During our two weeks with Frantic assembly aspart of our introduction to Collaborative theatre making we got to meet some of the artistes that have and do collaborate with Frantic and others as part of making theatre. They werepivotal in understanding that it doesn’t matter how successful they were, they were human and fallible. Adrian Sutton was a hugely personable speaker, humble and very down to earth given his success. As a composer who can put the soundtrack of well known productions such as ‘Warhorse, and ‘Curious incident of the dog in the nighttime’ as part of his portfolio, he was open and very honest in his dialogue with us about his career and how he works.
Adrian started with a great approach, he set up a clip of Warhorse played with 5 different soundtracks to accompany the scene. This was a leading exercise in seeing how important the soundtrack is within a piece and what that music adds to the scene. It certainly highlighted the influence and powerful subtext that music has on the overall context and meaning that is conveyed to an audience.
Adrian discussed the idea of the rehearsal room being a safe place as fear can lead to paralysis. Being able to see something that didn’t work was something that could have a positive perspective, after all not everything can be premeditated.
It was interesting to see where a composer starts in the collaborative process and the information they need to get to the heart of the subtext that needs to be invoked. Adrian said for him it can be the theme of the story, Warhorse for instance there is a definite essence of human suffering. It can also be the central character. Adrian spoke of the struggles he had with ‘Curious incident’ until he realised that it was about the main character and that ‘he’ was the key to him being able to unravel what the audience needs to understand about that character. Adrian talked about how music can characterise quirky things, traits, idiosyncrasies about a character. Adrian found his way in for the main character of Christopher in ‘Curious Incident’ through the character’s love of numbers and counting as it was also his autistic nature that was part of the story. ” Music was the centre of his universe ” Adrian had to get inside the characters head. When we explore the actors role, this is something that you would very much expect to hear about how an actor gets into character and how they would approach the part they were playing. So this was surprising to see how this was just as useful a part of the process for the composer as an actor or director.
Another key thing that came across was that it was essential that a soundtrack didn’t duplicate information (Mickey Mousing) telling us something that we already knew. The music should unearth something that is going on, something that is not being conveyed by the actors or text. “You want your audience to be sitting forward not sitting back”, this was a phrase that came up time and time again in the mantra of theatre collaboration. It was something that clearly mattered to Adrian and he was clear in emphasising the idea that absence of sound was very important too.
I learned that there is a danger that if you can overstimulate the human brain. The rule of 2 and a 1/2 , something to do with 2 elements being blended is a technique that works but when you start looking at doing more than that it will become a mishmash. You have to be able to hear the actors and you can start with an idea that is small and simple and just give it clarity. I really understood that that we need to be ruthless and we have to serve the drama. Adrian ended his session with a Sondheim quote that went something like this… ” If you can take the song away from the scene and nothing changes, then the song never belonged there.”
Adrian was clear in his overall message to us, yes he has a catalogue of work but what he wants for his work is not to be rough and ready but to have clarity. I really got the underlying sense of his ability to give space and trust his collaborators and to invite people in. He told us that the best directors were the ones who could tell him what the play is about as he needs to know what motivates the main character. Music has the power to influence scenes and it can get misunderstood.