March 3 - 8, 2020
SUNDAY IN THE PARK WITH GEORGE at the Jam Factory, continues Eclipse’s mandate to bring unique and site responsive pieces of musical theatre that unite space and story. 2020 marks Sondheim’s 90th birthday and we are thrilled to bring this Pulitzer Prize winning masterpiece to Toronto audiences after a long absence.
This piece revolves around George, a fictionalized version of Seurat, in the months leading up to the completion of his most famous painting. Consumed by his need to “finish the hat”, he alienates the French bourgeoisie, spurns his fellow artists and neglects his lover Dot, not realizing that his actions will reverberate over the next 100 years. The eternal search for connection is coupled with themes of legacy and art as commerce. The “state of the art” is fully investigated in this piece and could not be more relevant in today’s world climate.
General Admission: $52.00
Arts Worker: $30.00 *
Students: $20.00 *
* Must present valid Arts Worker / Student ID at the door
Preview: March 3 at 8pm
Opening: March 4 at 8pm
Thursday - Sunday at 8pm
Saturday - Sunday at 2pm
This quote from a curator was my entrance into staging this piece. These characters all realize they are being watched. They are trying to make an impression. To be seen. They want to be immortalized. To leave a legacy. Be remembered. In the show, Marie says the only thing we leave behind that really matters is “children and art”. But in the world we are living in at this moment, what we leave behind has even larger consequences.
This piece is not just about the creation of art but also what we sacrifice in our pursuit of an idea, a new thought or a contribution to the world, whether it’s art, science or anything else for that matter. We’ve all experienced that in some capacity in our lives. At this moment, “the art of making art” is in peril. With arts funding being cut constantly we have to ask ourselves why we pursue our art as we try to prove or validate our resonance to the community and society.
The piece also tackles change. Both acts take place during times of incredible change, socially and scientifically. Act 1 takes place during a time of immense change: The second industrial revolution. This drastically altered the modern world and Seurat was also commenting on these changes in his work. By painting these factories and “lower social classes”, he created space for the public to confront these changes. Act 2 takes place in the 80’s when technology was booming and spaceships became a reality. But with change comes fear. This is all part of this world we are creating for you. We are in a world of light and shadow. This duality that lives in all of us. Seurat re-arranged the shadows and manipulated the light to create his version of perfect harmony. We do that now as well, but with Instagram and social media. We create the impressions we want the world to see.
The themes of Sunday in the Park with George are deeply relevant, intricate and layered. They attack the underbelly of society in juxtaposition of what impressions we want to make in public, and the divide between that and our deepest desires. It’s about revolution, not only George’s new ideas, but also Dot, a revolutionary herself. She lives in a world where she is bound by social and political constraints, but she educates herself and makes huge decisions to change who she is. She is a true radical.
This piece spans 100 years and is a testament to George’s legacy to the art world. He pushed everything forward and this is why I recruited artist Lori Mirabelli into this world. Not only did I want the audience to watch the creation of art in person, but I wanted to create a connection to his legacy and it’s continual impact on the world. This show is a gift from Sondheim and Lapine and it’s been a privilege to dive into their minds and souls.
As you watch this piece tonight, ask yourself what impression you want to make, and, as I asked each member of the cast on the first day, “What do you want your legacy to be?” Art can inspire examination of society. George did just that with his art. Something we can all strive to do.
Old Lady / Mother
Franz & Billy
Louis The Baker
Mrs. & Harriet
Soldier #1 / Main Soldier
Set & Costume Designer
Apprentice Director & Producer
Production Manager & GM
Publicity: Ashley Belmer
The Art of Making Art by Lois Kivesto
“The show is, in part, about how creation takes on a life of its own; how artists feed off art (we off Seurat); the artist’s relationship to his material.”
Stephen Sondheim Preliminary note, Sunday in the Park with George
The award-winning creative collaboration of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine, each an artist in his own right, began with Sunday in the Park with George.
