BWW Interview: Andrew R. Butler Talks Sci-Fi Folk Concert RAGS PARKLAND SINGS THE SONGS OF THE FUTURE
Andrew R. Butler is the mastermind behind the new show Rags Parkland Sings The Songs Of The Future telling the story of music across the ages, catapulting Ars Nova audiences 250 years into the future for a concert they'll remember for years to come.
It's been some time since Beaux Weathers and her band played, but Rags Parkland remembers. Back for an intimate, one-night-only gig, Rags will play the revolutionary songbook that carried us to where we are today. Meet the music that powered the change. Join The Future.
Hear what creator, author of book, music, and lyrics, and performer Andrew R. Butler has to say about his otherworldly new piece!
Where did the idea for this show come from?
I was reading a bunch of classic sci-fi novels and short stories in 2009 and concurrently was trying to start writing a new music/theater project. I had dreamt up a sci-fi puppet-theater show, but the logistics of making it were overwhelming. Then I came across a character in a Philip K. Dick story who was a folk singer. The story itself wasn't exciting to me, but I often wrote music in the folk idiom, and the idea of a traditional American political folk singer working hundreds of years in the future was instantly appealing. It suggested a show that had the shape of a concert, but that told a much wider story. That sounded like a great challenge, and something I could potentially self produce (back when it was just a solo show!) So I started writing songs set in the future and reverse engineered the story and characters from there. Rags' name is a jumbled allusion to that Dick character who inspired me!
What kind of inspiration did you turn to when writing the music?
I looked to old folk and blues artists like Woodie Guthrie and Odetta, Skip James and Bob Dylan. I was initially interested in super simple folk formats, where there's not even a chorus sometimes, just a bunch of verses sung over the same chord progression. Later, and especially when I started writing for Beaux Weathers and her band I broadened out a bit, taking in more Americana and blues rock inspirations- artists like Fleetwood Mac, Jason Isbell, Alabama Shakes. My collaborators were both a big inspiration and also brought their own influences and ideas to the songs. We built the music like a band would, starting with what I wrote for voice and guitar, and then everyone created their own instrument parts.
What is the structure of the show like?
The show takes the form of a concert! So there are no traditional scenes or fourth wall, everything that happens in the room is happening in the room as part of the concert you're attending. The twist is that the concert is 250 years in the future, so you're trying to read this familiar format of a concert for clues and details to help you understand the world of the show. Technically it's two concerts, one of which is inset inside the first concert as a sort of a flashback or a conjuring. But I shouldn't say anymore about those transitions! They're the juiciest bits!
What's it been like developing the show alongside a company like Ars Nova that encourages unconventional art?
I think I've been totally spoiled by getting to work with them! They shared my excitement about the concert structure of the show, and immediately understood how important that unconventional shape is to the functionality of the songs. I was continually amazed at their attention to detail and commitment to creating this world with me. Plus they're just good people who do a great job of taking care of everyone and building the sort of safe and supported environment where everyone can take big artistic risks. Ars Nova is the sort of place where you bring them a crazy idea and they say, "Love that! What if it was even crazier?"
What do you want the audience to experience and ultimately take away from the piece?
I hope they feel empowered and inspired and connected. The show sneaks up on you, and before you know it you're really deep in this world, and very much a part of it. I want audiences to rage with us, and hope with us, and dream with us, and sing with us, and reconsider the experience of being human and the practice of defining that status. It's a show that asks a lot of questions about our capacity to divide and wound each other, but it also exercises our capacity to love and support and empathize with each other, so I hope it leaves audience members with a swirl of thoughts and feelings about our past and our future.
What would be your ideal future for the show?
I'd love to do a tour in which theaters partner with music venues to put the show up. Bridging that formal gap and mixing up audiences is an exciting possibility, and I'd love to see how audiences in other places receive the story and engage with this fictional world. And then, ya know, we gotta do it on Mars!
Production photos by Ben Arons Photography