulis was a work of art. Taurus was the work of a beginner.
Long story short: Our second act – Iphigenia in Taurus – never worked. Everybody loved the music and the women, but the play went nowhere because the original work went nowhere. Over the next year as we work-shopped the show a number of times, we found this out and eventually it was decided to throw the play out in the second act and just let the girls sing the songs from Taurus in the second act in modern dress. We called the second act Iphigenia In Concert.
Our first act, Iphigenia In Aulis, continued to get stronger and stronger and provided us with a tremendous musical theater experience in the first act and then the girls would come back in the second act and rip the roof off The Public in what was essentially a rock concert.
Joe knew that because it was so experimental, it was a show that needed a lot of time to develop and in those good ol’ days he had the time and the money to do just that. In yet another meeting it was decided that we needed to go out of town and just play the latest rendition for a while – a month or two. Sometimes shows need to settle in and get played without all the constant changes every night. It needed to age like a fine wine. So he said he would find a theater somewhere to play it through the summer.
By this time we were in costumes with simple set and I had put together a 5 piece band to accompany – a rock band from Louisiana called Goatleg and to this band of rockers, we added a marvelous classical NY cellist named Fred Sherry who added a tremendous classicism to the music. At that point I withdrew as the musician and that allowed me to focus more on my compositional work.
Then Joe dropped the next bomb. He announced that he had secured a two-month run at London’s famous experimental theater, the Young Vic that was part of The Old Vic, London’s most famous theater and whose director was Sir Laurence Olivier.
We would all leave in two weeks and spend the summer in London at its most famous theater under Britain’s most famous star. Not bad for a start …
… to be continued … On to London.
Even More Inspiration
Tags: composer, Inspiration, Inspirational, Inspirational Music, Inspirational Music Artist, inspirational music composer, lyricist, lyrics, Margaret Dorn, Music, New York, Personal Thoughts, Peter Link, song writing, Writing