With six groundbreaking works, the prolific Sondheim and producer-director Harold Prince transformed musical theatre during the 1970s and into the 1980s. Merrily We Roll Along, the sixth of these musicals, ended its brief Broadway run in November 1981. At this time, Sondheim saw Twelve Dreams, an Off-Broadway play inspired by a Carl Jung case study, written and directed by James Lapine. Intrigued by Lapine’s work, Sondheim sought an opportunity to meet and perhaps collaborate on a musical theatre project. Lapine was an experienced graphic designer and photographer, but a relative newcomer to the theatre.
While teaching graphic design at Yale in 1977, Lapine was encouraged by his students to try a first theatre project. Knowing of his interest in the avant garde artistic movement, the students suggested Lapine adapt and direct Gertrude Stein's 1920 poem-play Photograph. Lapine accepted the challenge, creating “a visual pageant” in which he overlaid Stein’s text with a series of familiar photographs and paintings. Images ranged from the raising of the American flag at Iwo Jima, to artist Georges Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte,. The latter piece always had haunted and mesmerized Lapine.
As the new collaboration now unfolded, Lapine shared with Sondheim, a series of photographs of people around which various relationships were imagined. When no resounding choice resulted, Lapine returned to one of his visual selections from Photograph. The collaborators agreed that Seurat’s A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte was the setting of a play, one which they would come to musicalize as Sunday in the Park with George.
In 1884, Georges Seurat, a French Post-Impressionist artist, made numerous preliminary studies based on his observations in the park on the island of La Grande Jatte near Paris. Seurat’s innovative major work, A Sunday Afternoon on the Island of La Grande Jatte, was based on these studies and completed over the course of two years. In it, Seurat succeeded for the first time in applying the technique of pointillism. Through optical mixture and merging, the use of small distinct points or dots of different primary colours created the impression of a wide range of secondary colours, more intense than mixed hues.
Fascinated by the fact that the figures in the painting were not facing each other, Lapine and Sondheim speculated on reasons why. Sondheim believed that the sense of the artist’s manipulation of these figures into a forced gathering truly confirmed the presence of a real drama inherent in the painting.
Sondheim recalled Lapine’s unique ability “to take the visual and imagine it as a playwright. The first sketches that he made were literally sketches.” He described Lapine’s overlaying transparent drawing paper on a small print of the painting. He then circled the characters, primarily from the foreground, whom he considered to be of central importance. Using arrows, Lapine then indicated what the characters’ relationships might be with each other.
Lapine was intrigued to discover that few details were known about the private life of the mysterious Seurat. He began to write the fictitious first act using Seurat’s life as the basis. Lapine worked to keep the sound of his text terse, avoiding the use of contractions for a formality and a sense of having been translated from the French.
This dialogue was intentionally as concise and sharp as possible, comparable to Seurat’s technique of pointillism.
In creating the score, Sondheim sought to emulate Seurat’s experimentation with pure colour. The composer chose as his main tonal palette, the standard major and minor scales, supported by traditional harmonic structure. In addition, Sondheim developed shimmering chord clusters to echo Seurat’s close juxtaposition of different-coloured dots.
In preparation for the writing of lyrics, Sondheim requests that his book writers provide as much character detailing as possible. He encourages his collaborators to overwrite to allow for his mining of the book as a means of integrating the material. For Sunday in the Park with George, Lapine created stream-of-consciousness monologues in the places where songs could be set. Sondheim, not wishing to jar the resonance of Lapine’s writing, wove the music and lyrics into the textual fabric.
With other collaborators, Sondheim’s practice was not to play “an unfinished song for anybody because until it’s finished, I can’t convey what I expect the total piece to be, both in tone and in shape.” Lapine encouraged Sondheim to share the musical material as an aid to scene construction, character development, and the visual world of the piece. Sondheim reluctantly consented, noting: “He’s the one librettist I've worked with to whom I trust to play unfinished work.”
