Well, thank you everyone who made nice comments about Part One - it made writing Part Two much easier...
Now, where were we? Ah, yes, Act II. Again, I had nothing to do for a fair while (though not as bad as Rika who had had all of her main songs in Act I) so I could relax for a while and enjoy the show. Next up for me was War, originally and still occasionally referred to as The Omelette Song because it comes as the Prince has been driven back into moping depression by a savage tongue-lashing from the pacifist Sage (Excuse Me) over the civilian deaths in their riot. And so the original theme of the song was very much that “you can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs”, that there will be casualties in this war and that he needs to get these bardish delusions that war is a glorious and chivalrous thing out of his head, recognise his responsibility to his city and, above-all, stop this bloody moping!
[Remember I said the Girl was an Empath? Or more precisely, an Empath and Projective Empath. She picks up emotions and re-radiates them (all quite unconsciously) and as such tends to act as an emotional amplifier on those around her, even more so when she’s at the Tower or it’s the night of a Drunkard’s Moon, both of which amplify people’s powers! Which effect may well have been a critical tipping factor in the Captain’s original defection, in the Sage’s violent betrayal of his principles in the Finale, in the speed with which the Captain and Girl fall in love, and indeed here in the strength of feelings and reactions in this pair of songs. Oh, all these things might all have happened anyway, but should any seem implausible then we have this handy Back-Story argument to justify them! *grin* But I digress – again.]
War is a lot of fun to sing – it’s an out and out rock song with a lot of feeling in the lyrics (and a lot of lyrics too, but that’s my fault for trying to fit so many ideas in!). It’s also quite a challenge to sing because its tone needs to vary so much – parts of it are savage personal attacks (more, I think, to try and spark a reaction from the moping Prince than because the Captain truly despises him that much), parts of it are earnest attempts to open his eyes to reality (as the Captain views it), and yet at the same time it’s upbeat, spirited and trying desperately to raise the Prince back up rather than beat him down. It’s also reasonably fundamental to Before the Dawn to recognise that the Captain is only part-right here – war is unpleasant, it is the Prince’s job to stop moping and take responsibility, and yes there will be more violence and killing before the City can be freed. But the Captain views the civilian casualties purely as an exercise in military loss ratios – he truly doesn’t see why losing 50 civilian rioters to kill a dozen or so reivers and save about that number of hostages should be any problem because, well, there are lots more civilians than there are reivers, aren’t there? (Note he sees no inconsistency here with his original defection over civilian deaths – those were murders of innocents; these rioters were taking up arms by their own choice and so to him are casualties of war.) This casual acceptance of death is his blind-spot and part of how he will have to change by story’s end.
To an extent we have a triangle with the Sage (“war is bad always”), Captain (“war is bad but necessary so deal with it” and Prince “war is a glorious and chivalrous thing”. And these songs form the crucible which help mature the Prince from that original naive view into a more mature one somewhere in the middle on the lines of “if war be needed, then there has to be a better way than killing lots of my own people”. Which he duly expresses and discovers in The Answer, shortly thereafter.
After the storm, the lull, as we enter a nice quiet period in which the lead characters more or less pair off, Magdalene seducing the Prince (again one can blame the Girl’s powers if needed!) and the Girl and Captain falling for each other as she nurses him after he gets badly wounded saving the Prince from his own chivalric stupidity in letting the Sergeant pick his sword up again (the Prince does mature, but he’s not quite there yet!).
I wish I could remember how this particular romantic twist came about. Originally we all thought it’d end with the Prince and the Girl together because, well, that’s how stories like this go, isn’t it? Besides, Mike was always singing the Prince then and Anne was always singing the Girl so that probably influenced our thinking too! My suspicion is that Valerie came up with the idea of Magdalene getting involved with the Prince which kind of left me thinking that this would tend to push the other two together, especially given he’s essentially confined to his sick bed for a week or more. At which point the cruel idea arose of making the Captain the one who actually killed the Watcher, now realising that he’d killed her love, knowing her finding out will destroy their new-found love, but being trapped by his honour into not being able to lie about doing so, even by omission. And knowing that this is inevitably going to happen and simply having to watch it coming – hence Anticipations.
