In our ongoing series taking you behind the scenes of our next production, “Devil of a Time” director Sara Judge chats about the experience of bringing Theater Pub’s first musical to life, why you should see it, and which movie musical gets her all time seal of approval.
How did you first get involved in Theater Pub and this project specifically?
I was researching SF theater companies that were creating work similar to what I had been working on in Philadelphia. Philly is a new-works kind of town, so 90% of the work I did there involved developing new work. Theater Pub just seemed to speak my language; I like how their work focuses on new plays and re-imagined classics. It seemed like a place I could get my hands dirty. I contacted them online and Stuart invited me to a play reading salon for the Theban Chronicles and that was where I first met 3 of the founders, including Ben, to talk about directing their staged reading of Seven Against Thebes for June of 2010. Over that year I made some great friends, directed Canary Yellow for the Bay One Acts, composed and performed musical adaptations of Oscar Wilde poems for Wilde Card—that was when Ben approached me about directing Devil of Time. I’m also a singer-songwriter and have worked with bands and a variety of musicians in Philadelphia and SF. I think Ben saw me as a good fit because of my background in indie music and folk bands. And I’m glad he did because it’s been a great journey so far.
What exactly is this project?
A contemporary folk musical inspired by the stories of Faust and Dante’s Inferno. I’m a big fan of Ben’s playwrighting. He always manages to create rich characters, often using very few words, who mirror ourselves. In a big way, this is a story about our constant, sometimes paralyzing, struggle with choice, how to make the best use of this apparent “free will.” I think the endless amount of choice we have, especially today—from “what should I study?” or “what dish-soap should I buy?” to “is it worth it to trade my committed relationship for new possibilities?” The struggle with endless choice, I think, is closely connected to our contemporary expressions of lust, temptation, greed, gluttony—the guts of what writers like Goethe and Dante have been writing about for hundreds of years. Although in this story we focus on the most interesting of the choices we face—when you’re in that stage with a lover between being single and being in a committed to a relationship. “Should I stay or should I go?”
What excites you the most about this project?
The artists I’m working with excite me. Kai and Sara are exceptional songwriters and composers. It’s my first time working with them and I’m blown away at the quality of work they’ve produced for Devil. Ben is super fun to work with, so smart and just a really talented writer. I’ve worked with many playwrights and he stands out big time. I couldn’t be more excited about the actors and musicians we have working on this piece. I think we really lucked out with the talent we have. It certainly makes my job a lot easier. I’m also really excited that we are creating a spooky rockin’ musical for Halloween, and that we are actually performing on Halloween.
What is the most challenging thing about creating an original musical?
I think the most challenging part for me right now is weaving the music and text together seamlessly. We are still working on that in rehearsals and it’s challenging but also very exciting because we are constantly finding new ideas to explore and new ways to express those ideas. There is a whole world in that intersection between the music and the text, where the play is breathing. I want the audience to feel that on the back of the neck.
Why do you think we continue to tell versions of the FAUST story?
This is a story about the human condition. When you break it down there is no other story, only different versions of it, from different points of view. So yes, there have been many intentional retellings, but you can find a little bit of FAUST in every story. And (not to get too existential, but) as we grow as a species in a Judeo-Christian culture, underneath all the advancements in thought, in science, in technology, there remains the flesh, our humanity and the struggle between those two voices of good and evil, right and wrong.
What is your favorite musical and why?
West Side Story has always been my favorite musical. Another retelling—of Romeo and Juliet. West Side Story is one of the most soulful musicals I’ve ever seen or heard. I also love it because they weren’t afraid to express social taboos and cross boundaries that were controversial for that time period. I think that story, more so than Romeo and Juliet, tells the story of Romeo and Juliet—conveys the emotional and intellectual dilemma in a way that Shakespeare couldn’t—to a post-modern audience.
Why do you think someone who doesn’t like musicals should still see this show?
I don’t generally like musicals, to be honest. I just saw Wicked last year, only because it had proven itself to be stage-worthy, running for so many years, and it was playing down the street. It was pretty good. The singers blew me away. The story was cool. You know, that was also a retelling—The Wizard of Oz pre-Dorothy, the coming of age of the witches. I would urge non-musical-lover-people like myself to see Devil of a Time because this is a fresh re-telling of timeless story. If I had to list 3 reasons they would be:
1. This story is about YOU.
2. The music is awesome and will give you chills.
3. You are in the play. The Café Royale is the setting and the audience is a big part of the play.
Our closing night is Halloween- how is this an ideal Halloween event?
What could be more fun on a Monday night Halloween than dressing up (maybe?), drinking with friends and watching live music while your fellow pub patrons come to life in a way that takes you on a ride through hell?
Do you believe in the Devil?
I do not believe in the Devil but I love what “the Devil” personifies. I tend to believe that humans are innately good, but we’re animals and the tiniest imbalance can set off our hair-trigger reptilian brain–That part of ourselves that could kill (in self-defense?), that would steal (to feed a hungry child?), that part of ourselves that is driven to seek sex above most other things (no alternative explanation needed?). What happens when we can’t control that kind of behavior? We have a conversation with the Devil. I don’t think there is a devil or evil. I think those concepts provide ways of understanding ourselves.