This week’s interview is a few days late, through no fault of our gracious guest. The blame is all on yours truly, your host. Regardless, this week we sit down to ramble on with writer-composer-musician Nathan Schilz, the creator of “Nightmare Man: A Musical.”
Nathan M. Schilz is a film and theatre composer located in Minneapolis, MN (originally from Pekin, IL). He has worked on three feature films and more than two-dozen short films in his limited career; he has also worked on two relaxation CDs, an album of children’s music, some commercial work, and numerous songwriting projects. Nathan is a multi-instrumentalist with an extensive background in music theory, composition, and arranging.
Making its world premiere in August 2011 as part of the Minnesota Fringe Festival, “Nightmare Man” is a new musical adaptation of bizarro fiction writer (and Bram Stoker nominated author) Jeremy C. Shipp’s short story of the same name. It is part of his collection of stories entitled Sheep and Wolves “Nightmare Man” will premiere on August 5th, 2011 at the Gremlin Theatre in St. Paul (http://www.gremlin-theatre.org) starring Derek Meyer, under the direction of Paul von Stoetzel of Killing Joke Productions.
ANTHONY: Hi, Nathan, thanks for agreeing to sit and ramble with us for a little while.
NATHAN: Oh, thank you for agreeing to interview me!
A: Your current project, “Nightmare Man: A Musical,” is based on a Jeremy C. Shipp short story. How did you initially approach Jeremy about the project?
N: Well, I met Jeremy sometime in 2010 via Twitter. I think our interactions were pretty limited, if non-existent, before the Fall when I simply sent him a direct message asking if I could adapt one of his short stories. I didn’t actually know what story I wanted to adapt when I first contacted him. I picked Jeremy because he seemed like a genuine guy that I would be able to work with easily. He had suggested three stories: “Camp,” “Those Below,” and “Nightmare Man,” so I focused most of my time on those after receiving my copy of SHEEP AND WOLVES from Amazon. I really, really liked “Camp” but the difficulty of finding children for the stage would have been a nightmare (no pun intended). I requested that I adapt “Nightmare Man” and after some exchange of legalese between us and Mark, his agent, I got the rights I needed!
A: Give us a quick summary of the plot and main characters of “Nightmare Man.”
N: “Nightmare Man” follows Thomas as he struggles to come to terms with his past. At the beginning of the story we learn that Thomas suffers from terrible, debilitating nightmares. Jade, who comes to Thomas in one of those nightmares, becomes his guide to a promised salvation.
A: When adapting a short story to musical form, how did you decide which moments would become songs and which moments would stay pure dialogue? Did Jeremy have any input into the process?
N: It was actually very foolish of me to choose a story like this for my first foray into the theatre world. Shipp’s prose is beautiful; it has moments of poetics and moments of starkness. In addition his characters are very internal. So, my process initially was to keep all dialogue intact and “songify” the internalizations. This changed a little in order to incorporate other characters into the realm of song, but it was my general framework. And Jeremy didn’t have any say in that. He sort of let me do my thing with it and has just been really supportive every step of the way, which I appreciate greatly.
A: For the songs, what has the creative process been like, in terms of crafting lyrics and music?
N: The first song I wrote was “I Call it Hell” and that just came together in the course of an hour or two. It’s the second line in Jeremy’s story, and I had decided pretty quickly that it set the tone of the forthcoming tale perfectly. I wrote the melody line away from the piano and added the chords later. I came up with that song sometime in September. Other songs, like “More than You,” I wrote sitting at the piano, banged out some chords that I liked, and worked in a melody above them. When writing the script, I didn’t have all of the songs written (to be honest, I still don’t!) so, I had to leave markers in there so I knew what work was still left to be done. I mostly just put some of the first emotions, feelings, and lines that came to mind down so I would remember what to write later. Nearly none of those lyrics remain because my songwriting is very organic: sometimes lyrics come first, other times melody, other times chord structure. It’s really whatever serves the song best. There’s one song that was written strictly from a rhythm that I thought was interesting. Most of the songs have little to no direct correlation to the original story, actually; they are extrapolations on the feelings, context, and meaning of the story. The only exceptions are the few instances when I turned dialogue directly into song.
A: Many short stories are expanded, filled out if you will, when adapted to some other format (movie, stage, etc). Did you find yourself adding plot or characterizational points in your creative process, or is this a pretty faithful morphing of story onto stage?
N: The musical expands on the original 12-page story considerably, since the final runtime of the show needs to be just shy of an hour. In the play’s evolution I added and subtracted dialogue and created additional moments of tension that would lend themselves to heightening the conflict in song. In this process, I added a character, “The Presence,” who is mentioned in the source material but doesn’t physically manifest himself. Whether physically or not, in the musical Thomas and he have an altercation which leads to the tipping point of the story and allows the denouement of the play to flow naturally.
One of the main reasons to choose something from the obscurata catalogue is that it’s not widely known. It allows a little more freedom to interpret than a best-selling novel or a literary classic. I would say, and would hope Jeremy would agree, that I stayed very true to the spirit of the piece and that the few moments with which I took liberty only served the plot of his initial story.
A: You’re crowd-sourcing the musical’s first production through Kickstarter. How’s that going, and what do people get if they donate?
N: I am! It’s been very successful so far, but that doesn’t keep me from stressing out about it. With only 7 days left at the time of writing this, we are 52% funded. Kickstarter, being an all-or-nothing format, means that we need to secure that other 48% or none of the 50 backers that have already generously pledged their support will be charged. The primary rewards are the official “Nightmare Man: A Musical” t-shirt and a signed, limited edition copy of SHEEP AND WOLVES by Jeremy Shipp. For locals we are also offering tickets to the show, and anyone who donates over $5 also gets the official sticker.
If we meet, or come close to, our secondary tier goal of $5,000, we’ll have enough funds to produce a studio recording and will give that away for free to ALL backers. But, let’s just focus on the $2,750 goal first!
A: If NIGHTMARE MAN doesn’t get full funding through Kickstarter, what lies in store?
N: Ha ha! Well, we’ve already started rehearsals, so we’re making this show no matter what! Most of the money is already allocated to actor stipends, producer fees, and our director. The only room for movement would be the orchestra. Currently we have plans for a cellist, violinist, pianist, two percussionists, an electric bassist and a guitarist. There is also hope for a small chorus on stage. The musicians are one of the only places that we can still adjust for lack of funding. I can definitely pull a loan from the bank, if necessary, but I really wanted this to be a project that people could be proud of saying they were a part of. I wanted to raise an army as much as I wanted to raise funds.
A: Okay, now on to my usual last question: What is your favorite book, and what would you say to recommend it to someone who has never read it?
N: My favorite book is THE BROTHERS KARAMAZOV, as it is pretty much the story of my life. I, too, was going to be in the clergy and left in search of who I really was. Dostoevsky is a genius (duh), and I’ve read almost all of the major novels. Read it if you like real, existential literature with a tinge of humor and lots of Russian vibrato. Also, I’m working on a musical adaptation that I will stage when I am old enough to do it justice.
A: Thanks for joining us, Nathan. I hope this interview brings a few more donators to the “Nightmare Man Army.”
To join the list of donors supporting “Nightmare Man: A Musical,” go to the Nightmare Man Kickstarter page.
Follow Nathan on Twitter for updates on the creative process as the show gets closer to performance date!
And don’t forget to visit Studio Alethea for more on Nathan Schilz, “Nightmare Man” and Nathan’s other projects.