The original intention of Sondheim and Lapine was a stylized conceptual show in the musical form of ‘theme and variations.’ As the project evolved, this structure became impractical. Lapine defined the now more linear design of the work: “We really wanted the first act to be about the making of a painting and the second act to be about the life of a painting.”
In Act One, the principal story of the artist, George, and his aptly named mistress, Dot, was somewhat impeded by the peripheral stories of many of the other figures in the painting. Lapine and Sondheim proceeded to trim the supporting characters to colourful cameos, while enhancing George and Dot for a deeper exploration of the larger themes of love and art.
Lapine believed that maintaining audience interest demanded that some element of the first act story line be carried over into the second act. An initial plan for Act Two was the depiction of the entire history of the painting as it travelled from Paris to the Art Institute of Chicago. Lapine discarded this “eight-hour show,” opting instead for a transition from France to America one hundred years hence. Act Two would centre on an artist also named George, who may be Seurat’s great-grandson, and Marie, his grandmother, who may be the daughter of Dot. The Act Two George is a creator of laser and light sculptures called Chromolumes; named in homage to Chromoluminarism, Seurat’s new language of art through which he endeavoured to break colour into its basic elements. Late in Act Two, George travels to La Grande Jatte. High-rise buildings now occupy the once idyllic park, but the characters from the painting, and Dot in particular, come forth to inspire and support his artistic vision.
En route to Broadway, Sunday in the Park with George followed a period of meticulous development much like that of Seurat’s painting. The musical progressed through two readings and a workshop production in the nurturing Off-Broadway environment of Playwrights Horizons. Sondheim composed much of the score late in the process. With Lapine in the formidable dual role of book writer-director, refinement of Act Two continued throughout the Broadway preview period.
Once established on Broadway, Sunday in the Park with George was honoured with the Drama Desk, New York Drama Critics Circle and Outer Critics Circle Awards for Outstanding Musical of 1984. It was the sixth musical to receive the esteemed Pulitzer Prize for Drama.
In a New York Times feature article, critic Frank Rich proclaimed Sunday in the Park with George: “at once the culmination of past musical-theatre innovations and a rejection of them. It is a watershed event.”
In their first collaboration, Sondheim and Lapine brought to the stage through vtheir innovative artistry, the essence of Seurat’s credo: “Art is harmony. Harmony is the analogy of opposites, the analogy of similar tones, hues, lines. These diverse harmonies may be combined to produce serenity, gaiety, or sadness.”
Lois Kivesto holds a Ph.D. in theatre from New York University, with a dissertation on the work of James Lapine. Her essay “Comedy Tonight!” is published in Stephen Sondheim: A Casebook, part of the Garland Reference Library of the Humanities.
The Jam Factory
The 150 year old historic space, originally the Sherrif Jam factory, had been closed for two years and re-opened as an event venue in February 2017. It retains the same exposed brick and gorgeous wood beam charm of the old venue; but with upgraded washrooms, a fresh catering prep space, and a newly-levelled floor showing off the jazz-age industrial decor and stunning sunsets overlooking the Don Valley.
* accessible elevator available upon request
This production was made possible with the generous support of
Allan Detsky & Rena Mendelson
David & Stacey Cynamon
and to all our donors, board members and supporters: we thank you for making this dream possible.
Donna Child & Rebecca Ramshaw at Artworld Fine Art, William Schmuck, Stratford Festival, Tami MacDonald, Mary-Jo Carter-Dodd, Theatre Passe Muraille, The Theatre Centre, Michael Rubinoff, Nicole Joy-Fraser, Donna Marie Baratta, Eric Hauser, Shannon Refvik, Mark Allan, John Gundy, and everyone in the Musical Theatre Department at Sheridan College
Sunday in the Park with George Is presented through special arrangement with Music Theatre International (MTI) All authorized performance materials are also supplied by MTI. www.MTIShows.com
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