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Vinegar Tom
written by Caryl Churchill

Bury The Dead
Vinegar Tom Cat from Production Poster

ROLE
DATE
COMPANY
THEATRE
CITY
DIRECTOR
ATTENDANCE
PERFORMANCES
 
SOUND DESIGNER/COMPOSER
FEBRUARY 2012
DEPARTMENT OF DRAMA
THE HELMS THEATRE
CHARLOTTESVILLE, VIRGINIA
JOHN VREEKE
807
7

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Overview  
Opal Logo
Photo by Michael Bailey

From left to right, Goody (Kyle Hughes), secures Joan (Anna McQuitty) while Packer (Mike Long) administers the "witch test."
 

British playwright Caryl Churchill wrote Vinegar Tom in 1976. Churchill uses witch trials in 17th century England as a lens to relay themes of gender and relationships of power. The play employs aspects of what Bertolt Brecht (German playwright 1898-1956) described as the alienation effect. The essence of this effect is a "jarring" of the audience from emotional connection with characterizations and scene work in order to keep them intellectually connected with the themes of the work. Churchill "jars" the audience in Vinegar Tom with contradicting themes, music, and shockingly modern lyrics. Although the dialogue is not overly formal as one may expect from 17th century England, her song lyrics are reminiscent of Joan Jett's lyrics from the late 20th century. I believe her intent is to contrast the "almost" 17th century England with edgy music and lyrics to distance her audience just enough to keep them intellectually involved with the performance.

It was determined early in meetings with director John Vreeke that the 17th century setting would be jarringly contrasted against a very modern sounding rock band, fronted by a strong female singer. We also decided to add a "meta" layer in our production, suggesting the characters in the play are played by a troupe of actors who commandeered an abandoned church. Our actors and musicians all entered the space together in a ritualistic way, each paying respect to the work at hand through touching the alter of holy water near the entrance to the theatre.

Being aware that I would have to write music for a real band, I worked hard to achieve a complexity in the music using simple and easy to perform composition techniques. I made an effort to create interesting songs that could be learned by accomplished musicians in less than three formal rehearsals. For a variety of reasons from budget to space, we decided our band would be comprised of a drummer, guitarist/background singer, and bassist/lead singer. We always knew we needed a strong, female lead singer. With this particular ensemble in mind, I began writing the songs below.

Each of the following song examples with the exception of "Oh Doctor (Short)" include my original demo of the song, typically with me playing all instruments and singing. I also created chord chart/lyric sheets (gear icon) for each song and gave the band both these resources for learning the songs. The second "performance" example of each song is our actual band (still learning the songs) recorded at a rehearsal one week before we opened the play. Our band was excellent and included Adam Long on Guitar/Backup Vocals, Wade Warfield on Drums, and Alexandra Angelich Bolling on Bass/Lead Vocals. Although these musicians new each other from the local music scene, the came together for the first time to create the Vinegar Tom Band.

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Example Paperwork
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Signal Flow Diagram   Ground Plan   Scenic Design
Model Photo 1
  Scenic Design
Model Photo 2
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Sounds
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SONG 1 NOBODY SINGS (DEMO & PERFORMANCE) Look Inside the Sound (gears show lyrics and chord charts)
These are the first lyrics encountered in the script. As designer/composer, I feel Churchill "shouting" her phrase "Nobody Sings About It" and created musical devices to allow a vocalist to achieve this feeling in performance.
SONG 2 OH DOCTOR (SHORT) (PERFORMANCE) Look Inside the Sound
The lyrics foreshadow the longer version in the script. Together these two songs "bookend" scene work around a visit to a "witch" doctor.
SONG 3 OH DOCTOR*** (DEMO & PERFORMANCE) Look Inside the Sound
***Demo recording developed with and partly performed by Bentley Rhodes. In these lyrics, the singer lashes out against male doctors making guesses at female health. To heighten the confusion and anger found in the lyrics, I used edgy, loud, punk inspired techniques.
SONG 4 SOMETHING TO BURN (DEMO & PERFORMANCE) Look Inside the Sound
These sardonic lyrics talk about burning one's problems instead of solving them. I fused these lyrics with music and production values influenced by psychedelic movements in music.
SONG 5 IF EVERYBODY WORKED AS HARD AS ME (DEMO & PERFORMANCE) Look Inside the Sound
These lyrics are much more reflective of our human condition although they are delivered through the image of mother/wife/daughter. This is one of the more challenging songs to realize given the length and complexity of the lyrics. I modeled this song using adult contemporary music examples.
SONG 6 IF YOU FLOAT (DEMO & PERFORMANCE) Look Inside the Sound
"If you float, you're a witch. If you scream, you're a witch. If you sink then you're dead anyway." My work is greatly influenced by bands like Weezer and Green Day for the creation of these songs.
SONG 7 LAMENT FOR THE WITCHES (DEMO & PERFORMANCE) Look Inside the Sound
At this point in the play, the witches have been hanged and Churchill begins pointing her finger toward the audience in these lyrics. Along with "Nobody Sings About It", this song are probably the most original in style, given I wrote these without thinking about other models.
SONG 8 EVIL WOMEN (DEMO & PERFORMANCE) Look Inside the Sound
This song may be the most important in Vinegar Tom. "Evil women, is that what you want? Is that what you want to see, in your movie dream?" This is the question Churchill poses directly to the audience at the end of the play. By asking this question, she challenges the audience to consider why they came in the first place. Is the audience as guilty as the 17th century crowds that gathered to watch the torturing of innocent women as witches?

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Production Photos
by Michael Bailey
 
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photo   photo   photo
Our Abandoned Church   Eager Man   Come Butter Come   A Confession
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Give It Back Witch   Lament for the Witches   The Band   Evil Women
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Press & Reviews
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"Rasbury's work offers a fresh spin on the play's glimpse into one of history's most prejudiced societies..."
-UVa Today
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