BARBELITH underground
 

Subcultural engagement for the 21st Century...
Barbelith is a new kind of community (find out more)...
You can login or register.


Beat The Man: A Jelly Wrestling Musical

 
 
Jackie Susann
00:45 / 29.08.06
Some of you might know I'm involved in a nonprofit, art-damaged jelly wrestling collective - The Marrickville Jelly Wrestling Federation. My alter-ego, the Love Pump, developed for one of our shows a couple years back, and people liked him so much (plucky underdog and all that) I ended up developing the character and putting out a couple of zines of his memoirs, some mixtapes, cabaret shows and whatnot. On Saturday, I did my biggest solo Pump show yet - four original songs, a lot of interaction with the audience and choreography and stuff. It went really well.

I woke up on Sunday thinking sleepily about where to take it next, when suddenly the thought came to me: What if there was a whole Love Pump musical? Then I had the most intense creative rush I've ever experienced - probably the first time I've understood what 'inspiration' actually means. I figured out the broad bones of the plot immediately, and over the last couple of days have most of the structure, the major set pieces, lyrics for some new songs, and clear ideas on who I want for most of the cast (out of the circle of actors and performers I know personally), the economics and practicalities of putting it on, etc. I got out a couple of books about writing scripts to figure out the format and stuff. I'm meeting a friend this afternoon to try and enlist him as a producer/stage-manager kind of dude. I've already talked to a friend who plays with an improv orchestra about writing original music. Everyone I've spoken to about it is excited, and keen to help out.

So I was hoping to get feedback here about the concept, and especially advice from people who know more about drama and staging than I do. One question I have is - in musicals, how do you mic people up? Do they just have to project their voices really well, or are there some kind of mic you can use that they can dance around with and stuff?

Anyway, here is a basic run down of the plot. The pitch is, Westside Story meets Showgirls in the jelly wrestling ring. Since Westside Story is based on Romeo and Juliet, and Showgirls is based on All About Eve, that's already a lot of references, and I want to thicken it with a lot of allusions to classic musicals. The Love Pump is driven into jelly wrestling by his desire to avenge his father's tragic, jelly-related murder. He signs up with a sleazy, downmarket jellywrestling group, but longs to join Allstar Jelly, the glamourous federation across town. But the two groups hate each other, and the transition seems impossible.

But then! The Pump falls in love with a wrestler from the other federation. As their forbidden love unfolds, Pump gets an unbelievable, once in a lifetime shot at the Allstar Heavyweight Championship. Can he do it?!

So, that's the basic story. I have a few questions I'm hoping you can help me with, apart from any general comments you have.

1 - I haven't seen that many musicals, so any you can recommend would be great. Basically, I know Westside Story, obviously, Gypsy, and Singing in the Rain. I know I need to see Mary Poppins, Wizard of Oz, and the Southpark movie. What else? Classic or modern - and I want to watch bad ones as well as good, to figure out traps to avoid.

2 - Similarly, I need to read some plays. I don't think I ever have, so any recommendations are welcome, especially comedies. I am going to start with the Oscar Wilde collection on my housemate's shelf - but what else should I check out?

3 - Do you think it should have a happy ending? I figure there are three ways it can finish. Unqualified Victory: the Pump triumphs over the evil allstar Champion. The Rocky Ending: Pump loses, but in a heroic fashion after a gruelling bout. Scarface Ending: Pump wins the title at the end of the second act, and spends the third act becoming a more and more insane megalomaniac until his eventual downfall.
 
 
Whisky Priestess
11:35 / 29.08.06
What an interesting set of questions. Practical ones first.

One question I have is - in musicals, how do you mic people up? Do they just have to project their voices really well, or are there some kind of mic you can use that they can dance around with and stuff?

This is a great question for your stage manager - if they don't know, DO NOT use them. You have radio mics, which are basically the body mics with battery packs that they use in Big Brother.

The battery pack is usually hidden in the small of the back and the mic is a tiny lapel mic thing which can be hidden in hair or clothes. (On the head gets best and clearest results). They're expensive to hire (especially for a large cast) but fine to dance with cos they are so small. Remind your performers to turn them off when going to the toilet, however.
 
