On Monday night, we learned that Stephen Gregory Smith and Matt Conner and the cast of The Turn of the Screw received Helen Hayes director’s nominations for the Creative Cauldron production. They responded:
“It is an honor for us to be recognized along so many other artist that we respect. We thank the bravery of our amazing cast, including Susan Derry, Sherri Edelen, Caitlin Shea, Ryan Sellers, Ethan Miller, and Libby Brooke.
The Turn of the Screw was a part of the “Bold New Work for Intimate Stages” initiative, launched by Laura Connors Hull. We are so happy to take this journey of a five year commission by Creative Cauldron. We are in the second year of our voyage, and are poised to open our second installment, Monsters of the Villa Diodati this week.
Monsters features Susan Derry as Mary Shelley – we are so happy to have her back after her brilliant performance in The Turn of the Screw last year. We are also grateful to Laura Connors Hull for giving us the idea to adapt The Turn of the Screw into a musical.Thanks to all of those who support the arts, and Bold New Works. As Mary Shelley sings in Monsters“We’re known by what we leave behind. This is the journey of mankind.”
Turning to their new musical, Monsters of the Villa Diodati, which officially opens this weekend at ArtSpace Falls Church:
Where does the inspiration for an enduring work of art come from? It might stem from a passing moment of insight or a nagging drive to create something to prove oneself – or in at least one famous instance, a bet.
Monsters draws from a legendary gathering of writers in Lake Geneva, Switzerland in the summer of 1816. While passing the time by swapping ghost stories, the group was challenged by host Lord Byron to devise the perfect horror story. Remarkably, this was the impetus for two stories that helped define our modern notion of the genre, continuing to resonate in our culture today – Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein and John Polidori’s The Vampyre.
Monsters composers Matt Conner (music and lyrics) and Stephen Gregory Smith (book and lyrics) previously collaborated on musicals based on horror classics Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Night of the Living Dead.
Daron Christopher: For readers who aren’t aware, could you tell us what Monsters is about?
Stephen Gregory Smith: The show’s major theme is “One’s responsibility to one’s Creation.” More specifically, we follow Mary Shelley in 1831, re-writing the forward to Frankenstein and reflecting on the summer of 1816 where it all began.
How did you learn of this remarkable gathering?
Matt Conner: Being fans of the horror genre, we already knew of this summer that provided the inspiration for Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. But what we thought we knew was only the tip of the iceberg.
We are both drawn to history, literature and pop culture. This historical event was the perfect blend of all four. It was known as a “Summer of Darkness”, due to the volcanic eruption of Mount Tambora in Indonesia. Three of the greatest literary minds of all time – Mary Shelley, Percy Shelley, and Lord Byron – were there, along with an aspiring novelist (John Padadori) and Mary Shelley’s half-sister (Claire Clairmont). They all shared a summer together at Lake Geneva. As far as the pop culture of the time, our story takes place at the height of “Byromania”, in which Byron, who was really the world’s first rock star, becomes the center of gossip and attention from locals while on vacation.
We read dozens of books and their works. There are three films about the summer of 1816, along with several BBC documentaries.
What development has the musical had to date?
SGS: We had a workshop in November that gave us the opportunity to hear the show aloud and take notes. Since then, we have been re-writing the script, scoring, and staging of the show.
Why make it a musical?
MC: This particular show is actually the second installment of a 5-year commitment to a new program at Creative Cauldron that focuses on “Bold New Works for Intimate Stages”. We also thought Monsters of the Villa Diodati would really lend itself to a cool bohemian rock score.
MONSTERS OF THE VILLA DIODATI
January 28 – February 21
at Arts Space Falls Church
410 South Maple Avenue
Falls Church, VA
Thurdays thru Sundays
Check for discounts
What do you want audiences to know about Monsters of the Villa Diodati?
SGS: This is based on a true story involving the summer that inspired Frankenstein and The Vampyre, the first modern vampire story). The score is an eclectic blend of classical, rock and folk. We also have five amazing people in the cast playing five of the most interesting and bizarre people of their day. We are blessed with an amazingly talented cast: Sam Ludwig as Lord Byron, Alan Naylor as Percy Bysshe Shelley, Susan Derry as Mary Shelley, David Landstrom as John Polidori, and Catherine Purcell as Claire Claremont
Describe that for us.
MC: The score is very eclectic. Some songs lean in a classical edge, while others feel like rock songs. We have three musicians in the band – a piano, percussionist, and guitarist.
How was the process of developing the characters?
MC: The voices historically are very transparent. The challenge was paring down all of the research into a two act musical, rather than a show that felt like an epic opera or a long-running TV series with multiple episodes.
You are staging the musical as well. How difficult was it to stage the choreography in such a small space?
MC: It may seem limiting, but it is actually freeing because I don’t have the pressure of filling a larger space.
When did you two first join forces and how do you work together?
SGS: We joined forces together in 2010 with a musical adaptation of Night of the Living Dead, which had productions in New York, DC, and St. Louis. We next worked on a re-imagining of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, produced at our alma mater, Shenandoah University.
The Turn of the Screw was our next collaboration, which had a world premiere at Creative Cauldron in 2015, which we recorded in a studio album this past spring.
MC: We work together in a tandem that is unique to us, as is every collaboration. Sometimes a melody comes first, sometimes a lyric or a scene. Sometimes all at the same time.
Any challenges to working with a partner as opposed to working solo?
SGS: No real challenges – only benefits from having someone else to bounce your ideas off of.
MC: There really isn’t any challenge working with a partner on the show. I think it strengthens the piece with another perspective.
What’s next for you?
MC: As a writing team, we have an upcoming project together with Ally Currin, which will premiere at Signature Theatre this coming holiday season, called Silver Belles. We also are working on a new show for Creative Cauldron next year, exploring Alzheimer’s disease and its effects on those dealing with it.