Originally commissioned by The Goodman Theatre in 1996, and envisioned as a play with music, OO-BLA-DEE merges the social milieu of a little known period of recent American history with the creation of a musical vocabulary specific to that time and place. With its focus on the female African-American jazz instrumentalists of the 1930’s and 40’s, OO-BLA-DEE’s development has drawn on musical research, oral histories, and a variety of media representations of the women of this era. Most intriguing, however, is the larger sense of the theatrical landscape for this piece. As is typical of Regina’s work, the world in which the play lives is every bit as important as the text of the play. With OO-BLA-DEE, we envisioned a physical production which would meld the naturalistic confines of a recording studio and backstage dressing room with the larger abstractions of media images of African Americans and women in the 1930’s and 40’s. Characters from the play’s central plotline would interact with characters from films and images from popular culture. Furthermore, we wish to develop a musical score for the piece that would transcend the conventional sense of that term; actors would physically create the sound effects of each scene’s time and place, as well as provide an aural sense of emotional mood. These effects would supplement an original score of vocal and instrumental jazz music modeled after the jazz standards of the time.
What our time at Sundance allows is the intersection of these production elements with the text of the play: actors developing human-created sound effects, and subsequently working with collaborators in finding those places in the play that would benefit from this stage conceit; both writer and director working with a jazz composer to score new compositions for lyric passages in the text. Rather than being forced to do all of this while the play is in a pre-production rehearsal period (which, by necessity, always demands an eventual focus on product rather than process), the results of this intersection can be taken away by the playwright and fed into the further refinement of the text. This is the kind of revising that cannot happen when a writer is working in isolation.
—Regina Taylor and Tazewell Thompson
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