I’m very fond and proud of this song and again have a total blast singing it – it packs a huge amount of story, emotion, character history and character development into its four verses and indeed I don’t know quite how much of it people manage to take in on one listen! Alas it’s also one I fluffed, I think because Rika was (playing her nursing role and trying to show the mutual affection the audience suddenly needed to learn about) trying to force another drink on me which hadn’t been there at the previous rehearsal and I was desperately trying to figure out how I was supposed to pretend to drink it (whilst singing) and hand it back to her as this needed to happen before the end of the verse as she needed to be offstage before I drop the revelation about killing the Watcher! And so my brain crashed, the wrong word came out and things got messy for half a line or so. Ah well, these things happen, and hopefully we can fix it with an overdub! (And you don’t need to apologise, Rika! *hug*)
I talked a little about the whole “why did the Watcher choose to die?” question last time. Discussing it on Sunday night at the con, Rob suggested the Watcher might have foreseen that his honourable fight to the death would be the key factor that gave the Captain respect for his foe and so enabled his defection. Which is a delightful idea, although I’m not entirely convinced. However, developing that idea, it is fairly trivial to identify several places where the Girl has (or at least may be having) absolutely critical effects on the plot. Without her the Prince would have been arrested in the Tavern or else shown up at the Tower absolutely sozzled in which case the Captain’s defection just wouldn’t have happened; without her influence he might not have defected anyway; without her influence the Sage might not have struck down the Reiver priests; without her amplifying the arguments with Sage and Captain, the Prince might not have been driven to come up with his key plan, and so on and so on. And yet, had the Watcher chosen to surrender with honour and come back to her, none of these would have happened and so the City might never have been freed. Did he truly see that far and deliberately sacrifice himself for his City? Or did he just choose to die because he thought it fated? The Girl doesn’t know, and none indeed can now “tell her why”.
Anyway, yes, the Prince’s Plan - or as we always knew it “The Starsent Scam”! This was kind of the result of Zander (in particular) being absolutely against any sort of story resolution that would involve citywide battle and large-scale casualties. So we needed a way to strike at the reivers that would avoid this. I’m not sure we exactly knew back then exactly how it was going to work – or even if! – but trying to sort things out for this performance to get from here to the Finale meeting at the Tower we pretty much had to assume it’d work in order to explain why there isn’t a company or more of reiver soldiers there or an army to deal with afterwards.
(You want more Back Story? The Starsent are now thought a myth, but did in fact once form the ruling class of these lands, human in appearance and mutually fertile, but ruling their normal human servants by way of their psychic powers. However their rule eventually fell and they disappeared into the population, never to be seen again. Except of course, that’s why almost everyone in the City States now has some trace of Starsent blood and so some vestige of psychic ability, even if only at an unconscious level; whilst some like the Sage and the Beggar-Woman have quite powerful gifts and are aware of them. And why phrases like “men of blood and power” (Midnight at the Tower) can have significant multiple meanings. But I digress again, interesting though I hope it is to see some of what lies behind the tale you see.)
I started to worry about this rather “we wave our arms and the reiver army vanishes” bit of the plot but decided it’d probably work dramatically regardless – especially as people will probably be distracted by laughing at the Sergeant’s panic and then caught up in the run-up to the Finale. But we can rationalise it to some extent too. First-off, I speculated that we’re not actually talking about that many reiver soldiers - think, for example, of Katherine Kerr’s world where a major noble might have a dozen soldiers in his warband. We’re used to a world of mass armies and levies but who says this world is like that? There was some dispute over the narrative here (and I didn’t get my way as far as I’d have preferred!) but I don’t believe the reivers had more than a couple of hundred troops and maybe the same again or a little more in mercenaries; indeed that the Prince’s army outnumbered them by 2:1 or better rather than the other way around, which was why the Warlord was able to persuade him to sortie forth and fight rather than hide behind those nice fortified city walls. Because when one force consists of seasoned, well-equipped and trained-up troops under a commander with a decade or more of battle experience, and the other is mostly hastily-pressed peasants and shopkeepers with inadequate equipment, no training, no morale and a leader whose knowledge of military tactics largely comes from his songbooks, raw odds really don’t mean that much until they get way higher than that!
So if one assumes that most of the mercenaries have now been paid off, that at least a reasonable number of reivers were killed in the battle (as the least disciplined, most aggressive and (frankly) least conserved of the Captain’s troops) then it’s possible that we’re maybe only talking about 100 or so reiver soldiers at the start of the occupation. Then assume the Prince and Captain manage a couple of dozen between them and we’re starting to make a sizeable dent in both reiver numbers and morale. Assume further that anyone with half a brain amongst the reivers goes into either the Priesthood or the Church bureaucracy which means their force doesn’t have officers or even NCOs as such (it basically runs under direct orders from the Priests which is why even our “somewhat pedestrian of intellect” Sergeant is still preferred to any leader from the reiver force!). And we’re basically then left with a superstitious, undisciplined thuggish rabble with no effective leadership (the Priests are distracted, remember), being beset by “mysterious woes” (think unpleasant practical jokes with no obvious source), were afraid of being in this town even before this, and believe this is all due to a magic which their Priests don’t seem to be able to counter. So perhaps it isn’t so surprising that morale collapses and the “army” dissipates in a surprisingly short time once it gets started. And given a whole city and 24 hours of Watches to cover, I’d have thought it’d only need to get down to 30 or so ‘shaken’ troops for the Sergeant to only be able to gather “half a dozen lads” on very short notice.
