God’s Ear is a play by the American playwright Jenny Schwartz. It’s in the process of being being produced and directed by Colm Summers, who will be the first to bring it to an Irish audience.
A week before its first showing, I sat in on a rehearsal and spoke to Summers along with the two composers responsible for the production’s original music, Seamus Ryan and Lenny Buckley, about the origin of their adaption, surrealism, and the role of music in telling a story.
What attracted you to doing an adaption of God’s Ear, a relatively new and obscure piece?
Colm: I was given the opportunity to have a debut of any show that I wanted by my college for a final year project. However, after coming off the back of a tour I had worked on with Lenny, called Enemy of the Stars, which was the biggest project I had ever been a part of, I was exhausted. I felt spent and like I had nothing left to give artistically.
After three days of reading every play I could get my hands on in the college’s library, I still had no idea. So I decided to go to the second-hand section of Chapters and adapt the first interesting play I could find. I found this small collection of works called “American Plays Volume 2,” at the end of which was “God’s Ear,” and it just immediately resonated with me.
It resonated with the way I know the world, and the way I know my family. Its influences, I felt, were also similar to my artistic influences. Spectacle, additive art, surrealism, and post-modernism were important movements for me. God’s Ear and myself seemed similar in that sense.
How does directing a surreal work compare to directing something more along the lines of realism?
Colm: It certainly isn’t easier than directing something with more realism, which some people may think. It’s not a case of throw shit at the wall until it sticks. Instead, it’s about creating something beautiful. However, the piece isn’t devoid of realism, I hope. We definitely tried to add moments of realism. I wanted the characters to switch between different realities, to switch between realism and surrealism. So surrealism isn’t a different dimension all together, it’s different realities being mashed into one context.
Seamus and Lenny, how did you end getting involved in Colm’s production of God’s Ear?
Lenny: I was on holidays with Colm while he was still in the process of deciding. He asked me to read through God’s Ear and briefly mentioned that he would need some music to accompany certain parts. When I got around to looking it over, I immediately sent a text to Colm and I was overcome with excitement.
Seamus: Lenny and I met up to have coffee one day, to talk about another play we were planning to do. Lenny said, ‘I have bad news, it doesn’t look like I’m going to have enough time to do this play, but I have much better news, go read God’s Ear and tell me if you’re interested in writing music for it with me.’
Lenny: While we were waiting to see whether we had got the rights, we started jamming regardless.
Seamus: We had never played music together before so it was a process of getting to know each other as musicians. We said that we were jamming with nothing in mind, but we recorded everything and sent it to Colm.
Colm: I was in Edinburgh, working with a comedy company, getting these emails around twice a week. To me it’s the beginning of our production. The jams helped inform me on decisions that I would make about all elements of the play. The music was there from the start.
How did the sound develop as the play began to come together?
Lenny: With the jams we were trying to get an underscore before the songs. Just so we could find a vibe we were happy with.
Seamus: During the first rehearsal, it was Lenny, Colm, and myself in a room. We started playing some of the stuff we had liked during the jams. A lot of the messing around during the summer went in to helping us form the character Lanie’s first song.
Colm: It was such an incredible process to distill from these 70-minute tracks to 3 minutes.
Lenny: We had two weeks before term started to get 7 songs finished. We started jamming a new song every day and would have finished it the next day.
Seamus: We came through the end of the two weeks with the seven songs finished. The immediacy of us being there with Colm, being able to discuss whether a particular song sounded like a particular character and whether a song conveys the right mood for a scene, helped.
One of the most striking parts of God’s Ear, I found, was the way the mood was conveyed. Often, I thought, the feelings of the characters were conveyed more through their expressions and the underscore than the words they were saying. For example, they could be saying something completely innocuous but the dissonance underneath made the part sound sinister. How important was the music in helping to create that part of the narrative?
Seamus: I was in the rehearsal room with the actors and we were talking about the scenes and how they felt about the characters. One day I said fuck it, there’s a piano here, so instead of going home and writing the music as I first intended to, we tried to write it there and then. Colm was there to tell us if we were on the right track.
Colm: I actually thought you had planned that!
Lenny: The impression I got was that it was a symbiotic relationship; they kind of complemented each other. The actors would listen to the music and Seamus would listen to the actors as well, feeding of each other’s energy.
Seamus: When we’re going through scenes and I’m playing an underscore with a definite rhythm, I can always feel whichever actor it is, usually Caithlin or Hugo, I can always feel them adapting the cadence of their speech to the score.
As God’s Ear is coming out next week, what are the main aspects that you feel could entice people to go see it?
Lenny: I think there’s something for everyone in it. There’s moments that are deeply entertaining, ones that are hilarious, and ones that are heart-wrenching. There’s also things that are just absolutely baffling.
Seamus: I feel like it’s a show even if you don’t relate to the thought process you relate to the setting, or vice versa. The way God’s Ear is structured is kind of the way I remember things. Everything’s different stuff at one and no memories happy or sad, they’ve got all these clashing elements to them. Most people must relate to that.
Colm: I think even if you didn’t like theatre you could like this show. It’s about love, death and loss, and if you can’t relate to those things, you’re not human. It’s the thing that I’m most proud of. And it goes without saying that the content is deeply meaningful to me.
- God’s Ear runs from Nov 25th to Nov 27th 2015
- 6pm start-time, 60 minute run-time
- Samuel Beckett Theatre
- Tickets €10/€5
Words: Conall Monaghan