In January 2018, I was involved in the making of a Michelle St Anne’s piece Lola Stayed Too Long (The Living Room Theatre, Sydney), for which she collaborated with Alex Spence. In anticipation of this premiere, Alex gave a concert together with her father, pianist Alister Spence, and singer and bassist Mary Rapp, using sounds and music from this an other theatre performance as the foundation for two exciting sets of improvised music.
I used the opportunity to talk to all three of them about their experiences with making music for theatre productions. In addition, Michelle offered her perspective on collaborating with musicians. Here are some of their answers:
Given that pathways into theatre music tend to be unexpected, unplanned and often curious, I asked all three about how they got into creating music and sounds for theatre.
Alister also plays extensively in a variety of ensembles and in a range of styles. I wondered how his work for theatre related to this.
Mary also performs and records a lot outside the theatre and describes some of the frustrations she sometimes has when working in the theatre context.
Theatre music often negotiates the boundaries between music and sound. As was evident in their concert, all three artists traveled between vocal and instrumental music, extended techniques of playing, prepared instruments, recorded sounds and electronics. I asked them to talk about how they considered the relationship of these ingredients and how they made choices.
Technology is always a central topic in conversations about theatre music – I was curious to find out what role it played for my interview partners.
Given the context of our conversation I asked the musicians and Michelle about the specific nature of their collaboration and their process of creating (which includes some strict rules on use of iPod playlists, as it turned out!).
I was also interested in how the process translated into the performances: how fixed, how improvised, how live do these tend to be?
In rehearsals, I also noticed that Michelle uses pre-recorded music extensively. She explained why.
Most of the work Alister, Alex, Mary and Michelle have done, has been outside of traditional theatre contexts and institution where the relationships between scene and sound, visual and audio, acting and musicking if often relatively predetermined by convention. I asked them about how they thought about these relationships in their work.