Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Pirate Events, New York City- Theatre

The Accidental Patriot, The Lamentable Tragedy of The Pirate Desmond Connelly, Irish by Birth, English by Blood and American by Inclination, is opening this weekend in New York City.

Pertinent Logistical information is at The Accidental Patriot's Website or Stolen Chair's Website

I was lucky enough to interview John Stancato, to Co-Artistic Director of the Stolen Chair Theatre Company, and he answered some questions for you, mateys, posed by me. Yarr.

The Pirateologist General (TPG): As a theatre lab "dedicated to theft, recycling and re-examination of historical performance styles" it's obvious that such a briganding theme was bound to cross your bow, but what was the inspirational moment that led you to create The Accidental Patriot…?

John Stancato (JS): In 2005 we launched the CineTheatre Tetralogy, a 4 year mission to adapt 4 classic American film styles for the stage. This series began with The Man Who Laughs, a live silent film for the stage inspired by the Victor Hugo of the same name. Last year we presented Kill Me Like You Mean It, an absurdist film noir for the stage. We had originally wanted the third installment to be a beach movie for the stage and though that idea was soon abandoned, we did find ourselves attracted to the technicolor escapism that something like that could offer. A friend of the company, Mark Killian, suggested we check out the classic swashbucklers of the 1930s. A few of the core company members rented Captain Blood, The Sea Hawk, and The Adventures of Robin Hood and the deal was sealed. From the very first frame of The Sea Hawk, it was totally apparent to all of us that a swashbuckler was impossible to perform on stage. And that is why we had to do it! :)

TPG: What are your personal favorite pirate movies? What just makes you stand up and scream Arrrrr?

JS: I'm really drawn to the two Errol Flynn pirate flix I mentioned above, primarily because his character in both of those is a reluctant/conflicted pirate, much like Orlando Bloom's character in the first of the Pirates of the Caribbean trilogy. We also spent some time researching the biographies of Captain Kidd and John Paul Jones, two former pirates who tried to go clean.When the pirate actually struggles with his piratical identity, one gets such a clear glimpse at how exactly, piracy queers a pirate in his relation to mainstream norms. We see how he is outside the bounds of traditional masculinity, class, and national identities.

TPG: As kids did you play pirate? If so, tell me about it, what was your experience with piracy as children? Did any of you build a refrigerator sailing ship and take on passersby to steal their doubloons?

JS: I totally missed out on pirate playtime as a kid. Now that we've got 15 cutlasses and a giant jungle gym of a set with swinging ropes, cargo nets, and sails I keep getting into trouble with the rest of the cast and crew because I wanna play! On some level, one of the purest pleasures of directing this show (and, hopefully, watching it) is the opportunity to sit and marvel as 18 tremendously talented performers get to recapture their youth and play pirate.

TPG: One of your influences is Greek tragedy, are there any specific legends you worked with when creating this opus?

JS: We were looking primarily at the Oresteia of Agamemnon and the Oedipus of Sophocles. Blending them together gives you a sort of "Greeks' Greatest Hits": incest, patricide, tragic flaws, blood curses, vengeance, etc.

TPG: Music played a big part in the life of men at sea, you've included colonial shanties and drinking songs, how do they work into the story you've created?

JS: Early on in the process, we discovered that neither a verse nor prose tragic chorus would work for this piece. It just seemed too incongruent with the swashbuckling world, and not incongruent in a way that really "said" something. In tragedy, the chorus is supposed to provide the rhythmic backbone to a piece and is intended to represent the "common people" affected by the tragedies of the nobles. What better way to bring in rhythm and the voice of the people than to use original melodies from the taverns and shipdecks of the 18th century? We decided to use fiddle as the instrumentation after I read a story about how the pirate Robert Culliford (arch nemesis of Captain Kidd) used to distract enemy boats with his pirate fiddler.

TPG: Does the cast go out on weekends and take on barges in the East River? In short, are you method actors?

JS: Not really, but that's probably just because we've spent every weekend since early March rehearsing. :)

TPG: How do you work the themes of patriotism and piracy together? What made you decide to show this play now?

JS: What really struck me about Captain Blood was that when he swore himself to piracy, he refused to attack English ships, even though he had good cause to be vengeful towards them. So he was, in a manner of speaking, a patriotic pirate. We became really interested in how one could juggle multiple identities simultaneously: pirate, patriot, Irish-born, English-citizen, sympathizer to the American cause. All of us balance our group identifications on a daily basis and it is the stuff of most action films: do I save my country even if it means that my loved one dies? I found myself really interested in this tension as shows like 24 have brought it to absurdly operatic dimensions. I think we realized that the way these things function, at least in popular culture, is that one is 100% committed to a particular affiliation (be it romantic, filial, national, religion etc) until it is no longer expedient to be so and then one unconsciously defaults to an affiliation that relieves us of this tragic conflict. Someone could be "proud to be an American," except when he is prouder to be Jewish, or a New Yorker, or of Italian descent, etc.

TPG: What can someone coming to the show expect to see?

JS: Revenge, romance, massive swashbuckling battles, duels to the death, incredible music, lots of laughs, and one of the coolest sets that has ever been installed in a downtown theatre.

The Accidental Patriot... runs from April 25 through May 17 at The Milagro Theatre in New York City.

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