It’s the complicated bit, now. There’s a freedom to writing music, generating visual ideas, throwing around notions for what people might wear or see or do in the space. Now we have to figure out how to make it work.
We’re back in Manchester Museum this week, for our final week-long visit before the Wonderstruck performance weekend in mid-November. We’re meeting our four choirs and introducing them to the songs we’ve written for them. We’re meeting groups of individual singers and turning them into choirs.We’re meeting performers and working with them to develop small-scale performance surprises that spring up through, around and between the music.
They are all wonderful. Hitherto the music existed only in virtual form, and in recordings Boff has made featuring his own voice tracked twelve or eighteen times over. To hear it sung back by thirty people at a time – well, wow. The final number will be sung by over a hundred people at once, five different choirs singing about seven different parts. It’s going to be breathtaking.
The complicated bit is manouvreing them around a relatively small museum. Once we’ve got the audience to this spot, how do we get them to turn around and follow this thread? How do we get them to want to, when the choir can’t move until the audience has gone, because of fire exits? How long does it take to get five choirs down these stairs, and how do we make that interesting to watch? These questions are terribly dull. They’re also a prerequisite to the production of wonder. If we don’t answer them, any sense of wonder will be totally undercut by long sections of feet-shuffling and slight bewilderment about how to find the dressing room.
It’s the least fun part of the job, but totally in keeping with what makes the museum wonderful. An archaeological dig is 99% tedium, but what makes it memorable is the revelation it yields. You’ve got to watch peppered moths over an extraordinary period to notice the gradual evolution of their colouration, but the collection of twenty generations in a case captures the insight in what seems to be an instant. And those fossils weren’t made in a day.
The wonders of the museum are a monument to painstaking and often tedious work. The work reveals the wonders; the wonders conceal the work. If we can make fifty performers appear unexpectedly, or dissipate like gas it will be wonderful. And no-one will know how hard it was.