Spring 2019 Part 2: Dividual

Written by Paul Manganello
Music Composed by Michael Malis
Conceived by Paul Manganello and Michael Malis

Of all the artistic collaborators I’ve been lucky to work with in my life, Paul is probably the one with whom I have the longest relationship. Paul, along with his brother Jim, and I, all went to middle and high school together. In fact, I was on stage with both of them in our middle school production of The Music Man (!). I had the honor of singing Shapoopi in that production. There is an embarrassing video that exists on a VHS. If that video got out, it would crush any shred of credibility that I currently hold as a serious musician.

But since middle school, Paul and I have worked together several times. I’ve scored two productions by the theater company that he co-directs with his brother Jim, Fratellanza. Working with Fratellanza always has the tone for me of stretching my artistic sensibilities, and every time I work with them I grow in leaps and bounds.

The project that Paul and I worked on in Cleveland was not a Fratellanza production — we were very clear on that from the beginning. We began this project sometime in 2016, and we got about halfway through what seemed like was going to be a radio play before life got in the way and we had to abandon it. But last year, Paul recommended that we apply to the Cleveland Public Theater’s Test Flight program to try and finish our work. Test Flight is a new play development program that exists to get shows out of the development process and onto a stage. It was a perfect fit for our fledgling piece.

We started thinking about this new, staged version of the piece in earnest this Fall. I knew that I wanted to use this as a vehicle to work in Max/MSP, which is a platform that I’m becoming more and more familiar with. I also knew that I wanted to work with percussion, but that I didn’t have a huge budget to work with. So I took my close friend Costa Kazaleh Sirdenis, who is a woodworker and overall very crafty guy, to a local junkyard. Costa is also a photographer, videographer, composer, and actor, and he helped me find some amazing sounding tailpipes and brake drums. We cut them off cars with an angle grinder and got them cleaned up. I was ready to start working.

This was a fun way to start the project. I ended up recording countless samples of these instruments, as well as a glockenspiel, finger cymbals, and other knick knacks. These sounds became one of the primary sound worlds of the show.

Paul and I spent the winter conversing over the phone (he lives in Los Angeles now.) He would send me drafts of the script, and I would send him some of my sonic creations. He would record a demo of himself reading the script, and I would send him back a few different versions of different scoring options. This worked to get us to a starting point, but when we arrived to Cleveland we still had a lot of work to do.

Myself being a bit of a novice in the theater, I didn’t have a full appreciation of how skeletal our crew of 2 was. We didn’t have a director; we didn’t have a lighting designer. For me, this turned out to be an incredibly fulfilling void to step into. To be clear — Paul did the bulk of this work while we were in Cleveland, picking up most of the slack. But I was able to give input on all of the lighting cues, as well as give input on directorial decisions. I have to say, this was an incredible thrill for me. I’m immeasurably grateful that Paul trusted me enough to ask my opinion on these things, and it was extremely fulfilling artistically. It reminded me that I don’t have to always put myself in the narrow, predefined box that I often think of myself in.

The show changed a lot in our short time in Cleveland. We consulted with Cleveland-based playwright David Hansen, who served as “outside eye” for our rehearsal process and offered insightful, thoughtful, and clear feedback (David wrote a great blog post about his role in our process.)

Over the course of the week we really discovered the show. Part of that stemmed from a decision we came into the week with: we had as a tenant of the show that I should be on stage. Over the course of the week, we discovered why. Without giving too much away, I’ll just say that over the course of the show it is revealed that I’m not just scoring the show, but am actually a character in the show. That ontological shift is close to the heart of the show, and many of the important moments in the show hinge on that shift.

We performed the show three nights, and got great feedback from audiences. Paul delivered a masterful performance, putting on a masterclass in all the focus and attention it requires to be on stage in that way (it’s more focus and attention than is required of most musicians, ever, and it is terrifying.) We came in with a half-baked idea and ended with a product that we are both incredibly proud of. We’re currently in the stage of figuring out what next steps are, but we are very much looking at continuing to develop the show into something evening-length. Hopefully we can make that happen soon.

That’s it for Dividual. The next post will be about I Got To Keep Moving. Stay tuned.

Thanks for reading,