Music for Theatre – Composing for All Eventualities

Stage Door sign at The West Yorkshire Playhouse

The music themes are all pretty much composed for The Count of Monte Cristo, a new, irreverent theatre adaptation of the book by Alexandre Dumas. Rehearsals start next week at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, where it will play from mid-April to mid-May.

There have been several challenges unique to theatre and specifically to this show which have become clear during the composition process, which has lead to quite a bit of creative writing due to these ‘restrictions’.

That is to say… the music is composed, but as yet only Act 1 is completely structured around the script.

Today and tomorrow I’m structuring Acts 2 and 3. The music in these first three acts is performed live, by the actors themselves.

(For Acts 4 and 5, the music is pre-produced score, the kind of stuff more in my comfort zone, but that still needs a lot of contingency planning and creative cueing to get it to flow smoothly and still work around the potential for differences in timings from show to show.)

And there are only six actors, playing numerous characters between them.

So these are the constraints and eventualities we need to consider when the music is going to rehearsal with performers (next Wednesday – yikes!)…

  • only six performers, 3 of which are instrumentalists, the rest are singers
  • the performers play certain instruments, so the music must be written specifically for them
  • one is the main character (The Count) and he really doesn’t have time for music what with talking all the time!
  • at least one of the other performers is also involved in the dialogue of the scene at any given time
  • some musical pieces/numbers/sections overlap the performances of several different actors as the scene progresses, so the music has to accommodate a change in instrumentation at any given time
  • scenes may change significantly during the rehearsal process, so the music must stay fluid and flexible enough to fit easily around with the minimum of rewrites; rehearsal time is short!
  • the actor/performers must play from memory, so the music must be easy enough to remember, and must be reused in inventive ways to make sure there’s variety without giving too much to for the performers to remember.

Easy peasy. :-S

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