From the page to the stage
In this issue we would like to give you a picture of what goes on behind the scenes as a new musical is in development.
We start with the story. For many years we hosted Bible studies, prayer meetings, and vigorous discussion sessions during which a possible musical dramatization of the Biblical Book of Esther was discussed.
The writer and composer, David K. MacAdam, gradually put the show together on the page, writing the script, the lyrics and the music. He especially wanted the music to give audiences a taste of ancient Persia, the grandeur and breadth of the Achaemenid Empire, while also giving an intimate portrayal of the emotional life of each character as they experience their challenges in the context of this story.
During the writing period many new musical styles were explored. The score reflects not only the Persian culture, and that of the Jewish exiles, but also the representatives from the vast Empire stretching from India to Ethiopia.
Once the songs were written, Peter Vantine, the music director, arranged and orchestrated each one according to the appropriate cultural sound palette and introduced them to the cast. Fran Cioffi, coaches the ensemble to rise to the challenge of the score. The choreographer, Cory Lane Valk, introduces the dance, and the directors, David MacAdam and his assistant, Carolyn Milligan Luciano, help the actors polish their story-telling skills as they bring the characters and story to life.
Meanwhile Lisa Wagner, the set designer is hard at work, researching the locale, King Xerxes’ winter palace in Susa, where most of the action will take place. Hand drawn and computer renderings are produced and a model of the set its built.
Glenn Wagner oversees the construction which, for this show, took place in a nearby vacant retail facility between rentals.
Devan Wiebe, the light designer, adds lighting effects, testing the light design on the computer model, which will help to fluidly steer the eyes of the audience to what they need to see on stage at any given time.
The casting process began one year before rehearsals started. Paige Crane, was chosen to play the role of Esther. Paige is a veteran of New Life productions, “Song on the Wind”, “Scrooge”, “Ruth”, and “Celestial City” as well as other companies in which she has played leading roles in “My Fair Lady”, “The Fantasticks”, and “Beauty and the Beast”. The cast of more than 70 performers need to be costumed for their multiple roles! Each week a team of volunteers take on the mammoth task of recreating the costumes of the Persian Empire.
The summer months will bring the final season of rehearsals as the cast readies this production for its world premiere, September 20th at the Groton-Dunstable Performing Arts Center, Groton, MA.
“Esther: For Such A Time As This” is the latest musical adaptation by David K MacAdam whose earlier musicals are: “Ebenezer Scrooge: A Christmas Carol”; “Celestial City: The Story of John Bunyan and his ‘Pilgrim’s Progress’”; “Ruth; The Biblical Romance of Redemption”; “Song on the Wind: The Story of the Relations between the Indigenous People of Musketequid and the early English settlers in New England and the war that put all to the test”; and “Luther: The Hammer and the Door”.
Art with extra dimention
Lisa Wagner brings a unique combination of talents to New Life Fine Arts Musical Theater. Her background as a visual artist and a mechanical engineer helped fit her for scenic design. A graduate of WPI (Worcester Polytechnic Institute), Lisa is a hands-on inventor and problem solver. She and her husband, Glenn Wagner, whom she met at WPI, have been responsible for many of the special effects in NLFA musical theater productions- such as the remotely controlled canoes in “Song on the Wind”, spinning clocks and emerging gravestones in “Scrooge”.
Many of her exciting concepts can first be seen in her two-dimensional sketches on paper. Soon they are rendered with 3D precision with a Computer Assisted Drawing program on computer. In this form her set design can be tested with lighting effects, checking sight lines to ensure optimal visibility from every seat in the audience. Once the three- dimensional computer rendered design is approved by the director, a model is built. This model will then introduce the performing space to the cast and other technical crews.
After these initial stages are complete, the construction work begins. For “Esther”, the larger set pieces, such as the palace stairs, were constructed in donated space, a vacant retail store made available to NLFA between rentals. The large lamassu statues depicting huge protective deities with human heads, the body of a bull or lion, and bird wings that flank the city gates, will be constructed and painted in another borrowed space.
But there is an additional dimension to Lisa’s artwork. A fourth dimension. The spiritual dimension is realized especially as she explains her drawings, paintings, prop and set designs. The spiritual component is profoundly evident as she discusses her stained glass work. She explains that the process of making stained glass art pieces parallels the redemptive work of our Creator. Our natural state of independence, our personal pride and resistance to submission to the Creator’s will keep us on the shelf, alone and useless, The whole piece of glass, as colorful and intact as it may seem to be, cannot be integrated into and fulfilled in the Creator’s design until it allows itself to be broken and surrendered to the Master’s hand for His skillful placement Lisa says, “We are at our best when we realize that we are broken people and surrender ourselves to our Creator. It is then that we can be placed in community with other broken pieces to reveal the beauty and wisdom of His design.”