I spoke with Samuel Fisher, recent TIMARA grad (’14) who is already making waves in the world of theater through his work with the Cleveland Public Theatre. He composed an original score for the new performance, Fire on the Water, inspired by the infamous 1969 burning of the Cuyahoga River. It is the final production in CPT’s Elements Cycle, a series devoted to issues of sustainability and environmentalism.
GJ: How did you get involved in composing for theater?
SF: My involvement in theater as a composer and sound designer began within the arts community at Oberlin. Throughout high school and during my transitional year at Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music I spent a lot of time writing music in isolation- not just physical isolation but intellectual, creative isolation. I grew up in a quaint Georgia suburb where there were not a lot of established resources or communities for sharing and collaboration in the arts, especially when it came to doing something aesthetically or conceptually challenging. First stepping into the Oberlin’s artistic landscape left me reeling. I was surrounded by this community of creative, talented, ambitious, and intelligent visual artists, film makers, musicians of all stripes, dancers, computer programmers, theater makers and more. I couldn’t walk more than ten feet without meeting someone I’d like to have an evening-length conversation with. Seeing the curiosity and artistic awareness that was alive in my peers and teachers made me eager to collaborate. I knew, in some way, that my best growth would come from engaging with the open exchange of content and ideas through a variety of modes of expression that can allow a group of individuals to become a composite thinking, feeling supra-human mechanism. This is the thing that lead me into theater as well as the thing that holds me there. The TIMARA Program did wonders to help me realize this desire to collaborate. The intersection of technology and music, an interdisciplinary study in it’s own right, is viewed in TIMARA as a foundational skill-set for exploring how a student’s creative input might fit within a variety of contexts. My creative path through school included experimentation with film, installation works, and software design but landed squarely, given time, within the practice of creating auditory worlds for theater and dance pieces.
GJ: How did your relationship with CPT start?
SF: I was introduced to Cleveland Public Theater, not so coincidentally, in a semester long arts intensive built around the study of artistic collaboration. This program, created in part by our own Tom Lopez, was called OASIS. It was designed to give a selected group of students from a variety of artistic disciplines the opportunity to work in a focused, close collaborative environment within Oberlin without the distraction of other classes or extracurricular obligations. Throughout the course of the program we worked with Raymond Bobgan and Chris Seibert from Cleveland Public Theater to develop our creations into material for the devised theater work Water Ways. Water Ways was the first play in Raymond’s element series. Fire on The Water, through sheer poetic justice, happens to be the last. During my senior year, one year after closing Water Ways, Raymond put out a call for applications for CPT’s inaugural Kulas Composer Fellowships – positions for early career composers to gain experience in the theater. I was eager to apply, seeing this as an ideal continuation of a professional pathway into designing for theater. During the 2013-14 season I was one of three composer fellows, each of whom designed one show. The fellowship I am engaged in this year is a restructured take on this, with only one fellow who effectively absorbs the time commitment and budget of the other two positions. My current fellowship consists of designing original scores for three shows, operating and designing for a big holiday show, producing an album of Raymond’s music from previous shows, and creating a installation piece for Pandemonium (CPT’s annual party/fundraiser/happening.) It has been a tremendous opportunity to grow in the art-form. The unique challenges of each production have enabled me to grow leaps and bounds as a designer.
GJ: Awesome. What was the process of composing for Fire on the Water like?
SF: Creating Fire on the Water was a fearless and rapid process, full of twists and turns for all involved. I am overjoyed that I was able to bring back the Vaudevillian trio that Rachel Iba, Lisa Yanofsky and I started in OASIS with the addition of Brian Bacon on percussion. Our awkward little ensemble of violin, keyboard, multi-percussion, and vocals aplenty performs an eclectic host of incidental music and a few of own big musical numbers. I began creating the music by watching the many self-contained scenes of the play and rapidly scribbling down the ways that music might interact with the scene. With no script and only a tentative sense of the play’s arrangement, there was little room to develop most of the musical material beyond it’s outline during the rehearsal process. Once Rachel arrived from Boston we had a triumphant series of band rehearsals full of discovery and invention that fed straight into the first day of tech, when all of the show’s music was integrated with the action.
GJ: What is in the works for you next at CPT?
SF: My next design for CPT is a world premiere of a new play called In A Word, directed by Beth Wood. It is a beautiful, clever, and surprising script about coping mechanisms and the constant attempt to repair one’s emotional self in the aftermath of a traumatic loss. The sound design, like the play, will offer a challenge to the delineation between objective and imagined reality. It will be an exploration of how naturalistic sounds can give voice to the hidden world of one’s deepest emotional self and how the music of this emotional world sometimes chooses to speak through us even when we are not listening.
Fire on the Water is up at the Cleveland Public Theatre until February 14th. Learn more and purchase tickets here. -GJ