Written and Directed by Blanka Zizka
March 22, 2017April 22, 2017

Journey through the Creation of Adapt! - On Listening

An Actress's Notebook by Krista Apple


This week I sat down with ADAPT!’s internationally renowned composer, Mariana Sadovska. We discussed the art of listening: how it’s the first step in creating sound, and how it’s not just about sound waves but people, space, circumstances, and the script itself.

If every play has its own music, ADAPT! has many, many instruments at work. There’s music and singing (both live and recorded); there’s dancing and fight choreography; there are Animal Farm-inspired pig masks, guitar solos, piles of clothing that drop from the sky, a snowstorm, a Madonna dance party.

So, even before we add costumes, lighting and sound in tech (one more week!), our rehearsals require a lot of multitasking and traveling. We wrapped up our final days in the Wilma’s new rehearsal studio in South Philly; we recorded music at Buckeye Studios; and this weekend we officially moved onstage. And so, here we all are: listening to the play, chasing it down. Adapting as we go.

Below are some excerpts from my conversation with Mariana. Also check out her extensive collection of videos online, including performances with Maryam Akhondy and Kronos Quartet.

Krista Apple: What function does music serve in ADAPT!?

Mariana Sadovska: My way of working with music for the theatre is not really about creating or making. It’s about listening to what is already there. There’s a world each play creates, and there’s music inside of that world. I have to open my ears completely and hear it, and then write it down. My job is like what photographers use to do, with pictures appearing in the darkroom through the right combination of chemicals. I have to find the right chemicals to let the music appear.

Since Blanka first sent me the script, I couldn’t escape the subject that resonated with me: immigration, and finding yourself between the worlds. (I was born in the Ukraine but have lived in Germany for over fifteen years.) It’s the question every immigrant is asking around the world. “Is my home there – far away? Or is my home here – where I’ve arrived? Where do I belong?” And this is a question that I hear this play asking. There’s also the character in ADAPT! of the Old Woman, who for me represents other worlds - existing cultures which used to be here, but not any more.

I also look for inspiration in ethnographic research, so my biggest fascination comes from the function music has had in different cultures. What people were singing to celebrate a birth. To bless a marriage. To try and change the weather. When they want to heal someone. And (the biggest question for ADAPT!): what they are singing when death is there. When a person, a place, or an idea has to be let go of, left behind.

KA: We all walked onstage for the first time yesterday. How does space influence your work? Has the new space changed the music of the play?

MS: From the very first sounds in rehearsal, I was waiting to hear it here in the Wilma Theater. We sing differently in different spaces. You sing differently if you’re outside in the field. Differently in the mountains. Differently if it’s snowing, or on hot days. The same song will always change in relationship to the space and what’s surrounding us. It’s the same rule for the theatre.

KA: I love how you describe the act of composing not as an act of creation but an act of capturing what’s already there.

MS: Yes, that’s what I mean about listening. The job is to see what the theatre piece wants from us. We must let the piece conduct us. It sounds poetic, but it’s how I generally work.

KA: That’s what Blanka wants too, from her actors. We’re not training so we can produce something. We’re training so we can receive everything. So we can be fully, completely, humanly present.

MS: When I work with actors, I always try to explain that listening is more important than doing. If you’re just doing, it can become blank. You’re so concentrated on what you’re doing, you lose the other person. You lose the moment. You lose what you’re receiving from them.  You have to always be open. You have to let things come… There is an Estonian composer, Arvo Part, who speaks about the importance and difficulty of finding the right tone. The only right tone for the time and place you’re standing in. This is how I work. Not just on ADAPT!, but on everything. To hear what is waiting to be revealed. Like the old time photographers, I’m just making chemicals in the lab, waiting for the work to reveal itself.


If you’re interested in hearing more music, and more from Mariana, join us during the run of ADAPT! for two special events:

On Tuesday, March 28, the Director’s Gathering will host a post-show discussion with Mariana, choreographer Silvana Cardell, and Blanka Zizka.

And join us for Soundtrack to Immigration on Thursday, April 6 at 7 pm. In partnership with HIAS Pennsylvania and Intercultural Journeys, the Wilma will present an evening of music and tales, exploring an immigrant’s journey. Enjoy a rich array of music from the world premiere of ADAPT! with the stories of Philadelphian immigrants. There will be a suggested donation of $10 with all proceeds donated to HIAS Pennsylvania.


Click here to read post #5: Time and Space.


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