Hi, I'm working on a play right now that begins with a Greek Choral arrangement with the chorus delivering lines from a five-verse poem. I'm thinking that it'd probably work best if it was in some way musical, either sung, or at least chanted perhaps in the style of either spirituals, gospel, or the Benedictine Monks (considering its religious tone). Perhaps not even straight music, or sung, but some lines in unison (there's a refrain in the poem that works well for this) ect, but at least vaguely lyrical. This short piece would be the only such piece in the play.
I'm wondering what should be included in the script, as far as I see it I have three options:
1. Meet with a composer to write a short choral piece for it and include it in the script (I'd probably try to tap the musical director of a local church for this)
2. Specify who is to deliver what lines and then include a note to the effect of "Music this up". And leave it for the production.
3. Leave it even more vague and only include the poem itself, and then instruct the production to design a choral arrangement from it, leaving the number of singers and specific lyrics up to them - just to use the poem as their base material.
Maybe I should include the poem itself since I've never had a good musical ear, and I'm not particularly deft at working out what would work as lyrics.
"Is It So, O Christ in Heaven?"
by Sarah "Sadie" Williams
IS it so, O Christ in heaven, that the souls we loved so well
Must remain in pain eternal, must abide in endless hell?
And our love avail them nothing, even Thine avail no more?
Is there nothing that can reach them,—nothing bridge the chasm o’er?—
“I have many things to tell you, but ye cannot bear them now.”
Is it so, O Christ in heaven, that the Antichrist must reign?
Still assuming shapes Protean, dying but to live again?
Waging war on God Almighty, by destroying feeble man,
With the heathen for a rear-guard, and the learnèd for the van?—
“I have many things to tell you, but ye cannot bear them now.”
Is it so, O Christ in heaven, that the highest suffer most?
That the strongest wander farthest, and more hopelessly are lost?
That the mark of rank in nature is capacity for pain,
And the anguish of the singer makes the sweetness of the strain?—
"I have many things to tell you, but ye cannot bear them now.”
Is it so, O Christ in heaven, that whichever way we go
Walls of darkness must surround us, things we would but cannot know?
That the Infinite must bound us, as a temple veil unrent,
While the Finite ever wearies, so that none attain content?
"I have many things to tell you, but ye cannot bear them now."
Is it so, O Christ in heaven, that the fulness yet to come
Is so glorious and so perfect, that to know would strike us dumb?
That, if only for a moment, we could pierce beyond the sky
With these poor dim eyes of mortals, we should just see God, and die?—
“I have many things to show you, but ye cannot bear them now."
I think it'd work as music since as a poem it already has meter and is repetitive, but like I said I'm not sure. I am considering cutting the second verse, because I think it's weak though it is the most directly relevant (but we'll be covering that later on anyways, perhaps it shouldn't be repeated). For anyone curious this is to open an adaptation of Milton's "Paradise Lost" that I'm working on. The purpose of it is to define and add context to the line "justify the ways of God to men". Also I like the refrain "I have many things to tell you, but ye cannot bear them now", since it being a play that's exactly what we're going to do; and it reinforces the idea of the story that the Heavenly Muse is about to deliver of being a sort of forbidden knowledge. Did the first draft of the PL script last summer and am now returning to it.
If you have read the short sketch "The Furnishings of Good and Evil" I have up on the critique forum you might find it strange that I'd parody something then write a serious script about the same theme. But I've found that's a writing pattern for me, to write both comedies and drama about the same topic - to mock something relentlessly and then treat it seriously. I did the same thing with metatheatre and art in two other scripts "Pillars of Salt" (Drama) and "The Show Trial" (Comedy). "The Show Trial" also parodied the invocation to the muse which is what I'm opening the PL script with.
Sorry, enough rambling, how specific should those stage directions be? Also, I'll be in close contact with the director of the first production - I can just leave it vague here and then specify it depending on what the first production does. What would you do?
Just wanted to say that I've since figured out how to solve this. The reason I wanted a short prologue (a prologue for the prologue!) is to establish some sort of context and present action for the questions asked during the opening 100 lines of Paradise Lost. Basically who is asking these questions and why. The problem is that this poem by Sarah Williams doesn't do a better job of supplying it than the prologue itself! It's even more abstract since at least Paradise Lost identifies a speaker (it's Milton himself).
I wasn't satisfied with it simply being John Milton, or at least Milton the author, since Paradise Lost isn't about art (and neither is the prologue really). I really don't want to open the play with Milton sitting down to write his epic work, since I can't think of a better to distance an audience than to go "Yeah, everything you're going to see is just some old guy sitting down to write a massive poem you've never read." I've decided to open it instead with Milton's own Sonnet 23:
Methought I saw my late espoused saint
Brought to me, like Alcestis, from the grave,
Whom Jove's great son to her glad husband gave,
Rescued from death by force, though pale and faint.
Mine, as whom washed from spot of child-bed taint
Purification in the Old Law did save,
And such, as yet once more I trust to have
Full sight of her in Heav'n without restraint,
Came vested all in white, pure as her mind:
Her face was veiled, yet to my fancied sight
Love, sweetness, goodness, in her person shined
So clear, as in no face with more delight.
But O, as to embrace me she inclined,
I waked, she fled, and day brought back my night.
I'm much more satisfied with this, since it has an action that would lend it well to staging, and provides exactly what I was looking for: a speaker who is in someway dealing with death, since that's one of the purposes of the Adam and Eve story, to answer the question "If God is good and benevolent, why is there death in the world?" Here's the British actor Ian Richardson reading the sonnet. (I think he does a wonderful job!)
And here's a reading of the Paradise Lost prologue.
I've decided to set it up as a conversation between a seeker of knowledge and the Heavenly Spirit, which why I need this prologue to the prologue, to identify who this seeker of knowledge is, and why he is seeking it, and the story of the Fall of Man in particular.
Also another question I suppose. What gives Sonnet 23 particular poignancy is that this sonnet was written for his late 2nd wife, Katherine. Milton went blind in his later years, before he met Katherine, and so never saw her face: "Methought I saw my late espoused saint". I want to include some very brief physical business at the open that establishes that the speaker (the WIDOWER in the script) is blind. I was wondering if you might be able to think of something.
Oh wow. I struggled with this so much, hemming and hawing back and forth on what to do with Milton's prologue. Sigh, I really liked the idea of tying in Milton's prologue to him mourning his wife Catherine. I really liked that scene between the widower and the heavenly muse built out of the prologue.
Director convinced me to cut it. I was back and forth for weeks on it. How can you possibly, possibly do Paradise Lost without "justify the ways of God to men"? Without "Sing, Heavenly Muse!"? He was right, though. It was ultimately for the good for the show. The most painful darling I've ever had to murder.