Randy and I met up with BJ (the Priest) last night to talk about a new scene that we're putting together for November. It's called Tenebrous Absolution, and it goes with the classical guitar/violin piece that I put together awhile back. We've always had a classical guitar piece in the show, but it's evolved a lot since the first run back in 2010. Let me give you a little history..
Way back in the olden days of 2010 when Google had just introduced instant search and Conan O'Brien had just been booted off the air, we were first hatching the initial incarnation of Aeterno Elementum. We had never done anything like it before, and we couldn't find anyone else doing anything remotely similar, so we did what all great artists do: we made it up as we went along. All in all, I think we did a pretty good job. It's a little hard going back and watching the video of that first performance, but even as I'm grimacing at our early plebian efforts towards creating a new genre, I can't help but be amazed that we actually pulled it off.
Back in those days, the story was almost an afterthought to the music and spectacle. We threw a whole ton of stuff into the mix, and while it may not have made sense in any cohesive way, it was at the very least cool to look at and consistently stimulating. As a way of showcasing some of our impressive musical abilities, we had added a couple classical solo pieces, including a piano solo by Rachel our keyboardist and a classical guitar solo by Randy. He was playing a piece called Koyunbaba by Carlo Domeniconi - it had no tie in to the story at all, but it was a good display of talent, and that was really all we were looking for at the time.
In our post mortem of that show, we determined that we really wanted to change the feel of our so-called Heavy Metal Opera. We wanted it to be more opera-like and less like a bunch of performers vying for a spotlight with some semblance of a story in the background. We still wanted the acrobatic ass-kicking fight scenes, but we also wanted to know why that guy was so motivated to take the pact from the evil demon and gain the power so he could become a one man wrecking crew jump-kicking people's eyeballs out. So we spent a lot of time brainstorming and reworking the story to fit within the framework that we'd already established. The characters started to become three dimensional, rather than the flat caricatures they had been purposely designed as. We pretty much revamped the entire show, and while the essential elements of the story were relatively intact, everything else surrounding was new, more cohesive and better thought out. The only thing that did not change were the solo pieces, because at this point in our development we still felt they stood alone as performance pieces.
Well, to be fair, there were some minor modifications to the solos. We had a clever little intro that we came up with during a rehearsal where BJ brought Randy's bench on stage and had a little confrontation with the Imp. It was always good for a few laughs, but really had very little to do with the story. It is something we've kept to this day, however.
Overall, the second run of the show (Nov 2010) was a huge improvement in almost every way. People were actually starting to understand the story we were telling them and taking something away from the theater other than simple sensory overload. The feedback we got from those in attendance was still not perfect, though. We knew we still had a long way to go before the show was where we wanted it.
We determined that one of the major factors that was derailing the story was that the band was constantly in the middle of all the action. It created an unfortunate and unintentional sense of chaos throughout the show that made it very difficult to distinguish what was part of the story and what was just a musician rocking out. Putting the band in an orchestra pit was not an option, but we came up with another solution. We built a second stage on the back half of our existing stage where we could isolate the band when needed. This created a distinct separation between the band and the actors, yet still allowed the musicians to move up closer to the audience when appropriate. This seems like a simple thing, but it made all the difference in how we and our audience viewed the performance. Suddenly, the band was no longer the center point of the scenes. We were the musicians telling the story, but the audience was able to fully focus on the actors and the drama that was unfolding center stage without getting an eyeball full of wind milling hair and guitar headstocks. This changed everything, including how we thought about what we were doing.
The third run (August 2011) ended up being another huge leap in our evolution. With the separation of band and actors, we were free to expand even more on the development of characters and the overall story arc. BJ managed to milk an unbelievable amount of depth from his plight as the Priest, and for the first time, the Demoness was no longer a force of pure evil, but a multifaceted anti-hero who was simply doing her part to restore order to the world. It also marked the first time we were able to use live fire in a performance, which was exhilarating to say the least. Based on feedback from previous shows, we decided to drop the piano solo - not because it wasn't good, but because it had been described as being a little too non sequitur. The guitar solo had been under similar scrutiny, but the scene with the Imp and the Priest was too popular to drop, and people did seem to enjoy the piece for the most part.
We performed again in November 2011 with a largely unchanged show, albeit with quite a bit more polish. The feedback was getting better and better, but one thing that was becoming clear was that the guitar solo seemed to be a large gap in what was now a fairly cohesive and compelling story. Not only that, but it was the only non-original piece of music being performed in the show.
We thought about this problem as we prepared for our next run, and though we didn't come up with any real solution, we did make a very valiant attempt to plug the hole with awesome spectacle. Carrole, our Demoness and Vivian, one of our lead sopranos, created a fire dancing routine that occurred during the song. This filled out the scene a bit, but still didn't provide any link to the story. People enjoyed it, but they still noticed that the gap remained.
Meanwhile, this show marked the pinnacle (to date) of our understanding of the characters and the story. We'd incorporated a few new musical pieces that showcased the interactions between the Priest and the Demoness, and hinted at a much more complex relationship than was initially obvious. This seemed to be one area that we could flesh out a little more, and one of our friends/fans suggested that we turn the classical guitar solo into an extension of that story thread. Unfortunately, the existing music didn't lend itself very well to that, which meant we needed an entirely new original piece.
That brings us to where we are now. I wrote the classical guitar piece based on the outlines of the scene we'd come up with, which we finished fleshing out last night. I think it's one of the final pieces in the Aeterno Elementum puzzle that we've been trying to solve for the past 3 and a half years, and I'm beyond excited to see how it plays out this November.