The current play at the Kitchen Theatre is a world premiere. Portland, Oregon playwright Francesca Sanders’ play I BECOME A GUITAR is rich and poetic, and it really calls for an elaborate soundscore. In fact, sound designer Don Tindall said that the play reads like it was written by a sound designer–the language and the way that events unfold evoke music and sound in a way that few plays do. Don and composer Ron Kristy and have given it a beautiful, lush score. I talked with Ron about the music in this play.
LESLEY: Tell a bit about yourself—what brought you to Ithaca? What do you write and play?
RON: I make my living composing music for TV, films and video. The invention of the Internet is basically what allowed me to move to Ithaca - I have clients across the country and we send music and video files back and forth over the web. About 5 years ago while living in Nashville, I met Terry Burns, the youngest of the Burns Sisters, at a party. Within the year we got married here in Ithaca. After our son Noah Skye was born 3 ½ years ago, a very wise friend of ours encouraged us to let Noah’s well-being guide us in making major life decisions. We spent the following two summers here to see if we could be happy and still make a living, and I fell in love with Ithaca. We knew in our hearts that this would be a wonderful place to raise Noah. This is a deeply spiritual, creative and progressive town, and the perfect place to freeze in winter. There is such a beautiful community here, and Noah has had a wonderful childhood so far. I’m having a pretty good childhood myself… when not hanging out with Terry and Noah, I compose a lot of music aired on Access Hollywood, the NFL network, PBS - “Soul of the Senate - the Robert Byrd story”, the Discovery Channel - “Angel Stories” & “Miracle Stories,” lots more.
My wife Terry is a wonderful singer/songwriter, and we have begun performing together at coffee houses and spiritual venues, time and Noah permitting. The songs I write from my heart have titles such as “looking deeply” and “caravan of love,” which don’t really play well on the NFL network… I visited and taught music on death row at Riverbend maximum prison in Nashville for 6 years, played at peace rallies, spiritual centers and things like talent shows in prison with Bo Lozoff. Not exactly the kind of places to sell a million CDs… but talk about a captive audience! I have written a lot of little songs to Noah, and I (sort of) proposed to Terry by sending her an mp3 of a song I wrote for her. It worked… now I’m very happy and very tired. I’m currently working on 20 TV promos for Universal/Paramount publishing.
LESLEY: This is your first time writing for theater - how is that different from writing for film?
RON: The inherent dilemma of writing music for theater, as opposed to film, is that the pesky actors don’t do everything exactly the same way every performance, which is also what makes it such a magical, organic thing. Writing for film, you watch a cue over and over and find your “hit points,” where you want the music to change mood, etc.
Everything is fluid in a play, which is something that Sara Lampert Hoover, the director, helped me learn by letting me know that most of what I was originally writing sounded great but was not going to work! The music had to be easily manipulated and looped so that it could work within the variances of the performances. Honestly, I still don’t exactly know how it works. I think it’s magic or something. Sara really helped me to strip the music to its most simple form, to be easily recreated later in the process for various cues. She knew exactly what she liked when she heard it. She also knew what she didn’t like! It was honest, demanding, and fun working with her. Sound designer Don Tindall is like, dude, where did you come from? Don knows so much about sound and music for theater that it wouldn’t surprise me if he were kidnapped and interrogated by agents from a foreign country that doesn’t have the theater technology that we have. His cue sheets look like something you could guide the Mars Landing probe with. Without Sara and Don I wouldn’t have had a clue about the process. One more thing about the team - a major part of the beauty and emotion of the music comes from the quiet yet awesome talent of Nate Silas Richardson (of Rep Studio) as a guitar player and sound engineer extraordinaire. No kidding.
LESLEY: We learned at an early read-through of the play with designers in attendance that you actually have lived in Zihuatanejo, the tiny fishing village where the character Madrigal was born and raised. Did your history in that village affect the music you wrote for the play?
RON: I actually lived in Mexico for about 9 years in the mid 70s and 80s, and lived for a year in a tiny fishing village named “Pie de la Cuesta” (foot of the coast), between Acapulco and Zihuatanejo. I lived in a palm tree hut, got bitten by scorpions & fire ants, chased by wild boars, rams, mad cows, and federales. It was a totally magical time of possibilities in my life. My neighbors were mostly peasant fisherman with a few sorcerers thrown in - it’s a long way from Bellmore, Long Island… Mexico is a big part of my heart and soul - I absolutely love the country and the people. They are incredibly funny, loving, giving and hard working people. And they love to party! I wrote a lot of music down there for Mexican artists and telenovelas, so writing the music was like visiting an old friend. And what beautiful synchronicity brought me to Ithaca to work on the play! ¡Que buena onda!
LESLEY: Tell about the process of writing music for this play.
RON: The process of writing music for theater is for me, the same process as writing music for film - there’s a lot of kicking and screaming, praying for inspiration and just plain hard work on the way to the final score. There’s probably an easier way, but I don’t know it.
LESLEY: Anything else you’d like to add?
RON: I can talk till the cows come home, but it seems I’ve run out of time…
Peace out, rk
FOR MORE INFORMATION ABOUT THE PLAY, see http://www.kitchentheatre.org/Guitar.html