season continues for Plan-B with a look at one of the world's great
artists as his muses.
DI ESPERIENZA approaches the creative genius behind the works of Leonardo da Vinci, by putting the master vis-a-vis with three of the inspirational figures for his legendary works. Deconstructing the technical method he used to create and exploring his life from age ten to nearing death. I got to chat with both Jerry and Matthew again about this month's play, and briefly with the cast and crew on a topic or two.
Jerry Rapier, Matthew Ivan Bennett & Various Cast/Crew
Gavin: Hey guys, tell us about the upcoming play Di Esperienza.
Matt: Di Esperienza will give the audience a glimpse of a Leonardo they're probably never had before. The play delves into his self-doubt, his sexuality, and the politics he faced as an artist-for-hire. It's also a deconstruction of the mythic image of Leonardo. Myths are necessary and good: they motivate us; but they can also be forbidding. Sometimes, to be inspired, we must feel that we're capable of doing what our heroes did too. The deconstruction happens in the script, in the costumes, in the set, in the sound, lighting -- everything is a deconstruction.
Gavin: Where did the idea come from to write the play, and what was the process like writing it?
Jerry: Di Esperienza began with a simple phone call. I called Matt a little over two years ago and asked him to write a play about the most talented human ever to have lived. Silence. Then a tentative “Sure.” I wasn’t really prepared for power of the contents of the pdf that would arrive in my in-box a few months later—the most complete first draft of a play I have ever encountered.
Matt: The specific idea came to me when I was flipping through a picture book of Leonardo's paintings. It hit me: his paintings would be the narrators. I already knew I wanted to emphasize Leonardo's trouble finishing certain projects, so I chose three works he had trouble finishing. The writing process for Di Esperienza was certainly different for me. A few times a single quote from the notebooks blossomed into a two or three pages of script. Finding the drama was initially difficult. I had to chip away at my own reverence for Leonardo in order to see struggle. A direct example of how I did this was in analyzing Leonardo's famous letter/resume to the Duke of Milan. A reverential reading of is likely to produce nothing but awe for the many abilities of the Maestro; a more critical reading of it reveals that while Leonardo probably COULD do everything listed in his letter, he hadn't actually done most of it.
Gavin: What inspired you to pick these three specific works of art?
Matt: "La Gioconda" ("Mona Lisa") symbolizes the mystique of Leonardo; the sketch of Isabella d'Este symbolizes the nobility of Leonardo; Judas Iscariot from "The Last Supper" symbolizes the inner critic and the heretical side of Leonardo. I chose them because they're all unfinished in a way. "La Gioconda" was worked on for four years at least and futzed with after that. She was never delivered to a patron. Leonardo died with the painting in his possession. Leonardo never did the promised portrait of the aristocrat d'Este. He only sketched her. Had he applied himself, he probably could have gotten a stream of commissions through d'Este, but Leonardo was seemingly inexpert as a businessman. Isabella d'Este was a central, well-connected monetary force in the Italian Renaissance, but Leonardo failed to seize on her as an ally.
Gavin: You marked that this is only the third English play about Da Vinci. Why are there so few, and how do you feel knowing that fact?
Matt: I think there are so few plays because it's difficult to see how to dramatize the life of a person you see angelically. Most biographies of Leonardo read like lists of his accomplishments. Writing a drama about him is almost like writing a play about Merlin -- Leonardo has become a legend and is attuned to myth.
Gavin: For the actors and designers, what was your first impressions of it when you got wind of the script?
Kirt Bateman (Judas Iscariot): My first reaction was, "God! This man is brilliant." Actually men—da Vinci and Matt.
MIichael Brusasco (Leonardo): What struck me first was not only is Di Esperienza a highly intellectual debate between Leonardo’s works, it’s also surprisingly entertaining.
Tracie Merrill (La Gioconda): Di Esperienza dares to explore da Vinci’s failings and frustrations, revealing a man so human that his accomplishments seem all the more staggering.
Teresa Sanderson (Isabella d'Este): I love the story. And the way Matt has crafted it, as always, is brilliant. An actors’ dream.
Cheryl Cluff, Sound Designer: What about the people today who are passionate about their outlandish ideas - the ideas that seem far-fetched or "crazy." Who will turn out to be our "da Vinci"?
Jennifer Freed, Stage Manager: From the first time I read Di Esperienza I was hooked; not only by the story, but by the way it’s told.
Jann Haworth, Costume Designer: Getting to know this modern man as a modern man, born accidentally into the Renaissance, is the joy of this play.
Jesse Portillo, Lighting Designer: Di Esperienza is beautiful and inspiring—a brilliant work about one of the greatest thinkers of all time.
Randy Rasmussen, Set Designer: Heroes like Leonardo are flawed—they make mistakes, they have dark things in their closets. Just like the rest of us.
Cory Thorell, Props Designer: Leonardo is still here, his dreams still very much alive.
Gavin: What was the audition process like for you going in? And how did it feel to know you had the part?
Jerry: We didn't hold a traditional audition for this play. I've invited several groups of actors to workshop the play since the fall of 2007 and through a series of mixing and matching found just the right combination!
Gavin: Did you do any research for the parts beyond the source material provided, or did you rely more on the script and Matt to guide you?
Cast: Jerry gave us these craptacular dvds - a History Channel series about the life of Leonardo da Vinci. Abominable acting, but incredibly helpful from a historical perspective. Google and Wikipedia are our friends
Gavin: How did you get The Leonardo and the Shakespearean Festival's New American Playwrights Project involved? And what do they think of the play?
Jerry: We talked to them about bringing the piece down to workshop it there and there was a lot of enthusiasm since Matt is a graduate of Southern Utah University. Of the 100 plays submitted for the series, it was everyone's first choice! It was invaluable to be able to test the play in front of a new audience.
Gavin: The play itself will run along Da Vinci's birthday. Is Plan-B doing to anything special to mark he occasion?
Jerry: We specifically scheduled the run of the play to overlap with his birthday so that the run could serve as a 3-week birthday party!
Gavin: Are there any future plans for the play after its run?
Jerry: Right now, no. There was hope of a tour to Italy but the current economic climate has put that on hold. But hopefully that will change as the economy improves!
Gavin: Aside from the obvious, is there anything you'd like to promote or plug?
Jerry: Our season concludes with our annual fundraiser on May 30. What better way to mark the sixth year of SLAM and the seventh year of And The Banned Played On than by combining them into one event? Utah's only fundraiser-featuring-five-10-minute-plays-created-in-24-hours-celebrating-the-First-Amendment. Cash bar with food by Cali's Natural Foods (the Sage's Cafe/Vertical Diner peeps). Hosted by Bill Allred and Doug Fabrizio with special guest Terry Wood.