• Matt Powell

DIRECTORS NOTE: on hope: a digital song cycle

“The constantly diminishing future creates a new emphasis on the here, the present, the now and while the threat of no future hovers overhead like a storm cloud, the urgency of being also expands the potential of the moment and, squeezes new possibilities out of the time at hand.” (Judith Halberstam, 2005)

Judith Halberstam’s writings of queer time feel incredibly fitting to the strange temporality we find ourselves in. I have always feared the tide of change. We find ourselves in a state of time like no other. One where the normative routine of life is thrown off course due to a crisis that, I hope, we never experience again in our generation. Endings feel distant. The busy pulse of streets and reality feel a fleeting memory. The now feels what we can, and have to, embrace.

Throughout life, I’ve often found myself walking the non-normative route in both my career and the journey my identity has taken me on. Halberstam and others writings on queer time helped me understand the lives and tides of change I’ve faced, and particularly helped me contextualise the now.

As a further turning point in “life/career” emerged, I was fearful of what the future would look like. Curiosity into how we keep the theatre flame alive led to a tweet suggesting what a digital musical might look like, which sparked the over four hours of musical theatre you can now experience.

Over the past three weeks, on hope: a digital song cycle has shared stories and voices of over sixty composers across the world. A project of this global scale could only exist in this strange time we find ourself in: one of digital connections, latent conversation and Zoom socials. Out of the hundreds of people creating this project, I’ve only met a handful in person. In fact, I have only met my co-curator and collaborator Victoria Saxton through pixels and Zoom calls. Within twenty four hours of first connecting, we launched an opportunity for composers to respond to the titular theme.

We coined the subtitle “digital song cycle” for the project. A song cycle typically consists of a series of songs designed to be performed in sequence. In the musical theatre world, these are often themed around the works of a composer or a stimulus. The term embraces the mixture of mediums and performance style. When embarking on this project, we found ourselves in a unique intersection of theatre and film.

Our digital song cycle is experimental: we’ve allowed a varied visual and performance language as this intersection opens many different ways of working. It felt very important to respect the moments that are live as the insane technical feat is a form of art itself. When creating recorded performance, we encouraged our creatives to adapt their practice to this new form: be it creating dynamic choreographed videos, animated spectacles and adapting to new forms of liveness. This near impossible feat has been pioneered and brought to life by the brilliant minds of Bartek Podkowa (Seven Hills Films), Heather Pasfield, Adam Lenson, ALPMusicals & Russell Bender.

Another crucial aspect of a song cycle is flow. The presentation of these songs in one unit requires a structure that allows the individual stories, performance styles and sounds to speak for themselves in a collective unity. This led me to design a digital earth reflecting the sparks of light that connect us all together in these strange times.

As this note draws to a close, I’d like to thank the hundreds of people who have created, supported and worked in this new form, A special thanks to Kiki Stevenson at The Other Palace for providing invaluable support and our digital venue for the production. We feel very proud to be the first digital production at The Other Palace. A further thanks to the aforementioned technical geniuses for pioneering and bringing the production to life and to Victoria for being such a generous and wonderful collaborator on this insane project.

As we near the end of on hope’s journey, I feel excited and inspired by the stories and journeys we’ve shared with you all. I'm scared of change. And when this all began, futures seemed incredibly uncertain. Graduating in a time where theatre doesn't exist is strange. It's been great to explore what musicals are in this time and host a huge community of artists.

Togetherness feels incredibly important right now. As the now continues to move forward, it feels beautiful that these stories will remain online and alive forever. I hope, within this darkness, our story brings sparks of light into life to you all.