I was quite curious to find out how Susan was inspired to write about a historical pandemic and reanimation of the dead. And once she decided to start on the artistic journey, how did she get the final product to the stage? If you've wanted to dig deeper into how an interesting idea becomes a final performance piece, read on! Susan answers these questions and more in the following artist Q&A.
Where did the idea for Black Death: The Musical come from?
Susan: For several years my boyfriend Tim and I have gone to Clubhouse Jäger for their Tuesday night geek trivia. It's been a regular hangout spot for fashionistas, artists, musicians, academics, journalists and programmers for around 10 years now. I was having a beer on their back patio with local bon vivant Joseph Ye when it occurred to me that his talents as a composer would be useful for my dream of writing a Minnesota Fringe Festival show.
Did you get to do a bunch of research on the bubonic plague and do you like that kind of thing?
Susan: Yes, definitely! I've been fascinated by the first of three major pandemics of the bubonic plague in Europe, colloquially known as the Black Death, since I was 10 or 11. I was at summer camp and someone had left a bunch of old National Geographic magazines lying around to read during our downtime. I read an article in a May 1988 issue that gave a basic rundown of the historic, cultural and epidemiological aspects of the bubonic plague in Europe. I became obsessed and found out everything I could about the biological and societal impacts of the disease, doing reports on the Black Death in my high school health class and my freshman physiology and anatomy class in college. The more I learned, the more I wanted to know, until I became something of an armchair historian/epidemiologist.
Susan: The composer, Scott, would do a better job answering this question but my understanding is that Paul and Scott got together, had a few drinks and bounced ideas off of each other until inspiration struck. Their chemistry is evident in their work together in their 2007 production of Titus Andronicus for the Cromulent Shakespeare Company. Scott is extremely versatile and gives music lessons in various styles, including chansons from the 14th century.
Where in the Twin Cities do you look to when you want to see a great musical?
Susan: The last great musical I saw in the Twin Cities was at the Fringe Festival. The last several, actually. I really enjoyed the Star Wars Musical (which Scott was also in) as well as You're No Fun, put on by Savannah Reich and Samantha Johns at the Bedlam Theater. I also really miss Theatre de la Jeune Lune for their great work.
What's your role during the rehearsal period for Black Death: The Musical, since you are involved in multiple aspects of the production?
Susan: Since bringing on the extremely capable Shayna Houp as production manager, my role has shifted from playwright to producer. My job has been to manage the funds and promote the show on social media to get as many butts in the seats as possible.
Can you share some of the work you did as a producer leading up to this project being staged for an audience? I seem to recall that there was a crowd fundraising project last winter. Did that go as you hoped? Any takeaways for others who might be looking to get their own work produced?
Susan: Crowdfunding is a great way to raise money for projects. Of course, it's also a lot of work. With a project like Black Death, there's going to be certain kinds of people who go in for that sort of thing: history majors, people interested in pandemics, early-music aficionados and the like.
My advice would be to marshal the resources of your friends and relatives. Everyone who supported us was someone we knew who was excited about our concept and who was excited to see the musical itself. We did a preview show and my dad Bob Woehrle shot a video of one of the songs, which we added to the Indiegogo page. I sent out an email to relatives that was kind of like, "Hey guys I've never asked you for anything in my life, how about you send me some money?" And everyone else did the same thing. We got a Hail Mary contribution at the 11th hour from Robert Stewart that sealed the deal and the rest is history.
Susan: Medieval Black Comedy.
This show runs for three days on the weekend before Halloween. How do you typically celebrate the holiday?
Susan: In the past I've put on a comfortable costume and biked to two or three parties. This year, since it's on a Monday, I'll probably be working.
Susan: I'll probably catch my breath for a minute. I like the way Tim Burton compares a major project like this to giving birth. It's so painful and exhilarating that after it's done you say, "No way, never again!" But after a year or two, the memories of the discomfort fade and you think, "Maybe just one more."
Black Death: The Musical
Book and lyrics by Susan Woehrle
Music by Scott Keever
Friday, October 28, 2016 at 7:30pm
Saturday, October 29, 2016 at 7:30pm
Sunday, October 30, 2016 at 3:00pm
$22 for Adults
$15 for Seniors 60+, Students with valid ID (ages 12+), Military personnel with valid ID, and Minnesota Fringe button holders
Director: Paul Von Stoetzel
Production Stage Manager: Shayna j. Houp
Cast: Rob Ward, Rodolfo Nieto, Carlianne Hayes, Roni Page, Jonathan Flory, Sommer Walters, Thore Dosdall, and Amanda Weis
Production Designer: Heather Baldwin
Promotional Artwork: Whittney Streeter
4330 Cedar Lake Rd South
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55416
Looking for more spooky theater this fall? Artfully Engaging interviewed Erik Hoover of Combustible Company about their immersive performance of "Bluebeard's Dollhouse" at the James J. Hill House.
In the mood for some Minnesota comedy? Check out the Artfully Engaging review of "The Church Basement Ladies In Rise Up, O Men" a Musical Comedy.