Written by Hit the Lights! Theater Co.
Produced by Hit the Lights! Theater Co.
Nominations: Outstanding Innovative Design for Puppet Design; Outstanding Original Music; Outstanding Premiere Production of a Play ( HTL! is: Samantha Blain, Casey Scott Leach, Mikayla Stanley, Kristopher Dean, Carli Rhoades, Claron Hayden)
|Photos by Ambe J. Photography|
About the Company: Hit the Lights! Theater Co. is an award-winning artistic agreement based in New York City that makes theater, music, and online content and is committed to telling simple stories in unconventional ways.
About the Production: Using handmade shadow puppets, vintage overhead projectors, and a punk scum house band, Hit the Lights! Theater Co. created the world that brought us a certain legendary white whale and the men who hunted him.
What attracted you to this project?
Mikayla: This show is the passion project of company member Kristopher Dean, who came to the rest of the HTL! crew with a desire to make a staged adaptation of Moby Dick. He had read it that summer and had become obsessed with the story. So obsessed, in fact, that he has now taken up sailing and is licensed to man small vessels (at my counsel he has abstained from getting into whaling). That was our starting point. Then we added punk rock. And then we added game shows. And then we added alcohol. And shadow puppetry. And rope. And mohawks. And temporary tattoos. And somewhere along the line, Whales came into being. We were attracted by his passion for an epic story and telling it in an epic (and fun!) way.
Kristopher: I fell in love with the novel Moby Dick and just had to bring it to live theater.
Casey: Kristopher Dean told us he wanted to make a show inspired by Moby Dick. He got to talking about the culture of whaling in America, and how fascinating and terrible it was, and the rest of us were all like 'yep, we want to make a show about that.'
Samantha: When Kristopher, who also happens to be my husband, approached us about Whales and shared all these incredible insights into Moby Dick and the men who hunted whales at that time I was hooked. They lived incredibly difficult and dangerous lives, which makes for rich and dynamic theatre.
Claron: Kristopher Dean dived head first into Moby Dick and the history of whaling - his zeal and knowledge were highly inspirational and got the whole company very excited to apply our creative energy towards realizing a piece focused on those issues.
Carli: When I joined HTL! this show was actually already in its baby steps of creation, so I was in from the (my) start! Immediately I was enamored by Kristopher Dean's enthusiasm for the text of Moby Dick and as I read the story I found myself drawn into the storytelling as well. What I loved was the variety show style, which really echoes the amount of detail and varied perspectives in Moby Dick and while it's packed with tons of facts and details about the world of whaling, Whales is fast and energetic and a raucous, intoxicatingly good time for audiences.
What was your favorite part of working on this production?
Mikayla: Creating the music for this piece was a blast. We were influenced by the sea shanties that whalers used to sing to pass the time and wanted to combine it with our love of punk rock music! The result was a score that both informed the work while also bringing it to life in a new and modern way. I also love working with the people in the company. We all work together so well and push each other to be the best artists we can be.
Samantha: The music was so fun and challenging to explore old sea shanties and compose music to go along with the lively puppetry and storytelling. Being able to play so many instruments and sing together as a company brought a touch of magic to the ensemble.
Casey: Whales is the first time HTL! came together musically as an ensemble: in every show we've done, self-generated music has played an integral part, but Whales was our first outing where we all played music together.
Claron: Composing music is always a joy for me, so that has to be stated, but I think overall my favorite part would have to be building the raw ideas into working scenes with the ensemble.
Kristopher: Doing all the research into whaling as an American industry.
Carli: I have loved the opportunities we've given ourselves to find content within the entire world of whaling. There is so much to research and so many specific, interesting areas within this topic and time in history, there's always more to find and explore. Figuring out how to share these with an audience is a blast.
What was the most challenging part of working on this production?
Casey: Figuring out how to tell the essential plot of Moby Dick in shadow puppets.
Samantha: Everyone had a chance to write sections of this script that fit their voice. It was a juggling act to find what fits where and decide what information we had to absolutely share. There is so much about the golden age of Whaling that we wanted to include, but only had a short amount of time to share it.
Claron: Distilling a plethora of knowledge and history down into an engaging and fun forty five minute audience experience.
Kristopher: Learning to play the Cajon.
Carli: Working on a piece "inspired by" an existing (and classic) piece of literature was a challenge. I think it's clear we aren't trying to retell the story of Moby Dick, and yet, in fact, we are. There's a bit of grey area surrounding the question of what things do we directly share or imitate from the text and what things do we forgo in the interest of capturing the style of storytelling of the original piece that we love so much for a new audience.
What did you hope the audience would take away from this production?
Mikayla: Whales is part punk-rock concert, part drinking game, and part staged adaptation of Moby Dick. You will see a coconut getting destroyed with a drill. You will see 60 + feet of rope. You will most likely be given a temporary tattoo. It is the direct mission of HTL! to make sure you walk away from Whales with (at least) three things: 1.) a belly full of whiskey (if you're old enough to imbibe!) 2.) a new curiosity surrounding one of the first major American industries, and 3.) one heck of a good evening.
