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Music Engenders a Feeling: the Musical Inspirations of Ghost Rings

Posted September 1st, 2017

Next week theater maker Tina Satter and her New York-based ensemble Half Straddle will return to Philadelphia with Ghost Rings, part of the 2017 Fringe Festival. The show explores exceptionally close friendship, non-heteronormative romance, female families, and so much more. Oh yeah, and it’s a pop concert.

Half Straddle are no strangers to integrating original music into their shows, but with Ghost Rings, they decided to up the ante. “[Half Straddle composer] Chris Giarmo, and I had been discussing doing a project that really focused on singing,” Satter recently told the FringeArts Blog. “Chris had expressed that he wanted to experiment with making music out of our collaboration that was more challenging and really required very, very good singers to do it and I loved that challenge.” To help realize this goal, Satter looked to a variety of musical sources for inspiration. Whenever it struck, she’d pass the song to Giarmo, explaining what it was about the particular track that caught her attention, and he’d take that influence into consideration as he composed.

Satter was gracious enough to provide us with this short playlist with some of those inspirations. Though the sounds on the list may be varied, they are all bold in their vision, defiant in their aesthetic, and unapologetically female. The music of the show reflects the sonic diversity to some degree, and yet it’s all remarkably cohesive, unified by its absurdly talented band/performers—featuring Satter and Giarmo, and fronted by Erin Markey and, for this iteration, Amber Gray—and the hilarious and heart-wrenching narrative at its core, one that could only have been conveyed through such a theatrical song cycle. As Satter put it in the aforementioned interview, “Music engenders a feeling you can’t even name in your body, heart, and brain. Watching these people onstage not just creating narratives and drama but all this live melody really paired with the content of the show and our holistic approach to it from the earliest stages.”


“The Weakness in Me” by Joan Armatrading

She is the best. Hands down. The storytelling and direct shot of recognizable emotion in this song in particular is very inspiring always. Her music is a constant overarching thing to look to in making music, work, and life in general—so even if not direct at all in a given project we make—looking for our version of the emotional unlocking, storytelling, and melody for a given piece always starts with looking to Joan.

 

“The Eye” by Brandi Carlile

Cannot remember how I first came to this music. But I heard a song somewhere in the summer of 2015 and then looked up the singer. I had never heard of Brandi Carlile. But I started to get so into some of her songs, and was sending them compulsively to Chris saying there was something about this sound that felt like it could work in parts in our approach to Ghost Rings. Then I learned she was this out lesbian in country music and married to a woman and had kids with her, and it felt even more right that she was embedded in some way in this piece we were making in part about queer family-making.  “The Eye” in particular did influence our final song “Not Here”—both in the lyrics I wrote and Chris’s music approach to it. I think Chris’s incredible drag alter-ego, Kimberly Clark, now also covers some Brandi Carlile when she performs.

 

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Making Art in 2017: Tina Satter on Ghost Rings

Posted August 29th, 2017

Name: Tina Satter

Company: Half Straddle

Show in 2017 Festival: Ghost Rings

Past Festival shows: In the Pony Palace/FOOTBALL

FringeArtsTell us about your show. 

Tina Satter: When I started Ghost Rings I had this very early writing of two girls discussing banal and existential questions. In this very early draft they each had an animal that operated as their “Private Inner Being”—one girl had a deer and the other had a seal—but I wanted to play with the idea that these weren’t actually cute, cuddly animals. They were kind of crass, and direct, and not necessarily mean, but didn’t always offer great advice. They sort of actually operated like “mean girls.” The deer in particular even wanted to talk about sex and stuff.

At the same time Half Straddle composer, Chris Giarmo, and I had been discussing doing a project that really focused on singing. We always have original music, scores, and often songs in our shows, and usually these are performed by a mix of untrained and trained singers. Chris had recently expressed that he wanted to experiment with making music out of our collaboration that was more challenging and really required very, very good singers to do it and I loved that challenge and idea. From the beginning, we were like, “Maybe it’s a fully sung-through piece?” but didn’t have any idea what that would mean for us. We also knew from the beginning we wanted to work on it with Erin Markey who has an incredible voice and stage presence, and we’d been collaborating with her for a while at that point. At the time I knew of the actor Kristen Sieh, who’s outstanding, but I didn’t know she was a singer. Then sometime in 2012 I saw her in a show where she sang and she suddenly seemed like the perfect person to play opposite Erin.

Meanwhile, I was honing and refining the writing between these two characters, then called Samantha and Kristen, and their Private Inner Beings (Seal-y and Deer). In the writing they had become these best friends who also have a deep romantic connection. As they grow one truly wants to have a baby with the other so she sets this intention that she is pregnant and it comes true. At the same I was going through all this stuff with my actual sister who I’d always been super close to, but there were pretty intense things she was going through and we were estranged. I couldn’t help putting really direct and personal writing about my sister in the show. It made sense in a way since I would be onstage drumming anyway.

So, I was working on how to make those two distinct aspects of text work together—and then I remembered that when we were really little my sister and I had a “band” with a friend—a fake band obviously, but for a moment in time we took it really seriously. That became this really perfect through-line for Ghost Rings—to re-create a band now as an adult and artist to frame these memories and new stories.

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