Anyway, we’re now almost at the Finale – which means Midnight at the Tower. Of all my BtD lyrics (the music was co-written with Mike) this was the song which was most consciously written from a staged/dramatic viewpoint rather than a narrative or character one. It was always meant to be the big spectacular lead up to the Finale, and I just can’t describe the sheer kick I got to see it finally appear in its proper place, doing just that. The narrator intones “And soon it will be midnight at the tower”; the drums and guitars kick in with the riff and we’re off and rockin’! And it’s a glorious thing to be on stage, fired-up, bouncing and just on top of the world. Woo-hoo! “Who will win tonight? We will win tonight!” Oh yeah!
And so into the Finale. And this was scary territory because how do you finish a multi-author song cycle except by having all characters on stage and singing a mixture of reprised extracts from various songs but with new words! It had been kicking around in more or less this form for a decade or more, but I’m not sure any of us really knew if it’d work like this or just seem messy and lame. Especially given that with the exception of the Sergeant, all of our “enemies” here would be virtual ones! But when we ran it through during final rehearsals the music at least seemed to hang together reasonably well, but how well the staging would work was really something of an unknown quantity because we simply hadn’t had chance to rehearse it in proper-sized stage-space, with the projector or with the headsets. Not to mention the even more scary prospect of trying to swordfight (safely) whilst singing and trying to hit an entrance cue for a song at the same time as hitting one to block an incoming sword! And indeed I was probably as nervous about this bit as about any other part of the show! But it worked, Simon indeed saying it was his most memorable moment as apparently my adrenalin was in overdrive and he felt he was fighting to stay on stage long enough for me to finish my verse! “This one’s mine…” indeed.
Now originally the fight between Captain and Sergeant was supposed to run from this moment through to after the death of the Warlord – at least 3 minutes, maybe more. We soon decided this was a non-starter as it’d be too tiring, too distracting and there just wasn’t room. So we thought about “freezing” the action to imply the fight was continuing but this just looked silly entirely apart from probably getting quite uncomfortable. So we decided to take the fight offstage, bringing it back on for its completion once all the other business was done. Which worked fine - except I don’t think we were expecting the huge audience laugh we got as we re-entered, apparently because we came on fighting almost exactly in reverse to how we went off thus making it look as if we had been time-stopped and only just resumed. Or something like that!
And so the bad guys perished (that screen wipe looked a nasty way to go), the Finale was successfully done and it was time for the closing number - Dawn. Which I must confess I’d been looking forward to in my imagination for weeks, albeit with some nerves as I’d have been absolutely mortified to screw this gorgeous song up and spoil this glorious happy ending. AND I SO NEARLY DID! The first four verses seemed to go fine, and I even thought I saw a gesture of particular approval from Rhodri after verse one which gave me a huge boost. However, as previously noted, we’d decided that at the end of verse four I’d hold out my hand to the Girl (“And come with me into another day”) only to be rejected. So during the instrumental I’d realise I had one final step to take, remove my sword and sword-belt and place them on the Watcher’s grave to show the Captain’s rejection of what he had been before. Except that 3 hours earlier when I’d clipped the belt-pack for my radio mic to the back of my sword-belt, I’d completely forgotten that I’d later need take this belt off and leave it on the ground! Doh! And I only realised this now as I undid the belt and suddenly my headset cable went taut… Noooooo! Fortunately, the headset stayed in place, and I was able to unclip it fairly easily, though I did feel somewhat silly holding my arms out for the big romantic embrace with a radio mic belt-pack clutched in one hand! Ah well, it will have been funny, and at least it didn’t interrupt the music!
And so into the last verse of the last song of Before the Dawn. Rika takes my hands and comes in with the affirmative counterpoint, the cast harmonise from around the stage, the back projection completes its cunning fade to dawn and we fall into each other’s arms as the final tableau whilst the closing chords play out. And I don’t know about “not a dry eye in the house”, but I know there were at least a few tears being shed at that moment. And a glorious moment it was, and a treasured special memory it will indeed be. And what can I say but thank you, both to everyone else involved in the creation and staging, and to those who gave us an audience to show it to.
[Photo by Terence / khaosworks]
Some many years back (it was definitely more than some few!) Valerie wrote a song called “What are we going to talk about after Before the Dawn is done?”.
Well, all these years later, I think we finally know the answer to that question…
…what we're going to talk about when Before the Dawn is done is when can we do it AGAIN?! *big grin*