I’ve been instructed to enter GALA Hispanic Theatre from the roof of a neighboring grocery store. I’m on my way to a tech rehearsal for Landless Theatre Company’s world premiere of Richard Campbell’s Frankenstein, and the front door of the theater will be locked. I climb the stairs of Giant’s parking garage, and am loafing about in confusion when the distorted clang of an electric guitar busts out of the propped door on GALA’s fire escape.
As soon as I enter the theater, it’s apparent that Frankenstein isn’t your typical musical adaptation of a Victorian novel. A 5-piece band is wailing away on stage, breaking every few minutes to shout their sound notes to the booth. The actors are mulling about in period waistcoats and bustled dresses, but the costumes are made from black pleather and hot pink lace. No, this is not Les Mis. This is a prog metal opera, and if you don’t know what that means… Well, you’re not alone.
This is only the company’s second tech rehearsal, and ladders and power tools strewn across the stage. When the run breaks to work on light and sound issues, I sit down with Andrew and Melissa Baughman to talk about Landless’s new production.
“Prog metal is a genre that theater audiences may never have heard of,” says Melissa, who is directing the production. “And you can’t come in expecting Oklahoma. It’s this very complex, meticulous vein of heavy metal that uses elements of classical music.”
“We’re gonna see how much metal theatre audiences can take. It’s almost more of a rock concert than a musical.” Andrew says. He’s the producing artistic director of Landless, and is also starring as Victor Frankenstein. He’s wearing a cravat, but his period costume is rendered in punk-rock red and black. Over a ghostly white foundation, his eyes are coated with broad, dripping stokes of black liner.
Andrew Baughman stumbled upon Frankenstein by searching “rock opera” online. In 2012, the British composer and metal rocker Richard Campbell had posted it as a concept album on the streaming service Spotify. “I don’t think he had any clue that a theatre company would want to produce it. But when I emailed him, he wrote me back right away.” Campbell was thrilled, and is flying in from England for the premiere.
Melissa purports to have been a metal fan for more than 20 years, so she is excited to share the genre with Washington’s theatre audiences. She’s been shouting to me over the band, when suddenly the heavy drums and electric guitars fall away, leaving us with rapid acoustic string picking reminiscent of Spanish guitar. “What’s great about prog metal,” Melissa says, “are these amazing levels that make it more accessible than in-your-face hard rock. The genre is about breaking through the boundaries.”
Andrew and Melissa are trying to break through boundaries regarding their audience as well. Not only will D.C. theatergoers be exposed to something new and exciting at Frankenstein, but the company hopes to draw many members of the metal community. They reached out to the local metal scene when they were casting, promoting the project through groups like the Baltimore Rock Opera Society (which actually exists).
June 13 – 30, 2013
Landless Theatre Company
at GALA Hispanic Theatre
3333 14th Street, NW
Tickets: $15 – $24
Thursdays thru Sundays
Andrew and Melissa rejoin the rehearsal when the sound issues are resolved. I hang around to watch a few numbers, and am struck by the amount of common ground between metal and musical theater.
It’s a highly dramatic genre, and rockers Bradley and Jericho seemed perfect telling stories with their music on the GALA stage. Andrew Baughman is familiar to D.C. theater audiences as a musical theatre actor, but he is just as comfortable belting out a heavy metal tune as he would any musical theater ballad. I’m find myself getting hooked on Campbell’s music, which continues to surprise me with the broad range of genres incorporated in each song.
Frankenstein is much more accessible than its affiliation to metal might lead an unexposed theatergoer to expect. And as the population of aging “patrons of the arts” steadily decreases, an affiliation to something as foreign as prog metal may be just what theatre needs to keep things lively—or should we say, “alive!”