My thesis show, These Shining Lives, by Melanie Marnich, was a whirlwind process, and I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be a part of telling this story! I had the incredible opportunity to work with third-year graduate director Sarah Butts (her thesis show too!), telling a story that is simultaneously hard-hitting, historical, poetic, and resonant.
These Shining Lives highlights the strength of women considered expendable in their day, exploring their true story and its continued resonance. Catherine Donohue and her friends have loving families and good jobs painting glow-in-the-dark watch faces at Chicago’s Radium Dial Company, and the 1920s seem full of promise. Tragedy comes when Catherine and her colleagues begin falling ill, one by one, with mystifying ailments. When the cause of their symptoms finally becomes clear, Catherine and her friends find a way to deal with their own truth: that the job they love, that has gifted them with independence, has betrayed them and will slowly kill them. This is a story of survival in its most transcendent sense, as these women refuse to allow the company that stole their health to kill their spirits or endanger the lives of those who come after them.
The play is poetic, theatrical, and, like a memory, ephemeral. In other moments, it is factual, hard hitting, and tragic. The women are not victims, they are stronger than that. The music follows Catherine's journey -- her life made of time, and the release she can finally experience at the end.
Period music was sourced to the radio, and the motif of time associated with the clock on the header on stage. To more closely align the melodic part of the music with Catherine's journey, a wireless microphone allowed the actor to interact with the music. Tempo, pitch, and harmonies change based on her delivery of the text. Together with my assistant Adam W. (one of our talented undergrad sound students who is graduating this quarter), we programmed a Max/MSP patch to trigger samples in QLab based on audio input from the microphone.
This was also my first adventure composing music. It was a challenging experience, but I learned a lot about songwriting, voice leading, harmony and music direction. In particular, I want to thank our incredible department chair, Dr. Gary Busby, for his music direction mentorship and guidance.
I also want to say a huge thank you to my family, girlfriend, and colleagues for their support in and out of the theater, and to Sarah and the incredible design team and cast I had the honor of working with to make this show happen. Thank you to Vinnie for your mentorship throughout the process, and to Martin Carrillo for your thoughts and words at the end. This was an incredible process and one I'll continue to treasure and reflect upon for a long time.