 
Whisky Priestess
11:47 / 29.08.06
And the next:

1 - I haven't seen that many musicals, so any you can recommend would be great. Basically, I know Westside Story, obviously, Gypsy, and Singing in the Rain. I know I need to see Mary Poppins, Wizard of Oz, and the Southpark movie. What else? Classic or modern - and I want to watch bad ones as well as good, to figure out traps to avoid.

My personal recommendations (Disclaimer: I don't think they're all great but they'll each teach you something about musicals)

Chess - Great story, great tunes, very good lyrics. A neglected masterpiece.

Bugsy Malone - Possibly one of the most perfect musicals ever written. Not just for kids.

Phantom of the Opera - Overblown tragi-comic nonsense, but that's what you're aiming at, no?

Les Miserables - The nearest a musical can come to opera without actually being sung-through. Again, great story, great libretto, great music.

Hedwig and the Angry Inch - SURELY you have already seen this? If not, you'll be wanting it as a touchstone, cos everyone else in your audience will have. Seriously.

Rocky Horror - Goes without saying.

Anything by Sondheim but especially Assassins or Merrily We Roll Along - for your own good, and for a different idea of what musicals can be (i.e. intelligent)
 
 
Princess
20:51 / 07.09.06
Rent. It rocks.
Apart from the singing of entire conversations. That bit is shit.
 
 
grant
18:34 / 08.09.06
On the microphones question, it's also possible to use a kind of area mike attached to the stage/set (contact mike?) -- I've seen them, but never really used them.

I'm imagining they work like shotguns do in film, in which case actors would have to be pretty precise in hitting their marks before singing.

I mention this because they'd possibly be cheaper than wireless units (in the States, the little ones are called lavs, short for "lavalier" microphones), and would definitely be simpler -- you wouldn't have to have somebody worrying about radio interference, batteries or, well, the water hazards that I imagine go with jelly wrestling.

Actually, lemme see -- this is the kind of thing I'm thinking about, a floor microphone or boundary microphone. The write-up says it's cardioid or half-cardioid, so probably not as focused as a shotgun. (Those terms refer to the area around the device that's sensitive to sound -- "cardioid" is a heart-shaped pattern.)

So, designed for picking up sound over a wider area. Still, whoever's closer to the thing is going to be louder (but not as loud as if you had some people with wireless units and others without). This pdf has more about different mics for different applications, although if phrases like "phase cancellation" make you go green, then the short explanation in the "specialty mics" section of this page will do fine.

----

After Hedwig, you should watch the Big Hippie Trilogy of Jesus Christ Superstar, Hair and Godspell. Listed in my order of preference. Like West Side Story, those three all have this mission to be "cool" with "the kids" and to understand "the scene."

The only thing I really liked in Godspell was Lynne Thigpen and the giant robot, but it definitely had a similar sensibility of hippie recycling/repurposing/found art to the other two -- lots of seemingly improvised props, costumes & locations. There's also a really heavy, almost melodramatic sense of "We are Court Jesters surrounding an Event of Great Significance!" to all three, a kooky kind of attitude which seems like it might be useful in some ways to you.
 
 
grant
06:29 / 09.09.06
Oh, and: 3 - Do you think it should have a happy ending?

Obviously, he should have to fight his lover, perhaps masked at first, and then, once he discovers who he's fighting, make the Big Choice whether to win or lose while in the ring. Perhaps both start out trying to lose, but then love of the sport overwhelms them... and love always triumphs.
 
 
Jackie Susann
10:01 / 10.09.06
Grant, you are awesome! I just spent like two whole days trying to work out a finale where he loses the match but wins the day, and I think you nailed it.
 
 
Mike Modular
16:49 / 10.09.06
Grant's found a lot of useful and factual information about microphones, but what would probably be even better would be to get a Sound Designer involved. Someone whose knowledge and experience would take the pressure off you to have to worry about that, whose job is to ensure that every line is heard clearly and the mix is beautiful, whilst you concentrate on the script/direction/whatever.

