Devon de Mayo is the associate artistic director of Dog and Pony Theatre Company. Pivot Arts’ incubator program allowed her company to begin work on a newly devised piece and explore how much they should rely on found text vs. fictionalizing parts of an historic story. Following is her description of their process (and pictured above is company member, John Blick).
Dog and Pony spent the past week working on a new piece about Richard Wagner and King Ludwig II. Company member John Blick brought this story to us, and we all became quickly excited by the relationship between these two historic figures. When Ludwig and Wagner met, Wagner was 51 years-old, running from creditors and was fairly washed up. Ludwig was 18 years-old, 3-months on the throne as King of Bavaria and full of promise. As soon as they met, an intense friendship took a powerful hold of them that would define much of their lives for the next 20-plus years. Wagner would write The Ring Cycle under Ludwig’s financial support and personal guidance. The idea of patron and artist and how they can both serve to create art fascinated us.
We discovered that Wagner and Ludwig’s letters are easy to access. For this first exploration of this story, we decided to commit ourselves to only working with found text — a challenge we’ve never attempted before — which would be exciting and allow us to work only with the language of our main characters. Since both were prolific, it’s been a blast to explore them with their own words. In particular, we narrowed in on their first meeting. Can we use their letters to create this event? We’ve also worked with abstract movement to attempt to capture the subtext of the meeting. The hope is that in marrying the found text with the movement, we can start to uncover what is important about this event, and how we’d like to think of it within the bigger scope of a full play.
Day 1 of the workshop found us reading many of the letters and discussing the relationship between the two men. Day 2 we broke into small groups and each created our own cut and paste version of their first encounter using the variety of sources we had: letters from friends of both men, Wagner’s long account of the meeting, Ludwig’s letters to various friends, etc.
Here is company member and playwright Aaron Weissman’s take on Day 3 of the workshop:
We focused on the text, with the goal of weaving the three different versions (of Wagner and Ludwig’s first meeting) we’d made the night before into one script. So we started out by making a ton of photocopies of the various letters, which we then cut and taped together to form the three versions. Then we taped those up on the wall to compare and contrast. We isolated the different sections of each, and the different actions going on, and then set to work combing them by cutting and pasting our three versions. Suffice it to say that access to a copier was crucial for this kind of iterative process, and Ali (one of the Loyola students that we are working with) was an absolute rockstar in making it happen.
By the end of the night we had successfully combined the different versions into a single script that captured the major elements of all three. We were all a bit pleasantly surprised to see how well this had worked! And we figured we can now use this script as a starting point to explore movement, music and tone.
On Day 4, we started to add movement to see where we could fill in the subtext. We arranged and re-arranged the found text in a variety of ways and added and subtracted voices such as gossipers in Munich, the female confidant of Wagner and Ludwig’s mother. Day 5 we continued to refine this piece to see what we had and if the story was emerging. This coming weekend, we will continue to work on this moment in the story and also start to tackle the end of the friendship – Wagner’s death. We’ve started many discussions about the structure of the overall piece, but for now are trying to focus in on these moments to see what is popping out and exciting to us about the relationship.