A couple of days ago I finished the book Agony at Easter: The 1916 Irish Uprising by Thomas Coffey, which is a minute-by-minute account of the events of the Irish Uprising on Easter Week 1916. It’s an interesting and fascinating read, providing behind the scenes accounts of the emotions, conversations, and events of the Irish Rebellion. In fact, this book was such a dramatic account of the events of Easter Week that Act II of this musical has basically written itself.
Just in taking notes based on reading this book, I identified 18 potential song ideas. This is a significant number to me, since I came into this portion of the writing process by wondering how I was going to find the “right” number of songs. These 18 song ideas include a couple of reprises, but for the most part, it is all original music, covering a gamut of emotions: dread, fear, love, bravado, among others.
This books has also helped generate a couple of unique staging ideas. I’m not sure how entirely feasible they would be on any given stage, but, as I mentioned in a Facebook post a couple of weeks ago, theater is magical in that it can be whatever I want it to be.
An example of a staging idea that may not be “kosher” in the theater world is that I would have an entire scene of no singing. From what I read in the Cohen and Rosenhaus book is that there shouldn’t be a long period of drama between the music — I forget the specific amount of time they mentioned, but it was something like, “If there is more than 10 minutes of dialogue, it means you’re overdue for a song.”
However, the events of the latter part of Easter Week — specifically, I noted, Thursday, April 27 — are the most tense and most dramatic of the entire rebellion. This is when the Volunteers and the IRB are realizing that they are dead, that the British are going to rise up and quash this merry band of men, and they’re all going to die. They realize this almost right away in the morning, when a British artillery shell strikes the building where the Volunteers published the Irish Times, a revolutionary newspaper, and the building starts on fire. Eventually, the fire spreads to Wynn’s Hotel, where the Volunteers first met to discuss this rebellion plan.
April 27 is also the day when the leaders of the rebellion realize they need to come up with a retreat and evacuation plan. They were so dead set on this being the event that will lead to their independence that the thought of needing to retreat never crossed their minds. Yet, here they are, with the city on fire and artillery shells striking their command center in the General Post Office, needing to leave as quickly and safely as they can in order to continue the fight.
There’s a lot of drama and significance in all of this, and, to me, trying to contextualize all of it in a series of songs doesn’t seem like it will do it the justice that silence and pure dramatic acting can do. So my plan, for at least the scene(s) for April 27, are to have no music. No songs, no incidental underscoring. Just the weight of what is about to happen hanging throughout the room.
One of my strangest fears when I’m writing is to do things “wrong.” There’s a novel project that I’ve been working on for years that I don’t think will ever be finished, because I have these weird ideas of shifting between past and present and hallucination that are “wrong,” and I feel as compelled to find the “correct” way to write them as I do to say, “Screw it, this is how it’s going to be done.”
That fear has creeped up as I’m rounding out my research and making the beginning plans to write this musical. It is “wrong” to have a scene in a musical that has no music. It is “wrong” to have an antagonist that doesn’t ever make an appearance (the Coffey book talks a lot about how the British soldiers never really attacked the GPO, but hid back behind barriers and in surrounding buildings to snipe the Irish Volunteers). It is “wrong” to start a scene with your actors in the audience. It is “wrong” to try and do anything outside of the confines of the musicals that are popular and/or I’m familiar with.
But, then again, maybe “Screw it” is my mantra. Who’s to say I can’t tell a story however I want? Hasn’t the rise of experimental and avant-garde theater shown that anything is possible on (or off) the stage?
I’m sure I’ll be wrestling with these ideas throughout the year. But as I wrestle with them, I’m hoping that I will also discover and create an amazing, powerful, and moving theatrical experience.