This weekend, Four Humor Theater presents the world premiere of The Age of Wordsworth, a rock musical using the writings of William Wordsworth, Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, and Percy Bysshe Shelley. It's the first full-length musical that the company has undertaken. The play will feature live music composed by Nicholas Jacobson-Larson.
City Pages took a moment to talk over email with director Jason Ballweber about creating the piece.
How did you guys come up with the idea for the show?
About 12 years ago I read the poem We Are Seven. I fell in love with it and read more of Wordsworth's work, and started reading his peers' work also. I really enjoyed the romantic era and the way that the artists viewed nature, death, and knowledge. More specifically, the lack of knowledge and how stupidity is not a bad thing.
That whole time I kept going back to the idea of creating a show about the poem We are Seven, and it finally happened.
Was there a lead writer? Or was its creation improvisational?
Originally I was going to write the show and I started to, but when I brought it to the company something just wasn't right. It was after a reading of the partial script that I decided to create the show with the Four Humors company.
After that reading we switched gears and I started leading in the creation of the script. Rehearsals consisted of improvisations that were inspired by a poem or fact about Wordsworth's life.
Very early on in the process we were using haikus to start the scenes. I can't remember the writer, but one of my favorites was:
Killing the fly
I instantly felt
That haiku led to a lot of really excellent work that started our exploration of grieving and celebration.
Is this a more ambitious show than you have done in the past?
This show is definitely different from anything we have ever done. We always try to choose shows that will surprise the audience or ourselves or both. We have never done a musical before and we have certainly never created a musical before.
How much of the play is taken directly from poetry?
Most of the show is taken from the poetry and literature of the time. We used the poems as lyrics and inspirations to the songs and used literature for some of the text in the scenes. In the end, we created a piece that mixes the myths of the poetry with the reality of the life of William Wordsworth. It's a really great way to remember a really great poet.
The Age of Wordsworth features Four Humors Company members Brant Miller, Ryan Lear, Alisa Mattson, Jenny Moeller, Rachel Petrie, Ryan Dixon, Mark Rehani, Nick Ryan, Toby Rust, Kristin Campbell, Matt Spring. Performances are March 18 through 20 and March 24 through 26 at the Southern Theater (1420 Washington Ave. S., Minneapolis). Performances are at 7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Fridays and Saturdays, and 7 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $18 presale, $22 at the door, and $12 student rush. For more info, visit Southerntheater.org.