What was the quirkiest part of this production?
Mikayla: All of the puppets made for the show are original! They are all made of found recyclable materials (if you saw them up close, you'd see several PBR boxes and a couple of pizza boxes!)
Samantha: It was the first time we used two vintage overhead projectors for our puppetry. It gave a unique aesthetic quality to the story telling that was effective. Kristopher, who helmed this passion project, became obsessed with nautical... EVERYTHING. Since reading Moby dick, which inspired him, he has purchased a harpoon, nautical maps, sails, and convinced me, his wife, to get married in Mystic, CT, one of the most famous Whaling Ports. He knows a lot about Whaling. And beer. He knows a lot about beer too. Also, we learned that everyone loves drinking games. We play one during the show.
Claron: Thematically underscoring a bearded man drilling into a coconut is certainly an enjoyable first for me.
Carli: There’s a part of the show that involves.....fresh fruit juice.....and on more than one night we've opened the fruit onstage to find it empty!! It's always a laugh moment for the audience and us, and we've gotten better at judging which ones will work when picking them out at the store, but knowing the possibility certainly keeps us on our toes!
Casey: As a part of our preshow, the company comes out and assigns the audience members duties on the ship and applies temporary harpoon tattoos. I had a company member give me a tattoo for every show we performed. So by the end of the run I had 10 harpoon tat's on my shirtless belly.
What insight did you gain while working on this production?
Casey: I learned an incredible amount about American history, and of course whaling in America. I also learned about the basic tenets of punk songs, how to apply cinematic techniques to shadow puppetry, how to keep both arms in your silhouette looking roughly the same size, how to make grog, and how to be a better company member and performer.
Samantha: I think I learned how musically we can raise the bar. We all challenged ourselves to get out of our comfort levels with this show musically. I think it was successful. If we played it safe I don't think it would have been that effective, but we came out with tambourines flying and grog in our hand. Also, how important it is to set an atmosphere for when your audience walks in. We didn't want them to feel like they were just walking into a theater. We wanted it to feel like the belly of a ship or them waiting at a pub on the port before they sail off. We added soundscapes, music, set dressing, lights and sailors grog to help invite them into our world before we even began.
Claron: Cheese cloth is a highly effective material for creating shadow water.
Carli: I learned tons about whales and whaling!! I've also taken the opportunity to learn about and fine tune some comedic timing and audience playback; it's an exploration, but it's very fun. I feel now like I have a much better grasp on balancing a good variety show!
What was it like working with this company?
Mikayla: Hit the Lights! is fascinated with mixing traditional theater forms with our other influences: Shadow puppetry plays side-by-side with video game aesthetics, live music blended with drinking games, or shakespeare remixed with jay-z.
We are into heightened stories. We are deeply fascinated by atmosphere, by music, by color and shape and pattern, the texture of a light as well as the texture of a guitar pedal. We find that language at times holds us back from the deeper, more powerful world of images, feelings, and atmospheres.We are drawn to images, characters and worlds that express a multitude of meanings while saying very little. Whether it is the violence of the open sea, the quiet terror of a dark cave, or the dusty magnificence of an abandoned building, Hit the Lights! thrives in landscapes and atmospheres where language falls away to reveal something deeper, older, and more profound. It is with this interest that we have turned towards the American West; landscapes filled with both splendor and dread, stories rife with images just waiting to be cracked open and played with. The work focuses on the interplay between darkness and light, which is why shadow puppetry is the lifeblood of the storytelling. The company is currently comprised of six experienced multidisciplinary artists: puppeteers, actors, musicians, vocalists, artisans, and everything in between. HTL! is committed to developing each member into a full artist that serves the work, serves the creative process, and embraces the unique demands of each new work created. The company is continually challenging themselves to master new skills, styles, aesthetics, and technology as they move into more and more innovative work.
Samantha: The passion, dedication and discipline we all have. There are a lot of talented individuals in NYC, but finding the right mix of artists who are multi-talented and are committed to meeting up to 2-4 times a week for rehearsal is rare. We don't get paid for rehearsals, yet. We take whatever free time we have and decide to spend hours in a dark basement creating art in a way that is unique to us and to the theater world.
Casey: We make up the most fun games in rehearsal.
Claron: HTL! is my family, and all our individual strengths and weakness weave together to produce a very invigorating work and play environment in and out of the rehearsal room.
Carli: We are an artistic agreement first and foremost, which means a few things. 1. We are individual artists first and we value that in one another. Every time one of us takes an opportunity to grow artistically or otherwise in our own lives, it inherently enriches the group, so we really support each other's outside work. 2. As an agreement between 6 people, no one of us has an executive decision making power. It's a constant exercise in give and take, standing your ground on ideas you believe in and learning when to let go for the sake of the whole, which is beneficial for all of life.
Kristopher: This company is creating new work that makes me proud to call myself an artist. It is collaborative, clear, and moving.
Follow Hit the Lights! Theater Co. on Twitter @hitthelightsTC and Instagram @hitthelightstheater.