Published on April 8th, 2012 | by Biz Books
The Biz Interview: Richard Wolfe and Rick Maddocks of “The Meal”
The Meal is a new guest production at Pacific Theatre by The Lost Gospel Ensemble. Taking its in part inspiration from The Exterminating Angel and several Gnostic gospels, The Meal is the creation of writer Rick Maddocks and director Richard Wolfe. These two creative minds spoke to us in advance of The Meal‘s opening to discuss the production in more detail.
What inspired you to take on this production?
Richard Wolfe: I was invited to participate by Club PuSh co-curator Tim Carlson because of my admiration for musicians in general, my interest in theatre and music hybrids, and my admiration of Rick Maddocks as an extraordinary songwriter. I’ve always felt this project demonstrated a fresh and bold vision on his part.
Can you briefly walk us through your creative process for this production, from the early stages all the way to opening?
Rick Maddocks: I wrote the songs before we got together as an ensemble, a process that took months of research of the Gnostic gospels, working their imagery and ideas into song structures. The vocalists’ individual styles prompted some lyrics to change or get switched from one singer to another. The ensemble members made subtle suggestions about the structure of songs, plus our movements onstage. I was more ruthless; some songs were thrown out or cut in half, a prelude or two was added.
In terms of lyrics and staging, I wanted to explore the power of absence and what an audience might project onto that absence. There’s no mention of Jesus or Lord or Saviour or Christ in The Meal, and neither does such a character appear, not to our eyes anyway. There are no crosses or Christian paraphernalia onstage either, though there are healthy amounts of bread and wine.
At the same time, The Meal has drawn some controversial images and ideas from these “heretical” texts that were banned for centuries. So it might be an equal-opportunity offender—it could ruffle the feathers of believers and atheists alike.
Are there any books or specific authors that have been influential to you so far in your creative journey?
Richard Wolfe: I’m re-reading Hans-Thies Lehmann’s Postdramatic Theatre at the moment.
Rick Maddocks: In hindsight, Samuel Beckett’s Waiting for Godot has been a subconscious touchstone in relation to The Meal. The “lost gospels” of Thomas, Mary Mary and Judas were primary sources.
Other authors that have been influential are Juan Rulfo (Pedro Paramo) and Jose Saramago (Blindness), plus the films of Robert Bresson and Luis Bunuel.
What were the biggest challenges for you as a director in developing this production and how did you deal with them?
Richard Wolfe: Theatricalizing this series of songs was a collaboration with Rick of course, who wrote the piece in a thematically unified way and with a very clear vision. A great deal of the flavour of our show was also brought by our lighting designer Jeff Harrison. As is so often the case, time and money played a factor in how far we could go. There’s a Luis Buñuel side of things that Rick was always interested in exploring, which is the surrealism connected to primitivism, visions and the elasticity of time and place. We had notions of including abstract video, and I had ideas of dance as well, but this would have taken a lot of rehearsal and a couple of other creative partners to achieve. Also, there’s only one actor in this project, the others are musicians from a variety of Indie bands. There are four vocalists and a three musicians playing instruments in this production, along with a choir that’s flexible in its numbers. It’s something like an Indie “super-group”, so in many ways this is a pretty unique hybrid and we’re discovering it as we go along.
What can you share about any future projects that are in development?
Richard Wolfe: Although I can’t announce the title of the play quite yet, I can say that Pi Theatre will be producing the Canadian premiere of an extraordinarily mind-bending play next February.
Rick Maddocks: I am currently at work on a long work of fiction that may end being a novel. It features an alternate history of Canada’s Pacific Coast.
The Meal runs from April 11th, 2012 to April 14th, 2012 at Pacific Theatre. Please visit PacificTheatre.org for tickets and performance times.