An Octoroon: Design Concept

Straddling our modern sensitivity to PC culture and the prejudice of 19th-century entertainment is a difficult place to find yourself. Ordering CDs of minstrel music is not my normal afternoon activity. The melodrama of An Octoroon could have very easily been scored from start to finish, but in the interest of also hearing actors as well as being a show that could, in fact, be called consistently, this was not the case. The player piano of the saloon helps elevate the jokes and pauses that the melodrama depends on, making this show feel a little like an early talkie rather than an antebellum play. Of course, that means that each cue must have an in and an out that that is musical as well as purposeful. The set and quick changes became my problem children, as they were either too long or too loud for the player piano theme and so we deviated into a bit of the romantic underscoring harkening to Gone with the Wind. I greatly enjoyed the research to find an authentic steamboat from the 1880s and creating a vinyl sound for my piano rolls like tunes. The audience did not get a break from the black-face, white-face and other dated theater staples when the preshow also contained snippets of recorded minstrel shows. But oh the satisfaction when I hear audience members talk about race, culture, and theatre in a way that they hadn't before. SaveSave

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