San Francisco Playwright Bennett Fisher Talks Musicals, The Devil and Why You Should See Our Next Show!

Our next show, DEVIL OF A TIME, is coming up this October (Monday the 17th, 24th and 31st, to be exact) and will be the first time San Francisco Theater Pub has staged a musical. The project’s originator and developer, Bennett Fisher, has also written the script. He found some time to share his thoughts on the process of generating a new musical and what inspires us to keep telling stories about the Prince of Darkness. Check back over the next few weeks to find out more about the team behind this auspicious event!

How did you first get involved in Theater Pub and this project specifically?

I’m one of the Theater Pub’s founding directors and, as we laid out our 2011 season, we talked about wanting to do something in October that was thematically linked with Halloween. I love Faust and Inferno and had never written a musical, and was able to force my selfish agenda past Brian and Stuart.

So what exactly is this project?

It’s an original musical, performed with a live band, that takes place in a bar over the course of one remarkable night. We wanted to write a musical about temptation, so the story of Faust and the circles of Hell from Inferno are entry points, but the story is really more about relationships: what it’s like to be in that grey area between being single and being involved, what happens when you meet someone and there’s a spark but you’re not sure what it means, whether you are a romantic or a realist. Early on, Kai, Sara, and Sara helped me shift the story to make it feel much more contemporary, and I’m very grateful they did.

What excites you the most about this project?

The collaborators. I had one of the best first meetings of any project I’ve ever had with Kai Morrison and Sara Briendel. We were very much in sync, and their perspectives and input really helped me shape the story. When Sara Judge came on as director, she also took the story and the script forward another leap in our early workshops. And now the cast and the band are moving it forward once again. The joy of writing for a collaborative medium is that you get to draw from the abilities of all the artists that help make the work.

What is the most challenging thing about creating an original musical?

Since we have both music and dialogue to tell the story, you have to ensure that one does not overlap the other. In the early drafts, I found that some of the script seemed needlessly repetitive, because the ideas were communicated in Kai’s songs. There were also parts where we realized we needed a little more to build from one moment to another – we might have a great song, but not the necessary set up in the script to justify it in terms of the story.

Why do you think we continue to tell versions of the FAUST story?

I think it gets at a very central moral dilemma : are you content with what you have, or do you risk something important for greater gain? We try to answer that question every day, and it’s generally not clear what the smarter choice is.

What is your favorite musical and why?

The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill. I think you can look at any one of its parts – the story, the dialogue, the lyrics, the music – and appreciate it on its own, but the whole thing works so fluidly together. I love how it is both very playful and very menacing. “What Keeps Mankind Alive” is one of my favorite songs of all time.

Why do you think someone who doesn’t like musicals should still see this show?

Well, I don’t generally like musicals, so I tried to avoid a lot of things that I find irritating about the genre. None of the people who worked on it are musical theater people (or, at least, not of the jazz-hands, “dah-na-nah-nah-da-na-nah-nah!” school, if you know what I mean). We made a concerted effort to really depart from the kind of music you would expect, the kind of story you expect, the way the songs interact with the story. It’s more like a concert within a play, or a play within a concert.

Our closing night is Halloween- how is this an ideal Halloween event?

The ideal Halloween event is Trick or Treating, but I’m told that I’m too old for that. That said, Halloween lands on a Monday, which is not generally a great night to do ridiculous social things, but this event is plenty social and plenty early. I also think the atmosphere in the story are really in keeping with Halloween: it’s about deception, temptation, and the darker aspects of our personality.

Do you believe in the Devil?

I do. I believe in God and the Devil, but I think, as supernatural entities, that resist normal human psychology. The Devil is that voice that tells you to do something not simply because you know it is wrong, but precisely because you know it is wrong.

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