BWW Interview: On Site Opera Talks Location Specific DAS BARBECÜ
Are you lamenting that you can't get more cornbread and chili while taking in a performance of Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA? Well, On Site Opera's site specific production of the family friendly musical DAS BARBECÜ, written by Jim Luigs and featuring music by Scott Warrender, is just for you! The musical is for you if you're looking for a fun date night, a crash course in Wagner's The Ring Cycle performed in roughly two hours (and that includes intermission!), or just want an evening of hearty laughter with a side of delicious barbecue. Following a recent rehearsal, BroadwayWorld sat down with co-directors Eric Einhorn and Katherine M. Carter to get a peek at the funny bones behind the tantalizing, well-seasoned ribs at DAS BARBECÜ
What made On Site Opera interested in the material DAS BARBECÜ?
Eric Einhorn: Well, it's a piece that I have known about for a long time. I found it to be really great and charming, and a great piece to do in the context of an opera company. When I first heard about the piece, I didn't run an opera company, so it was just a piece in the back of my mind. It was something that we considered doing for a benefit performance many years ago, and the timing just didn't work out. Then, because of a great bit of serendipity, we were connected with Hill Country Barbecue through a colleague of our Executive Director's, and the partnership worked out really well that the restaurant was interested in hosting something like this. This was a piece that was kind of locked and loaded and ready for the right venue to come along.
The musical was commissioned by Seattle Opera in 1991. How knowledgeable of the source material, Wagner's Ring Cycle, do audiences need to be to be able to watch this show?
Katherine M. Carter: Not at all. You can completely come in knowing nothing about The Ring and enjoy the show as is. When I first saw DAS BARBECÜ I hadn't seen The Ring, I hadn't heard about The Ring, and the show gives you everything you need to know as far as who, what, where, why, and when. You're going to get all of the jokes. There is stuff in there for people who know nothing about The Ring, and there are a lot of little Easter eggs for those who have seen The Ring and are really knowledgeable about it. The piece is really smart in that way.
DAS BARBECÜ is pretty much as campy as LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS. How do you direct the show to make it feel authentic, or engaging, to an audience? How do you not take it too far?
Eric Einhorn: Well, LITTLE SHOP is a great example because it's material that can be taken way too far. The key is to treat the material seriously. These are real people going through real things. We're seeing it as a ridiculous event, In a piece like DAS BARBECÜ - which like The Ring Cycle is about family, it's about human beings, it's a really intimate story - if you play those relationships seriously, the campiness and the comedy just happens. But, everyone just has to play it pretty straight.
Do you have any favorite bits from the show?
Katherine M. Carter: Yes. [Laughs] We just finished rehearsing my favorite number, which is "Hog Tie Your Man" and sung by these three Norns that are these delightful triplets who are a little weird. The choreography is some cross musical theater, country western camp, and rope-ography. It's just this moment that is really a country rock musical theater moment I love every time. It's adorable!
Eric Einhorn: There's this great prologue to the piece where, in the middle of it, all the characters give us a quick summary of The Ring Cycle up to this point. Essentially, the musical picks up in the last chapter of The Ring Cycle, so there's a lot of ground to cover, a lot of complicated relationships and characters, and they speed through it in a very tongue and cheek sort of way with fun visual aides. It's definitely a moment where, if you know The Ring, you'll find it funny. If you don't know The Ring, it will also be funny. It is just a great way to start the piece off.
Because DAS BARBECÜ was commissioned and written in 1991, do you find that the material in itself is dated in any way? If so, what are you doing to contemporize it, or make it work for contemporary audiences?
Katherine M. Carter: I think the biggest thing that we found was that there were certain terms that were used in the early 90's that are no longer acceptable and are no longer useful to us anymore, specifically how we refer to some of the characters. We've made a few switches for more appropriate, more up-to-date language in that way. But, besides the few word changes, the material holds up really well because The Ring Cycle, as a family story, is timeless. It doesn't really fit in a specific era, so I think it ages really well as far as what it is as a whole. Of course, it's a little less feminist than I would like, but we're making it work. [Laughs] We're trying.
Eric Einhorn: The Ring goes in and out of being a feminist story, and DAS BARBECÜ is no exception. We are trying to find those moments where they are.
Katherine M. Carter: It definitely doesn't pass the Bechdel Test. [Laughs] But, it is still enjoyable.
What unique challenges are you facing for presenting DAS BARBECÜ in a restaurant? I know that the downstairs area of Hill Country Barbecue has a stage, but it is still a restaurant.
Eric Einhorn: Right. We're using that stage area very little. That's where the band will be. There are a few moments where performers will go on stage for very carefully chosen moments where it's meant to be on stage, as it were. Otherwise, all of the action is happening around that lower bar area, between tables, and in and out of all of the entrances that are down there. This is our eighth year as a site specific company, so the challenges are things like making sure the full audience gets ample view of the performers. We have to make sure sure that the action as it happens around the room happens in a way where everybody that has gotten a ticket feels it is well balanced. Each member of the audience needs to feel that enough has happened near them to feel like they've been involved in the story.
With your experiences in the past, is there anything that is new territory for you?
Eric Einhorn: Another interesting challenge for us is something we haven't really done before: food service. Audiences will be eating dinner during the show, so it's a little foray into dinner theater. So, what's that experience like? We hope that the audience will be eating and enjoying the food all during the show, but how will audiences respond while singing is happening? Will they continue to eat their barbecue chicken, or won't they? We'll see! We have a decently long run to experiment with that and to keep on encouraging people to just have a good time because, at the end of the day, that is all we really want.
Thinking of audiences, who should see DAS BARBECÜ?
Katherine M. Carter: As it is inspired The Ring cycle, this is a musical that makes a really great crossover piece for musical theater audiences and for opera audiences. I come from a musical theater background. I'm newly an opera director, So, for me, getting to engage with The Ring Cycle in this way of MT [musical theater], and this way that is very clear to me as an artist and an audience member, made it a much more exciting experience when I finally saw it as an opera piece. We're hoping that audiences on both sides of the art form will come and enjoy.
DAS BARBECÜ runs at Hill Country Barbecue Market (30 W 26th Street, New York City, NY 10010) from Sunday, January 26 through Tuesday, February 11, 2020. For tickets and more information, please click HERE.