Tim D. regaled us with the first act of a pirate musical about a lesser-known composer of the Spanish Renaissance this past Tuesday. This week he and Lauren F. chatted about pirates, the order of the Tims, and the usefulness of silence.
#selfies are an ongoing interview series where Lather, Rinse, Repeat playwrights interview one another. They have free reign over the questions. The interviewee must then post an actual selfie, for the sake of being meta.
LAUREN F. Tell me a little about your pirate musical. What pirates inspired you? How much do you love singing pirates?
TIM D. My pirate musical, currently titled THE REAL-LIFE ADVENTURES OF FRANCISCO GUERRERO, is about a Spanish Renaissance composer who became a pirate. It’s sort of based on a true story (Francisco Guerrero was, in fact, a Spanish Renaissance composer, and he was captured and ransomed by pirates, though he didn’t become a pirate… I added that part). The project has required a lot of historical research into Renaissance culture and geopolitics, which I find super fun.
Unfortunately, historians know little about real-life pirates because there are so few reliable sources. As a result, my musical is based less on “real-life pirates” than on the pirates of romantic fiction and, of course, the movies. (So, yes, it was research when I watched those ten pirate movies in a row.)
One aspect of pirate films that interests me was that, because the hero is a pirate, the villain is almost always a civilized or cultured person, often a member of a corrupt government. This is because pirate films situate piracy in the history of ideas as a kind of radical libertarianism—i.e. a way to combat tyranny. The pirate hero turns to piracy only after he has come to witness society’s injustice. Piracy becomes a kind of political statement, and the hero is motivated not so much by greed as by a desire to right what is wrong in the world. And since I’m kind of obsessed with politics, this was one of the things that fascinated me about pirates right off the bat, in addition to the fact that they’re unassailably cool.
(In history, piracy was probably closer to radical capitalism than to radical libertarianism, but in the Golden Age of cinema, when most of these pirate films were made, it was not nearly as cool to glorify unbridled capitalism as it is now).
My research also led me to the discovery that someone wrote a book of historical research called Sodomy and the Pirate Tradition. I haven’t read it, but as I understand it, the thesis is that pirate ships not only tolerated homosexuality, but that they de facto attracted it (see above re: radical libertarianism). That’s what made me certain that there had to be at least one flamboyantly gay pirate in my musical… but musical comedies must end happily. And then there were two.
LAUREN F. A lot of your work happens in high-style farce. What draws you to this style specifically?
TIM D. I guess it’s mainly the fact that when I go to the theater, I enjoy myself most when I’m laughing. The best time I had at a theater this year was at Signature’s production of Old Hats—infectious physical humor that was more about a connection with the audience than Saying Something Deep—but that managed to say some clever stuff along the way too. (For example, an iPad sketch that lampooned the proliferation of modern devices we use to project images of ourselves, a sketch ridiculing modern politicking, and a song that began with the lyric “Feminists don’t have a sense of humor”).
In high school, my favorite playwright was Christopher Durang, and I devoured every word he ever wrote. Then I went to college and decided I wanted to be a Serious Writer, so I wrote some dramatic plays. Then I began to realize that being a Serious Writer and writing funny stuff are not mutually exclusive. Humor will get your audience to pay attention—and once you’ve got that, hopefully you have something to say to them.
LAUREN F. In our writing group, you are affectionately known as “Tim 2.” How does this designation make you feel? Would you rather be “Tim 1”? “Tim 3”? Why is Tim the best name?
TIM D. The problem of duplicated names would have been mitigated if I had joined Lather Rinse Repeat before I entered the fourth grade, because then I would have been Timmy. However, I rightly judged that Timmy is much too childish a name for a fourth-grader, so over night, I became Tim, and ceased to be a child.
But to answer your question, I don’t mind being Tim 2. As long as everyone recognizes that I am the alpha male in the group, I don’t care what they call me.
TIM D. You write a lot of silent characters that people love. What is your favorite thing about silence?
In one of his books of lyrics, Stephen Sondheim reminisces about being in the nose-bleed seats of Broadway shows in the mid-1950s and having to lean forward to hear. That’s one of the most unique things about theater: knowing that you have to be so present in every moment or you’ll miss something—a gesture, a word, an intake of breath. Today’s audiences are so used to having culture come to us immediately when we want it (cf. Netflix, Hulu, et al), but theater provides something different: a demand on our full attention. So I like the idea of someone who is hard to understand—or who you have to learn to understand.
I have written two nonverbal characters recently – one is based on the character Lavinia from Titus Andronicus and the other is Marbles, a mute pirate in my musical. Lavinia’s difficulty communicating arises partly from her lack of a tongue and partly from the fact that most of the other characters don’t listen to her. However, if we in the audience are interested and expend our full attention, we will understand her—and that understanding can be unexpectedly rewarding both because it requires effort and it bucks our expectations. We realize that words aren’t nearly as important as we think they are.
Marbles, on the other hand, despite being mute and unable to sing, communicates better than any other character in the musical. In fact, there are a few moment when Marbles is communicating nonverbally with the other characters so effectively that the audience doesn’t grasp exactly what he is saying. Again, words aren’t really that important, if you pay attention, and if you’re present in the moment.
If Lavinia or Marbles are particularly lovable characters, I think it’s mostly because, in spite of their verbal difficulties, they are dedicated to communicating and, above all, to listening. Which is what I love about silence, I think. It reminds us to listen.
LAUREN F. You’re super busy this summer! What are you looking forward to, working on, excited about?
TIM D. At the beginning of the summer, I directed music for a show at Ars Nova’s ANT Fest and then departed on a two-week whirlwind tour of the West Coast. I hit up San Francisco, Los Angeles, Seattle, and Canada’s Sunshine coast. I’ve also been having a blast directing a professional a cappella group called The Manhattones. And, because one can never have too much a cappella, my college group the Yale Spizzwinks(?) is having its 100th Anniversary next year, so I’m interviewing alumni from many decades to make a video filled with crazy anecdotes of things old Yale men did when they were young. (They sang, for example.)
Also, I just finished my first full day of a month-long residency at an incredible artist’s colony in the Adirondacks called the Blue Mountain Center. It’s been thrilling to meet so many talented and generous artists. It must have been a mistake that they let me come too. Also, there’s a No Cell Phone policy, which is wonderful (yay silence!). My plan for the residency is to finish the musical and to return to a play that’s been on the back burner for about ten months. It’s a satire/farce about micronations, which is, more or less, when you declare your bedroom to be an independent country and start making stamps and passports.
Right now, I’m just happy to be in such a beautiful place surrounded by nature… and, of course, silence.
tim d. fears the abyss.