Operatic Saint Louis: Family Dynamics - The Funeral focuses on the journey of its protagonist--Betty--from this life into the afterlife. Can you offer some background on this pivotal character?
Allyson Ditchey: Betty struggles with her transition into the afterlife because she is not quite ready to let go of her old life. I think she is a very relatable character--she's quirky, she's loving, she has strong opinions, she's childish. She's a mixture of mature and immature qualities--adult and childlike.
OSL: What inspired you to pen the libretto of Family Dynamics?
AD: A series of funerals that I attended with my family inspired me. We always talk about incidents within our family funerals that would make great scenes in movies, so I finally decided to write something. While writing, I really was interested in exploring spectrums of personalities. In thinking about the presentation of the piece, I also decided to use a lot of color and black-and-white to represent these personalities. For example, the funeral attendees are dressed all in black, but have brightly-colored accessories to represent their differences and unique attributes. Betty is dressed in white to represent the purity of her soul and that she is now part of a different physical realm. The Guide is in gray to represent the in-between as well as a compilation of Betty's choices in life. The Officiator is in black-and-white to represent his connection between earth-based life and the afterlife.
OSL: How long did the writing process take, and when did William Lenihan become involved as composer?
AD: The process took me roughly six weeks. I asked Bill to write the music when I first thought of creating the piece before I ever started writing anything. We always discussed writing things together--probably on and off for a year or so--but we never did. With this idea, I just said "let's do it" and Bill agreed. So we set a schedule for ourselves and now here we are frantically trying to stick to it!
OSL: Family "drama" makes for one of the most compelling subjects in literature, theatre, opera and film. Do any of your own family experiences play out in Family Dynamics?
AD: Definitely. One scene that comes to mind is Scene Three. The grandma is trying to take a picture and it pretty much takes her about twenty minutes to take four pictures due to all of the chaos. That was my family photo experience growing up.
OSL: Among the characters, what kind of personality types can we expect to see on display at the funeral?
AD: All kinds: the quiet, soft-spoken son; the always-trying-to-be-helpful son's wife; the energetic grandchildren; the old cowboy husband; the quirky cousins, etc.
OSL: Could you elaborate on how the physical production/set design helps to tell the story?
AD: I would have loved to stage the work in-the-round, but I couldn't for a few reasons, so what I've tried to do is design a set that allows for the characters to move onstage and offstage easily so that they can sort of float into their scenes. Also, the main characters talk about repeated patterns in life and the sort of cyclical journey that people go on when they are trying to work through a problem. This definitely plays into the actual physical way in which the two main characters move around the stage.
OSL: What types of voices did you and Bill have in mind when casting?
AD: When casting, we definitely wanted classically-trained singers. The music is pretty difficult in the sense that the ranges and the interval leaps are large and there are high tessituras. We actually knew that the soprano Megan Higgins would be singing the part of Betty, so we were able to do a lot of extra things due to the fact that she has a beautiful high range and an agile voice. It was really nice to have that freedom.
OSL: The title Family Dynamics is followed by: "The Funeral." Does this leave open the possibility of future compositions revolving around other family gatherings?
AD: Absolutely. I already have in mind two more short pieces: "The Wedding" and "The Reunion."
Operatic Saint Louis: If you were speaking with a person on the fence about attending this production, what would your selling points be?
Allyson Ditchey: I would say that if you are interested in new works, if you like music and theatre and visually interesting things, then you will probably enjoy this piece. It is sort of a feel-good comedy--don't let the title fool you. There are moments of strangeness and seriousness as well. We also feature fantastic oil paintings by Reno-based artist Naomi Ferrall.
Family Dynamics - The Funeral runs this weekend, with performances on October 30 and 31 @ 8pm. Venue is Satori, an artists space (Located in Midtown--3003 Locust). Tickets are $15 General Admission/$10 Students, and can be reserved for will call or purchased at the door. Cash or check only. Please inquire at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 530.604.1431