Lavalier mics hidden on the head, like WP says, is the best way, giving more control over individual voices and levels. (Although I disagree about letting turns switch their mics off. It's the sound operator's job to make sure they're not left open, with embarassing consequences. Actors won't necessarily remember to turn them back on again...) Rifle/Shotgun mics are fine for covering specific areas of the stage and PCCs (the boundary mics) are good too, usually placed at the front of the stage. However, they're only best for large groups of singers. If you want to lift a solo performer out of the chorus you're going to need a radio mic.

There's a whole lot to prepare and consider from the sound side of things: Will the music be played live = where you going to put the band and how will the natural unamplified sound of the intruments affect the balance? How big is the theatre = how many speakers will we need and how best to achieve full coverage and time the system? Onstage foldback = In Ear Monitors or speakers? How many performers = how big a mixing desk do you need to get? Can we license the right frequencies for our radios? How can we best disguise this mic in a wrestling costume and can we prevent sweat from ruining the capsule? What are the running costs? And so on...

I realise you're probably only going to be doing a small-ish, low-budget production, but I really think you'd benefit from some specialist help. I also realise I've probably been throwing in some terms you're not familiar with/aware of and that's not to scare you off, or to sound clever and important, more to say it's OK to get some help here and not have to do or understand everything yourself straight away. And that's just the sound, never mind lighting, choreography, set, costumes, musical direction, props... Theatre is a collaborative effort and having a good team will only make things easier and more relaxed.

End of techie bit...

What plays to read? Well, there are quite a few out there... Oscar Wilde's as good a place to start as any. Um, I dunno, comedy wise you could try some Joe Orton. I'd say you'd do as well to go out and see something too. Anything. Getting a feel for what works onstage is as useful as examining classic texts and structure. Read something first then go and see a production of it. Compare your initial response to what someone else made of it. How would you have done it differently? And why...? Sorry if this is sounding like an essay question or job interview, but I hope it all helps...
 
 
Triplets
17:27 / 10.09.06
This thread is why I heart Barbelith. Jelly wrestling, geekery, the-a-tre! It's got it all.
 
 
Whisky Priestess
13:29 / 11.09.06
2 - Similarly, I need to read some plays. I don't think I ever have, so any recommendations are welcome, especially comedies. I am going to start with the Oscar Wilde collection on my housemate's shelf - but what else should I check out?

Stories of triumph over adversity and star-crossed lovers. Like the original Shakespeare Romeo and Juliet, as well as maybe some c19/20 tragedians like Chekhov, Ibsen, Strindberg. Miss Julie is good on forbidden passion.

Also, you wouldn't think that the works of Noel Coward and jelly wrestling had much in common, but Coward's something of a farceur and thus very good on structure - as well as on the illusions and disillusions of love. Private Lives, Hay Fever, that one where the two honeymooning couples are staying in the same hotel and two of them used to be married to each other and run away together leaving their new spouses alone ...

Also, see if you can get the libretti (script and songs ideally, although probably not sheet music) of various musicals you like and look at the words on the page, how it works, who's onstage when and how many pages of dialogue come between the songs - it'll give you an idea of how yours ought to look when you write it.
 
 
grant
22:04 / 09.11.06
I just coincidentally found this summary of As You Like It, which is a play I've never read nor seen before. But apparently revolves around wrestling.

And might be worth ripping off, West Side Story-style.

Should I ask how this is going?
 
 
Jackie Susann
08:03 / 28.12.06
Thanks everyone who replied to this. It's going pretty well. There's a core group working on it, and a few key roles are filled - we have a composer/musical director, producer, and set and costume designers. We have a tentative budget and timeline, and we've just put in our first grant application. I've never put in a grant app before, so I have no idea how likely we are to get it. I feel like they would have to be totally crazy to fund us, but that's just the nature of the project, and I've always had luck with totally crazy projects in the past. The plan is probably to have a Sydney run in late 07, then Melbourne in mid 08.

In a concession to economy, I've re-worked the plot pretty heavily so it can all take place on one set - a combination jelly wrestling arena/backstage area. It's about a small jelly wrestling federation struggling against the big budget company across town. They've staked everything on their first nationally televised event, Jellomania, but they have to deal with a bunch of problems, including a champion with a drug problem, various complex love/lust triangles, and rumours that one of them is a mole for the other company. It is, needless to say, ultimately a love story.
 
  
Add Your Reply